My recent blog about Sandhills Pediatrics and its successful implementation of an EMR prompted, fortunately, a very intriguing comment from Chip Hart, a Director of Sales and Marketing at Physicians’ Computer Company who also maintains the blog “Confessions of a Pediatric Practice Consultant: True Stories from the land of Pediatric Practice Management.” He wrote: “I’ll spare everyone the diatribe about how ARRA deals with pediatricians and how only about 1/2 of them qualify, as I write to make one quick statement.” There’s a story there, I thought to myself. So, being an avid observer of pediatric EMR news and views, I reached out to him to gauge his thoughts on where healthcare IT solutions fit in the world of pediatricians.
What sort of challenges are you seeing pediatric practices facing when it comes to implementing EMR systems?
“On one hand, most of the challenges they face are hardly unique to pediatrics: resistance to change, practice differences, the lack of time and resources to be trained and configured properly, poor support, etc.
“Specific to pediatrics, there are two major issues. First, children are not simply small adults and EMRs, as a rule, are written for adult medicine. There are many pediatric-specific features and functionality that a pediatric practice needs that simply aren’t met by your large, generic system. Simply claiming “pediatric templates” isn’t enough.
“Second, although every specialty complains about the hit that EMRs take on their productivity, pediatricians are obviously in the worst shape. Their volume is the highest and their payment is the lowest. Just adding a minute to each encounter means an extra 30 minutes of charting a day … and I hear stories, daily, of practices adding another 1 to 2 hours! Pediatricians can’t afford to see 5-percent fewer patients. Radiologists can. And pediatricians really like to eat dinner with their families.
“One second-tier issue is that less than 50 percent of all pediatric practices don’t qualify for ARRA and the regional extension centers (RECs), as a rule, don’t understand the Medicaid rules well. Thus, we have clients and potential clients calling us to ask how they can get money they’ll never get, or to tell us some crazy thing a REC person told them.”
Are there different sets of challenges for those that are private practices versus those that are hospital/healthcare system affiliated?
“Unquestionably – the big one being that hospital/health system pediatricians simply won’t have a choice or even a voice in the process. Yes, I’ve worked with some who appear to be at the table, but in the end … you get what they hand you. Right now, Epic is pushing everyone out but that pendulum will swing back.
Also, those employed physicians don’t have to consider the impact on their productivity in the same way. I’ve met too many peds offices whose docs didn’t take home checks for a few months after implementation – that’s not right.”
Why do you think practices like Sandhills “get it” in terms of moving forward with HIT implementations, and just being forward thinkers in general?
“If I could answer that question, I’d only be working with those practices! Every successful practice I know is successful in a different way for different reasons, but there is one common trait I see in many of them: They run their practices like the businesses they are. Keep the docs in the exam rooms, where they can generate revenue, and hire professionals to actually run the business. Just because it says “MD” after your name doesn’t mean you’re the best-qualified person to run your office. Would Dirk Nowitski or Lebron James make good coaches? I doubt it.
“In the case of Sandhills, they have some excellent, excellent staff who bring some non-healthcare experience to the table. Although I’ve seen it fail, having some management that comes from outside the healthcare system to ask and answer some tough questions pays off for a lot of practices.
“We’ve enjoyed working with them. I should also add that they, like the other ‘heads up’ clients I know, realize that we’re on the same team. That helps tremendously.”
How long have you offered the PCC EMR? What sort of up tick in implementations have you seen since ARRA/HITECH came about?
“Our PM has had pediatric clinical features (immunization tracking, registry interfaces, well visit recall, etc.) for almost 30 years, but the official EMR itself was released about 2 years ago.
“When ARRA was first announced, we received a lot of calls, all along the lines of, “Where do I get my free money?” It was very frustrating to explain that it would be state dependent (about a quarter of them still can’t get it) and half of our clients will never qualify due to the Medicaid requirements.
“Things are starting to settle down and get organized. Still, we are busier right now than we have ever been. We are telling potential clients they might get installed in May or June. A nice problem to have, but it’s not fun to get some excited only to explain it will be 6 months, especially when it used to be 6 weeks!”
Are any of your pediatric clients thinking of becoming involved in ACOs?
“Thinking? Yes. They’re all being told how if they don’t get big, they’ll be out of business, which is utter BS. The rules, as we know them now, seem to make no sense whatsoever for pediatricians. I did see a compelling presentation by Colleen Kraft at the AAP NCE last week that very much supported the ACO-esque model she employs, but I think her situation is both unique and not potentially an ACO.
“With some issues – 5010, PCMH, etc. – we take a pro-active stance. With ACOs, I’m glad to let someone else jump first.”
How will your solutions enable your customers to integrate with ACOs or coordinated care programs?
“Far too soon to tell. In general, I can say, “Hey, we have had really good reports that have tracked patient populations for years.” Our clients use them all the time, as it’s both good medicine and good business. As a practical tool, I’d put our patient recall program up against anyone’s – your front desk can crank out a list of kids who need flu shots or asthma followups in seconds – but we don’t know quite what the ACOs will need.
“One thing we’ve learned, though: when a small peds office puts its data in the hands of a large entity, it’s worth double-checking the results. For more than 20 years, I’ve helped our clients fight insurance companies (which an ACO emulates) and the insurance companies never have the data right. Ever. So if a private peds office can work with us and still be in an ACO, they’ll be able to confirm the accounting.
“Here’s my prediction: As ACOs grow, the practices who participate are going to regret losing control of their data. I’m really going out on a limb there, I know.
What do you think is the greatest challenge being faced by pediatrics when it comes to keeping up with healthcare IT?
“Not getting run over by the Juggernaut. Everyone else’s demands are put ahead of the pediatricians and the peds usually get served what everyone else is eating. And it rarely suits them.
“I also tell them all the time: ignore the Meaningful Use money. Completely. And ignore the “deal” that you can get from your local hospital/IPA/etc. Pick the EHR that suits you the most and go with that. All the discounts or federal checks in the world won’t make up for even a 5-percent hit in your productivity or having to spend an extra 10-20 hours a month on charting or IT work. If you do like the local deal, great! But don’t feel like you have to leap in.”
So there you have it folks. I’d be interested to hear from a pediatrician or two who has gone through or is going through some sort of HIT implementation as a follow-up to these views. Feel free to get in touch with me via the comments section below.