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An Example Of ACO Deals Going Small And Local

Posted on January 2, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Until recently, ACOs have largely focused on creating large, sprawling structures linking giant providers together across multiple states. However, a news item that popped up on my radar screen reminded me that providers are quietly striking smaller local deals with hospitals and insurance companies as well.

In this case, cardiologists in Tupelo have begun to collaborate with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi. Specifically, Cardiology Associates of North Mississippi will with Blue plan associate Magellan Health to create Accountable Cardiac Care of Mississippi.

It’s easy to see why the two agreed to the deal. The cardiology group has outpatient clinics across a wide region, including centers in Tupelo, Starkville, Columbus, Oxford and Corinth, along with a hospital practice at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo. That offers a nice range of coverage for the health plan by a much sought-after specialty.

Meanwhile, the cardiology group should get a great deal of help with using data mining to deliver more cost-effective care. Its new partner, Magellan Health, specializes in managing complex conditions using data analytics. “We think we have been practicing this way all along, [but] this will allow us to confirm it,” said Dr. Roger Williams, Cardiology Associates’ president.

Williams told the News Leader that the deal will help his group improve its performance and manage costs. So far it’s been difficult to dig into data which he can use to support these goals. “It’s hard for us as physicians to monitor data,” he told the paper.

The goals of the collaboration with Blue Cross include early diagnosis of conditions and management of patient risk factors. The new payment model the ACO partners are using will offer the cardiology practices bonuses for keeping people healthy and out of expensive ED and hospital settings. Blue Cross and the Accountable Cardiac Care entity will share savings generated by the program.

To address key patient health concerns, Cardiology Associates plans to use both case managers and a Chronic Care program to monitor less stable patients more closely between doctor visits. This tracking program includes protocols which will send out text messages asking questions that detect early warning signs.  The group’s EMR then flags patients who need a case management check-in.

What makes this neat is that the cardiologists won’t be in the dark about how these strategies have worked. Magellan will analyze group data which will measure how effective these interventions have been for the Blue Cross population. Seems like a good idea. I’d suggest that more should follow this ACO’s lead.

EHRs Could Be Causing Patient Harm More Often Than Expected

Posted on December 26, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Why did the healthcare industry invest so heavily in EHRs in recent years?  Obviously, one major reason is the payoffs that became available under HITECH, but that’s not all.

Another important objective for spending heavily on EHRs and other HIT options was to protect patients from needless harm, including everything from clinical decision support to finding grand clinical patterns among patients with similar conditions.

Now, nobody’s saying that none of these benefits have been realized. But according to one researcher, we haven’t paid enough attention to the ways in which these technologies can actually cause harm as well. In fact, some researchers say that HIT-related mistakes are not as minimal or easily managed as some think.

So how do we get a grip on how often HIT tools and EHRs are a factor in patient care errors? One way is to examine the role HIT has played in malpractice claims, which, while not offering a comprehensive look at how such mistakes occur, certainly gives us a look at where some of the biggest have taken place.

For example, look at this data from the Journal of Patient Safety, which dug into more than 300,000 cases from an insurance database to see what role HIT played in such cases. Researchers found that less than 1% of the total malpractice claims involved HIT, more than 80% of that 1% involved problems of medium to intense severity.

The researchers found three major reasons for EHR-related suits:

  • 31% involved medication errors, such as the case when a baby died from a drug overdose that took place because a handwritten order was entered in the computer inaccurately
  • 28% involved diagnostic errors, as when critical ultrasound results ended up being routed to the wrong tab in the EHR — which in turn led to a year-long delay before a cancer patient was diagnosed
  • 31% of cases were related to complications of treatment related to HIT errors. For example, in one case a doctor was unable to access emergency department notes, and the lack of that knowledge prevented the doctor from saving the patient

Unfortunately, if you’re a physician group member working within a hospital — particularly as an on-call clinician with little say about how HIT system should work — your group may be vulnerable to lawsuits due to technologies it doesn’t control.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to learn about common errors that can arise due to EHR and HIT malfunctions. When it comes to delivering patient care, the fewer surprises the better.

RCM Tips & Tricks: Shortening Length of Claims In Accounts Receivable

Posted on December 21, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

There’s little question that health insurers do little to help your medical practice collect the reimbursement you’re due.  Not only that, ongoing changes in federal laws make improving your collections levels even more difficult.

As a result, physician practices need all the help they can get in shortening the days claims spend in Accounts Receivable, including the seemingly obvious challenge of collecting payment in full from payers, which don’t even honor rates set forth in reimbursement contracts in some cases.

Given these challenges, medical groups need all the help they can get in improving A/R. Here are some tips from medicalbillersandcoders.com:

  • Find claims which might be rejected ahead of time before submitting them to payers. Claims not paid when first submitted are far less likely to ever get paid.
  • Identify such claims using software that can track and respond to rules and regulation changes by payers. This software should also take into account the rate of denials by a given payer for all doctors.
  • Use software (such as practice management tools) to track all payments, and make sure that your practice is paid based on the terms the payer has agreed upon. Insurers pay less than promised for roughly 10% of claims.
  • Create a detailed system to address the aging of receivables, then track those claims by payer, as various payers might have different payment schedules and different procedures for addressing late reimbursement.
  • Make sure you follow up on unpaid claims as quickly as possible, as the sooner your practice follows up with health insurers the more likely you’ll get paid, and the less likely the claim will end up lost or ignored.
  • Using electronic tools, see to it that your A/R workflow is efficient, or your group may endure errors in documentation which slow down reimbursement. Practice management software can be helpful in addressing this problem.

Practices with a large budget may be able to invest in sophisticated, expensive tools which can perform in-depth claims analysis. This can help such practices improve time in A/R for claims.

However, if your practice is smaller and its budget can’t absorb high-end analytical tools, you can still improve your collections by being thorough and having a good workflow in place.

Also, it’s smart to make sure everyone on your staff is aware of your A/R goals. Even if they don’t have direct contact with collections or A/R, they can be the eyes and ears which help the process along.

Should Doctors Offer Concierge IT Security Services?

Posted on December 20, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today, just for fun, I’m gonna start with a thesis and work my way back to see if you agree with its foundations. My conclusion: With the cost of IT security services climbing, the cost of care coordination rising and practice income in many cases remaining relatively level, group practices will have to change their business model substantially.

Specifically, though this may sound insane, I’m suggesting that they may have to begin charging patients for beyond-the-call-of-duty security efforts.

Of course, as we all know, practices are required to offer at least a minimal level of security protection as specified in rules like those in HIPAA. Necessary though it is, it’s a pricey exercise for many groups.

Even so, cold economics may push them to cut data protection further. Given that care coordination will be necessary to meet population health goals, and that quality monitoring and management are indispensable, they may see security as the most dispensable of these spending options.

As the need for care coordination staff, quality management and other necessities of value-based care rise, paying for IT security services will become almost impossible to pay for without borrowing from another source.

That source can come from an internal budgetary resource, such as money allocated for routine general expenses, or other overhead, such as salaries for existing staff members, neither of which is desirable. Of course, there’s also the possibility of obtaining a line of credit, but that’s arguably even worse for the future of the company.

But since no medical organization can go entirely without IT security protection, it will have to find the funds to pay for it somehow. Given that any of the possibilities discussed above will drain the practice and possibly cut its finances to the bone, but something will have to give.

At this point, many practices decide to sell their group to a hospital or health system. That’s certainly a legitimate way of taking on unmanageable levels of overhead and getting access to far more infrastructure options and financial resources.

But if that’s not the direction you want to take, here’s off-ball idea for recapturing some IT security revenue: concierge security services.

While every patient’s data needs to be protected, obviously, you could offer concierge security patients access to extra layers of security attentiveness, such as a private IT staff or to answer any data privacy and security questions they might have about the practice, hospital where they are seen or other entity.

Toss in a special “security report” (in all candor, probably info they could’ve read in any trade magazine), personalized to patient needs, and a free zip drive with secured copies of their data and you’ll have them hooked.

If this worked, and I’m not suggesting that it necessarily would, it could help carry the cost of mundane IT security services. What do you think? Would this model have a chance?

An EHR Designed for Doctors at the Anti-Aging World Congress

Posted on December 19, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently attended the Med Tech Impact Expo and Conference in Las Vegas. The event was colocated with the A4M (American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine) World Congress. I was a judge at the Quadruple Impact startup competition that was organized by Medstro where I enjoyed hearing a number of promising startup companies pitch their ideas. They were all pretty early stage, but I couldn’t help but appreciate their passion and creativity.

While not my normal area of expertise, I had to take a trip around the Anti-Aging medicine exhibit hall. There were a large number of pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, body toners, etc etc. However, I was of course attracted to the booths that talked about technology.

The first category of company I saw was the practice marketing companies. Most of them were offering the full service soup to nuts offering to these medical practices. It makes a lot of sense for them to target this market since many of the doctors attending the anti-aging conference offer a lot of products and services direct to consumer. So, all of the direct to consumer marketing, SEO, social media, etc can be really effective for these practices. Of course, at this show they mostly send their salespeople, so they didn’t really want to talk with me much since I wasn’t representing a medical practice.

The second category of technology companies I found was the EHR vendors. I think I found 3 of them placed throughout the floor and I stopped and talked with 2 of the companies. Both of them focused solely on this market and so their approach was quite different. They designed the EHR to cater to the doctor and the practice instead of EHR certification and meaningful use regulations.

One of them talked about how they approached the sale of supplies much differently than a traditional EHR might do. In fact, it was an integral part of their system. This made a lot of sense since many of these medical practices have a huge retail sales component.

I did find that each of these EHR was still straddling the billing line. Many of them had practices that still needed to bill insurance companies rather than billing the patient directly for everything. At least one of them admitted that their insurance billing engine wasn’t that great and you could tell that they were a little bit torn on whether they should go all in on the insurance billing side of things or not.

In fact, one of them I talked to was pondering whether to go after EHR certification. I advised them to not do it since it will likely alienate their existing users. Although, I’m sure they’ll look at their addressable market and the potential medical market and be really tempted to not listen to my advice. It’s a powerful thing to say that you have an EHR that’s focused on the doctor and the practice as opposed to regulations. Why would they want to give that up?

I asked to get a full demo of their EHR after the conference. There wasn’t enough time at the event. Once I do, I’ll give you a full report on these hidden EHR. I’ll be interested to see what an EHR that was designed for the doctor and the practice looks like. I’ll let you know what I find.

Study Says Physicians Have Major Cybersecurity Problems

Posted on December 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

New research sponsored by the AMA and consulting firm Accenture has concluded that cyberattacks on medical practices are common – in fact, far more common than one might think.

Not only do these numbers suggest patient data is far more vulnerable than expected, it suggests that clinicians are often poorly educated about security and the implications of handling it badly. It’s fair to say that unless this trend is turned around, it could undermine industry efforts to build trusting relationships with patients and encourage them to engage in two-way data exchange.

The study found that most physicians (85%) think that sharing electronic protected health information is a good idea and that two-thirds believe that giving patients more access to their health data would improve care. One-third of respondents said that they share ePHI if they trust the vendors involved.

Thirty-seven percent get training content on security from their health IT vendor, and 50% said they trust these training providers are sure the content is adequate. However, this may be a mistake. While 87% of respondents said that their practice is HIPAA-compliant, the study also found that two-thirds of doctors still have basic questions about HIPAA. It’s clear, in other words, that trusted relationships aren’t doing the job here.

In fact, an eye-popping 83% of medical practices have experienced some form of cyberattack such as malware, phishing or viruses. Not surprisingly, 55% of physicians surveyed are very worried about future cyberattacks. Unfortunately, worrying is what many people do instead of taking action, and that may be what’s going on here.

What makes these lax attitudes all the more problematic is that when attacks occur, the effect can be very substantial. For example, 74% of respondents said that a cyberattack was likely to interrupt their clinical practice, and 29% of doctors working in medium-sized practices said that it could take up to a full day to recover from an attack, a crippling length of time for any small business.

So what are practices willing to do to avoid these problems? Among these respondents, 60% said they would pay someone to create a security framework to protect ePHI. Also, 49% of practices surveyed have in-house security staffers on board. However, it should be noted that three times more medium and large practices have such an officer in place compared to smaller medical groups, probably because security expertise is very pricey.

However, probably the most valuable thing they can do is the least expensive of the list. Every practice should require that physicians stay current at least on HIPAA and cybersecurity basics. If medical groups do this, at least they’ve established a baseline from which they can work on other security issues.

Coping With The Loss Of Your Ambulatory EMR

Posted on December 13, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Despite the struggles involved, most practices seem to have settled in with an EMR they can at least tolerate. Their workflows are, well, working, the practice management features seem to connect with the clinical ones and most clinicians are complaining about using it.

Yes, your practice may have had to go through a few systems before you found one everyone liked, wasn’t too expensive and had decent technical support to offer.  By this time, though you may have been a little scarred by the experience, hopefully practice leaders have gotten comfortable with the central role the EMR plays in the practice.

Then, you decide it makes sense to sell your practice to the local health system. It could be because it’s an irresistible deal financially, or you feel you can’t survive without their help and partnership, or any number of additional reasons. Everything looks good, but then you take a hit: your new “partner” wants to dump the EMR you worked so hard to find and customize. They want you to work on the same enterprise system they do.

Now, from a hospital’s perspective that may make sense. Here’s how one consulting firm lays things out:

“[When acquiring a medical practice] one critical issue is how to transition the workflow of these physicians and their staff from the practice-owned ambulatory EMR to the centralized hospital-owned EMR to ensure the efficient and safe delivery of care to patients,” it tells its hospital customers. In other words, it’s a question of when and how, not IF the hospital should require acquired practices to make the switch.

The thing is, while the hospital may have a comparatively large staff dedicated to integrating and managing the data pulled in from your ambulatory EMR, the reverse is probably not true. Unless your practice is particularly large, it probably only includes 5 to 10 doctors. In such practices, having even a single data expert on staff would be unusual. (Not to mention that hiring one part-time or as a consultant wouldn’t be cheap.)

In other words, for a while you may be fishing for your patients’ data as you transition to the larger team to which you will belong. Also, until the hospital health system completes integrating the data from your practice into its enterprise system, you may or may not have access to quality metrics important to running a practice these days, and the effect on your billing practices could turn out to be a disaster too.

At this point, I’m supposed to stop and tell you that all this can be handled efficiently if you take one step or the other. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is any great happy ending to suggest at this point. If you have to give up your own ambulatory EMR, it’s probably going to be painful.

However, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. There probably are some strategies, perhaps unique to your practice, that can blunt the impact of some of these problems if you’re prepared. That said, the move to a new EMR is always painful, even if the change ends up being a good one.

MIPS Twitter Roundup – MACRA Monday

Posted on December 11, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

As we near the end of 2017, I found a number of tweets from CMS and other people that I thought would be useful to those that are interested in MACRA and MIPS.

First up is this tweet from CMS that it’s not too late to still participate in MIPS and collect some performance data before the end of 2017. This is them promoting the Test Option which would allow you to avoid the 4% penalty:

Next up is a fact sheet from CMS which outlines the different between 2017 and 2018 when it comes to MACRA/MIPS. I particularly like page 6 of the document. As you go through it, you’ll realize why 2018 is going to be much harder than 2017.

Next up is a stat from MGMA. I’d be interested in learning about the 14% of practices that think that their value-based reimbursement is going to decrease. Are these people going to direct primary care? I don’t see it going down for almost anyone. What do you think?

Finally, Matt Fisher asks a question about whether MIPS should be voluntary. I don’t think they can make it any more voluntary given the current legislation and do any of us think that congress is going to take up this topic? I don’t. So, it’s kind of a moot point. However, there is a lot of doctor angst about MIPS/MACRA. I just don’t see enough of it to really move the needle on things. I think we’re stuck with MACRA/MIPS for the forseeable future.

Burnout is Overused and Under Defined

Posted on December 8, 2017 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Recently, John hosted a #HITsm chat on using technology to fight physician burnout (Read the full transcript from the chat here). The topic’s certainly timely, and it got me to wondering just what is physician burnout. Now, the simple answer is fatigue. However, when I started to look around for studies and insights, I realized that burnout is neither easily defined nor understood.

The Mayo Clinic, among others, defines it this way:

Job burnout is a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. 

So, it is fatigue plus self doubt. Well, that’s for starters. Burnout has its own literature niche and psychologists have taken several different cracks at a more definitive definition without any consensus other than it’s a form of depression, which doesn’t have to be work related.

Unsurprisingly, burnout is not in the DSM-5. It’s this lack of a clinical definition, which makes it easy to use burnout like catsup to cover a host of issues. I think this is exactly why we have so many references to physician or EHR burnout. You can use burnout to cover whatever you want.

It’s easy to find articles citing EHRs and burnout. For example, a year ago April, The Hospitalist headlined, “Research Shows Link Between EHR and Physician Burnout.” The article then flatly says, “The EHR has been identified as a major contributor to physician burnout.” However, it never cites a study to back this up.

If you track back through its references, you’ll wind up at a 2013 AMA study, “Factors Affecting Physician Professional Satisfaction and Their Implications for Patient Care, Health Systems, and Health Policy.” Developed by the Rand Corporation, it’s an extensive study of physician job satisfaction. Unfortunately, for those who cite it for EHR and burnout, it never links the two. In fact, the article never discusses the two together.

Not surprisingly, burnout has found its way into marketing. For example, DataMatrix says:

Physician burnout can be described as a public health crisis especially with the substantial increase over the last couple of years. The consequences are significant and affect the healthcare system by affecting the quality of care, health care costs and patient safety.

Their solution, of course, is to buy their transcription services.

What’s happened here is that physician work life dissatisfaction has been smushed together with burnout, which does a disservice to both. For example, Medscape recently published a study on burnout, which asked physicians about their experience. Interestingly, the choices it gave, such as low income, too many difficult patients – difficult being undefined — are all over the place.

That’s not to say that all physician burnout studies are useless. A recent study, Electronic Health Record Effects on Work-Life Balance and Burnout Within the I3 Population Collaborative, used a simple, five item scale to ask physicians how they viewed their work life. See Figure 1.

Figure 1 Single-Item Burnout Scale.

Their findings were far more nuanced than many others. EHRs played a role, but so did long hours. They found:

EHR proficiency training has been associated with improved job satisfaction and work-life balance.14 While increasing EHR proficiency may help, there are many potential reasons for physicians to spend after-hours on the EHR, including time management issues, inadequate clinic staffing, patient complexity, lack of scribes, challenges in mastering automatic dictation systems, cosigning resident notes, messaging, and preparing records for the next day. All of these issues and their impact on burnout and work-life balance are potential areas for future research.

There’s a need to back off the burnout rhetoric. Burnout’s overused and under defined. It’s a label for what may be any number of underlying issues. Subsuming these into one general, glitzy term, which lacks clinical definition trivializes serious problems. The next time you see something defined as physician or EHR burnout, you might just ask yourself, what is that again?

Patient Data Sharing and EMR Usability

Posted on December 7, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

It’s been a while since we’ve done a Twitter roundup, so it was time to do one again. This time we highlight 3 recent tweets that will make you go hmmmmm. Lots of great insights from amazing people.


More and more people are open to sharing their records. However, there’s still a lot of education needed for people that are afraid that sharing their records could harm them. While there is that risk, it’s important to remember that not sharing your records could harm you too.


Is this the right balance or resonsibility? Should vendors, leaders, and clinicians all be responsible? Is the reason EMRs aren’t usable is that it takes all 3 of these groups working together to make it usable?


I’ll just leave this one here without comment. Lots to chew on in this image!