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DrChrono App Store Illustrates Important Point

Posted on July 16, 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 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.

In a recent post, my colleague John Lynn argued that EHRs won’t survive if they stick to a centralized model.  He contends — I think correctly — that ambulatory practices will need to plug best-of-class apps into their EHR system rather than accepting whatever their vendor has available. If they don’t create a flexible infrastructure, they’ll be forced to switch systems when they hit the wall with their current EHR, he writes.

Demonstrating that John, as usual, has read the writing on the wall correctly, I present you with the following. I think it illustrates John’s point exactly. I’m pointing to EHR vendor DrChrono, which just announced that billing and collections company Collectly would be available for use.

Like its peers, Collectly built on the DrChrono API, and will be available in the DrChrono App Directory on a subscription basis. (The billing company also offers custom pricing for large organizations.)

Other apps featured in the app directory include Calibrater Health, which offers text-based patient surveys; Staple Health, a machine learning platform that providers can use to manage at-risk patients and Genius Video, which sends personalized video via text message to educate patients. Payment services vendor Square is also a featured partner.

Collectly, for its part, digitizes paper bills and sends billing statements and collection notices to patients via text or email. The patient messages include a link to the patient portal which offers a billing FAQ, benefits and insurance info and a live chat feature where experts offer info on patient insurance features and payment policy. The live chat staffers can also help patients create an approved payment schedule on behalf of a practice.

While some of the DrChrono apps offer help with well-understood back-office issues – such as Health eFilings, which help practices submit accurate MIPS data –  those functions may be duplicated or at least partially available elsewhere. However, apps like Collectly offer options that EHRs and practice management platforms seldom do. The number of best of breed apps that an EHR won’t be able to replicate natively is going to continue to increase.

Integrating consumer-facing apps like this acknowledges that neither medical practice technology nor its staff is terribly well-equipped to bring in the cash from patients. It may take outside apps like Collectly, which functions like an RCM tool but talks like a patient, to bring in more patient payments in for DrChrono’s customers. In other words, it took a decentralized model to get this done. John called it.

QPP (Quality Payment Program) 2019 Changes, Medicare Telemedicine Reimbursement, and Physician Fee Schedule E&M Changes

Posted on July 12, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today, CMS came out with some big changes as part of the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule and proposed rule for the QPP for 2019. These are some of the biggest efforts I’ve seen to try and change what Medicare has been doing for a while.

CMS has put together a fact sheet on the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule. Plus, you can also view the fact sheet for the 2019 Quality Payment Program (QPP) proposed rule. If you like all the details, you can find the full rule for both the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule and QPP 2019 (1473 pages) on the Federal Register.

That’s a lot of information and changes to process, but here are some initial thoughts. While what CMS and HHS are saying in their announcement is directionally good, the devil is always in the details. Here are a few of the highlights that could have a big impact on the healthcare IT and EHR world.

E/M Documentation Requirement Changes
The biggest change in this announcement is the change in E/M coding requirements. As part of CMS’ goal to streamline E/M documentation requirements, they’ve proposed some of the biggest changes to E/M since 1997. The one that will likely be talked about most is the opportunity for providers to bill Medicare using “medical decision-making or time.” Here’s a description of the change:

To improve payment accuracy and simplify documentation, we propose new, single blended payment rates for new and established patients for office/outpatient E/M level 2 through 5 visits and a series of add-on codes to reflect resources involved in furnishing primary care and non-procedural specialty generally recognized services. As a corollary to this proposal, we propose to apply a minimum documentation standard where Medicare would require information to support a level 2 CPT visit code for history, exam and/or medical decision-making in cases where practitioners choose to use the current framework, or, as proposed, medical decision-making to document E/M level 2 through 5 visits. In cases where practitioners choose to use time to document E/M visits, we propose to require practitioners to document the medical necessity of the visit and show the total amount of time spent by the billing practitioner face-to-face with the patient. Practitioners could choose to document additional information for clinical, legal, operational or other purposes, and we anticipate that for those reasons, they would continue generally to document medical record information consistent with the level of care furnished. However, we would only require documentation to support the medical necessity of the visit and associated with the current level 2 CPT visit code.

There are other changes to E/M that could be a big deal as well including having providers focus their documentation on what’s changed since the last visit as long as they review and update the previous information. Plus, providers can now just review and verify the information entered by ancillary staff or the patient rather than having to re-enter it.

The goal is quite clear. CMS is trying to battle against the bloated notes that are getting generated by EHRs today to justify a certain billing code level. Doctors will no doubt celebrate this as most doctors describe notes from their peers as awful and difficult to use because of all the note bloat. I don’t know how many times I heard from my medical billing friends at AHIMA that it doesn’t matter what’s actually done if it’s not documented. With the changes mentioned above, CMS is looking to change this.

Of course, EHRs aren’t going to be able to change their interfaces overnight. The new E/M changes are going to take a while to incorporate into EHR software. Plus, we’ll have to see how the non-Medicare payers react to these changes. If they don’t follow Medicare’s lead, that puts the EHR vendors in a tough position. We’ll have to see how that plays out.

Many doctors complain about hating their EHR software. I’ve long argued that the EHR is just the whipping boy for doctors’ ire. What doctors really hated was the crazy billing documentation requirements that were reflected in the EHR. If the changes above go far enough, maybe we’ll finally see if the EHR vendor really is to blame for provider burnout. However, as I mentioned, it will take some time for this to happen.

Medicare Telemedicine and Telehealth Reimbursement
The next biggest thing in today’s announcement was Medicare’s plans to reimbursement for what we would call Telemedicine or Telehealth services. 2 G codes (HCPCS code GVCI1 and GRAS1) were announced that seem like they could present a lot of opportunity for healthcare IT companies to finally get paid for the services they can provide:

Brief Communication Technology-based Service, e.g. Virtual Check-in (HCPCS code GVCI1)

Remote Evaluation of Recorded Video and/or Images Submitted by the Patient (HCPCS code GRAS1)

Practitioners could be separately paid for the Brief Communication Technology-based Service when they check in with beneficiaries via telephone or other telecommunications device to decide whether an office visit or other service is needed. This would increase efficiency for practitioners and convenience for beneficiaries. Similarly, the Remote Evaluation of Recorded Video and/or Images Submitted by the Patient would allow practitioners to be separately paid for reviewing patient-transmitted photo or video information conducted via pre-recorded “store and forward” video or image technology to assess whether a visit is needed.

Travie Broome offered some interesting insights into these codes:

CMS also proposed a number of CPT codes for “Chronic Care Remote Physiologic Monitoring” and “Interprofessional Internet Consultation” as follows:

We are also proposing to pay separately for new coding describing Chronic Care Remote Physiologic Monitoring (CPT codes 990X0, 990X1, and 994X9) and Interprofessional Internet Consultation (CPT codes 994X6, 994X0, 99446, 99447, 99448, and 99449).

The also proposed adding HCPCS codes G0513 and G0514 for Prolonged preventive service(s) which seems to include ESRD (end-stage renal disease) patients who receive dialysis at home and mobile stroke units.

QPP (Quality Payment Program, better known as MACRA and MIPS) Changes
I have to admit that the changes to the QPP program didn’t feel nearly as substantial. The QPP 2019 Fact Sheet seemed short on details and I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the full rule. A few highlights though:

  • 2019 QPP will remove the MIPS process-based quality measures
  • MIPS Expands to PTs, OTs, CSWs and clinical psychologists (which was required by law)
  • It will overhaul the “Promoting Interoperability” category (pretty generic and haven’t figured out what this really means, but they say it will focus on interoperability, imagine that!)
  • The Promoting Interoperability scoring has changed and so has some of the weighting, but nothing major
  • Many of those excluded from MIPS in 2018 can opt in to participate if they want in 2019
  • $500 million pool is available for exceptional performance (whith is now at 80 points vs 70 in 2017)
  • Must use a 2015 Certified EHR (officially a 2015 Edition CEHRT)

Those are some of the big changes I saw offhand.  I’d suggest that this is mostly business as usual for the most part.  Significant if you’re in the MACRA and MIPS weeds, but isn’t likely going to change your MACRA and MIPS strategy.

One change I’m still processing is this one:

Changing the application of MIPS payment adjustments, so that the adjustments will not apply to all items and services under Medicare Part B, but will now apply only to covered professional services paid under or based on the Physician Fee Schedule beginning with 2019, which is the first payment year of the program.

Does this change the analysis that Jim Tate did previously that MIPS Penalties (and incentives for that matter) included Medicare Part B drugs? Sounds like it to me. If I’m reading it right, this change means that the penalties will be less for those getting penalized, but the payments will be less for those participating in the program as well. Not a good thing for a program that already has incentive problems. Is that right or am I reading it wrong?

On that note, this explains why the final rule is 1473 pages long. Time to do some reading of the final rule and see what all the experts find as they analyze it. Let us know what we missed in the comments or any analysis of this that we got wrong. We can all learn what this means together.

Plus, remember that this is just the proposed rule and CMS even asked for comment on if it should go into effect in 2019 or 2020. I encourage you all to provide your feedback on the proposed rule so it can be improved when it goes final.

The Role of Technology in Patient Satisfaction

Posted on July 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Over the past six months, we have been discussing the importance of understanding patient needs in order to improve their satisfaction levels. But why does it really matter if patients are happy? Happy patients are the ones who refer their friends and family. They’re are the ones leaving you stellar reviews online. Happy patients stick with you.

One of the most effective (and easiest) ways to improve the patient experience is through the use of technology. According to one study, using technology to communicate with patients increases patient satisfaction scores by around 10 percent. Not only that, but technology saves practices a huge amount of time and hassle. Here are just a few of the ways you can use technology to personalize patient experience and simplify workflow for staff.

  1. Streamline (and personalize) scheduling and check-in

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that two of the biggest frustrations patient have around experience are feeling like a number and difficulty with scheduling and wait times. One great way to address these issues is to offer convenient 24/7 online scheduling and electronic forms.

Two-thirds of patients think it is important to be able to schedule appointments online. And practices can make that experience even easier with the right technology. When online scheduling in integrated with your practice management system, it can identify existing versus new patients and adapt the forms so existing patients don’t have to provide information that you already have.

Consider having patient forms on the scheduling page or somewhere on your website, or send them out in an email before the appointment. Then, instead of spending 15 minutes filling out forms, patients can relax. This also allows you to spend more time speaking with each patient individually and addressing any concerns they may have.

If you have patients who don’t fill out their forms online or bring them before arriving, consider using a tablet to expedite the process. Tablets make filling out those forms faster, easier, and more accurate. Waiting to see the doctor shouldn’t feel like homework time. Do whatever you can to make this a time, instead, where you connect with your patients.

  1. Implement two-way texting

Texting is the most popular method of communication today (even 80 percent of senior citizens own a cell phone). Just like people want to text their friends and families, they also want to text you. As the Patient-Provider Relationship study found, 73 percent of patients want to text back and forth with you. With two-way texting, you can:

  • Confirm appointments
  • Coordinate care
  • Discuss appointment follow-up instructions
  • Reschedule appointments

Of course, you want to make sure you stay HIPAA compliant whenever you may be sending PHI information via text message. Make sure to use technology that offers the tools to stay compliant.

  1. Upgrade your patient appointment reminders

If you want to stay competitive in today’s healthcare world, automated appointment reminders are a must. Not only does automating your patient reminders make life a lot easier for your staff, but it ensures that no patients fall through the cracks. Make sure to ask patients which way they prefer to be contacted and use that.

Using mobile messages like text message and email for reminders is especially important in this era when people just don’t like talking on the phone. Now your patients can be stuck in a boring work meeting and still get that text message appointment reminder. It saves you a lot of time, improves productivity, and gives you the time you need to focus on what is most important—the patients in your office.

Automated messages also provide another opportunity to personalize and customize communications to each patient. Just like a postcard or phone call, they have the patient’s name, appointment time, and provider listed, but they can also contain other appointment details. Based on the appointment type, they can have instructions like remember to fast or bring your medications. The patient will feel the personalization and your practice will be able to make sure patients show up prepared.

  1. Automate patient satisfaction surveys

As we’ve discussed at length in prior blog posts, surveys can tell you a whole lot about how you and your practice are measuring up to patient expectations. The more you focus on patient happiness, the more likely you are to make it a priority. So always send out patient surveys following patient visits.

In the past, you may have asked patients to fill out paper surveys in the office. That method of collecting surveys is difficult to track, less likely to be completed, and may have answers that are skewed. Using technology to email or text your patients a survey after their appointment increases the likelihood that they will give more honest responses. It also makes it a whole lot more likely that they will be filled out.

When it comes to making patient satisfaction a priority, it’s critical to gauge if your current technology is up to the challenge. Technology can greatly improve how your patients view you and your entire practice. It can also improve the productivity and efficiency of you and your staff.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

AMA Hopes To Drive Healthcare AI

Posted on July 6, 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 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.

Last month, the AMA adopted a new policy setting standards for its approach to the use of AI. Now, the question is how much leverage it will actually have on the use in the practice of medicine.

In its policy statement, the trade group said it would work to set standards on how AI can improve patient outcomes and physicians’ professional satisfaction. It also hopes to see that physicians get a say-so in the development, design, validation implementation of healthcare AI tools.

More specifically, the AMA said it would promote the development of well-designed, clinically-validated standards for healthcare AI, including that they:

  • Are designed and evaluated using best-practices user-centered design
  • Address bias and avoid introducing or exacerbating healthcare disparities when testing or deploying new AI tools
  • Safeguard patients’ and other individuals’ privacy and preserve security and integrity of personal information

That being said, I find myself wondering whether the AMA will have the chance to play a significant role in the evolution of AI tools. It certainly has a fair amount of competition.

It’s certainly worth noting that the organization is knee-deep in the development of digital health solutions. Its ventures include the MATTER incubator, which brings physicians and entrepreneurs together to solve healthcare problems; biotech incubator Sling Health, which is run by medical students; Health2047, which brings helps healthcare organizations and entrepreneurs work together and Xcertia, an AMA-backed non-profit which has developed a mobile health app framework.

On the other hand, the group certainly has a lot of competition for doctors’ attention. Over the last year or two, the use of AI in healthcare has gone from a nifty idea to a practical one, and many health systems are deploying platforms that integrate AI features. These platforms include tools helping doctors collaborate with care teams, avoid errors and identify oncoming crises within the patient population.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing all this up, here’s why. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother to discuss an AMA policy statement — some of them are less interesting than watching grass grow — but in this case, it’s worth thinking about for a bit.

When you look at the big picture, it matters who drive the train when it comes to healthcare AI. If physicians take the lead, as the AMA would obviously prefer, we may be able to avoid the deployment of user-hostile platforms like many of the first-generation EHRs.

If hospitals end up dictating how physicians use AI technology, it might mean that we see another round of kludgy interfaces, lousy decision-support options and time-consuming documentation extras which will give physicians an unwanted feeling of deja-vu. Not to mention doctors who refuse to use it and try to upend efforts to use AI in healthcare.

Of course, some hospitals will have learned from their mistakes, but I’m guessing that many may not, and things could go downhill from there. Regardless, let’s hope that AI tools don’t become the next albatross hung around doctors’ necks.

Medical Practice Use Of Automated Claims Options Growing Slowly

Posted on June 25, 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 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.

A new study by a healthcare industry group has concluded that medical and dental practices are processing claims manually rather than going for full automation, a trend which is robbing the industry of very high levels of potential savings. While many physicians and dentists are using web portals to process claims, in most cases they haven’t reached the ”set it and forget it” level, a trend which could undercut possible savings.

The group, CAQH, tracks health plan and healthcare provider adoption of electronically-based administrative transactions for medical and dental practices. CAQH’s research estimates the time required for providers administrative transactions, including verifying a patient’s insurance coverage, sending and receiving payments, checking on the status of claims and handling prior authorization processes.

Its research concluded that despite the potential rewards, the medical and dental practices made only a modest level of progress in automating claims and related business processes over the past year. According to CAQH calculations, practices are still leaving roughly $11.1 billion in savings on the table, an estimate which has climbed by $1.8 billion over the prior year.

If these savings are realized, the majority ($9.5 billion) would end up in providers’ hands. However, many practices just haven’t gotten there yet.

A rise in portal use is certainly an improvement over paper-based claims processes. In fact, some of the increase in potential savings noted by the study is being created by a rise in online portal use.

However, providers’ adoption of fully-electronic claims is basically growing only a small amount or even declining for most transactions that can be done via a portal. For example, for prior authorizations, a big increase in portal use correlated with the decline in the adoption of fully-electronic transactions.

For CAQH, the endgame is getting all providers to automate claims processes complete, so the modest to flat growth in automated claims transactions is not exactly good news. In fact, it’s not a winning situation for medical practices either. According to the group’s estimates, each manual transaction costs practices $4.40 more than each electronic transaction and eats up five more minutes of provider time, which can create a real drag on profits.

Meanwhile, processing a single claim electronically through its lifecycle would save medical practices almost 40 minutes on average, and more than $15 in direct cost savings. Meanwhile, processing a single dental claim from start to finish could save dental practices almost 30 minutes on average and almost $11.75.

The CAQH press release doesn’t spell out what’s holding dentists and doctors back from automating the claims process completely, but it’s not hard to guess was going on. Unlike some providers, medical and dental practices typically don’t have deep pockets or large staff they can make this transition. If health plans want these providers to get on board, they’ll probably have to help them make the transition. However, even health plans haven’t invested in automated claims processing enough either.

Payers Say Value-Based Care Is Lowering Medical Costs, But Tech Isn’t Contributing Much

Posted on June 22, 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 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.

A new survey of health insurers has concluded that while value-based care seems to be lowering healthcare costs significantly, they aren’t satisfied with the tools they have to analyze value-based performance.

The report, which draws on a survey sponsored by Change Healthcare, including answers from 120 payers across several types of insurance, including managed Medicare, managed Medicaid and commercial plans.

The topline finding from the report was that value-based care (VBC) has lowered healthcare costs by 5.6% on average, with one-quarter of respondents reporting savings of more than 7.5%.

Meanwhile, the volume of fee-for-service payments has dropped dramatically as a percent of overall payments, now accounting for just 37.2% of all reimbursement among respondents. That number is expected to fall below 26% by 2021.

Not only that, 64% of payers said that provider relationships improved, and 73% said patient engagement improved. This suggests that providers have made some strides in delivering value-based care, as many had a hard time restructuring their business in the past.

That said, some payers haven’t met their own VBC goals. In particular, 66% of payers are investing administrative staffers to support episode-of-care programs given what the study terms “exceptional” medical cost savings. Also, one third to one-half said that episode-of-care models were either very or extremely effective at improving care quality.

However, payers haven’t made much progress as they’d like in rolling out episode-of-care programs. While 21% of payers said they were capable of rolling out a new episode-of-care program in 3 to 6 months, more than a third said the needed a year to launch such a program, 21% said it would take 18 months, and 13% said it would take up to 24 months or more. In other words, many payers are so far behind the curve that the programs they’re designing might be obsolete by the time they roll them out.

What’s more, they’ve had a tough time getting providers interested in episode-of-care programs. Forty-three to 58% reported that it is either very or extremely difficult to get providers to participate in these efforts. Not only that, even when they find interested providers, payers are having a hard time finding common ground with them on episode definitions, budgets, the details of risk and reward sharing and performance metrics. These disagreements could prove a major hurdle to overcome.

In addition, more than half of payers said they were not very satisfied with the current value-based analytics, automation and reporting tools, even though most of the tools were developed in-house by the payers themselves. It could be that given provider resistance, the payers aren’t quite sure about what to look for. Regardless, it seems that payers have a longer-than-expected road to travel here.

AMA Says Med Students Don’t Get Enough EHR Training

Posted on June 20, 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 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.

Whether or not doctors like it, the U.S. healthcare industry has embraced EHR technology, and in most cases, medical groups depend on it for a number of reasons. Now, the industry may be taking the next step in this direction, with the AMA deciding that it’s time to enshrine EHR use as part of medical education.

At its recent annual meeting, the AMA released a new policy embracing two somewhat contradictory notions. On the one hand, it encouraged med schools to train students on using EHR technology, while on the other, underscored the need for future doctors to get their faces out of the computer screen and engage with patients.

According to the trade group, some medical schools actually limit student access to EHRs. The AMA contends that this is a bad idea. “Medical students and residents need to learn how to ensure quality clinical documentation within an electronic health record,” said AMA board member and medical student Karthik Sarma in a prepared statement. “There is a clear need for medical students to have access to – and learn how to properly use – EHRs well before they enter practice.”

That being said, the group’s report on this subject concedes that there’s a long way to go in making this happen. For example, it notes that many med school faculty members aren’t offering students and residents much of a role model for the appropriate use of and practices in working with EHRs.

To address this problem, the new policy urges medical schools and residency programs to design clinical documentation and EHR training. It also recommends that the training be evaluated to be sure that it’s useful for future medical practice.

The AMA also suggests that med schools and residency programs provide faculty members with EHR professional development options. These lessons will help faculty serve as better role models on EHR use during interactions between physicians and patients.

That being said, there is an inherent tension between these goals and the realities of EHR use. Yes, training students to create good clinical documentation makes sense. At the same time, there are good reasons to worry about the effects of EHRs on student and resident relationships with patients. Unfortunately, this problem seems to be unavoidable as things stand today. Either you train budding physicians to be clinical documentation experts or you encourage them to use EHRs as little as possible during patient encounters.

In short, we’ve already learned that we can’t have both at the same time. So what’s the point of telling medical students that they should try to do the impossible?

Hospitals, Doctors And Patients Impacted By Unplanned EHR Downtime

Posted on June 18, 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 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.

EHRs are going to crash and go offline from time to time. But are physicians and hospitals prepared to deal with the fallout when this happens? The answer seems to be “maybe.”

Of course, physicians and hospitals have plenty of reasons to avoid EHR downtime.

For one thing, EHR crashes can have a major impact on care delivery. After all, without EHRs, physicians may have no access to patient data, which could lead to care complications or adverse events.

Also, downtime adds addition pain (and expense) to the situation. According to one estimate, unplanned system failures can cost $634 per physician per hour. Meanwhile, according to Dean Sitting of the University of Texas, a large hospital may lose as much as $1 million per hour when their EHR is down. Those are scary numbers.

Unfortunately, despite the costs, strain to the hospital operations and consumer complaints arising from downtime, many hospitals refuse to invest in preventive technologies such as a backup data center, arguing that they’re just too expensive. As a result, hospitals can be offline for a long time when their EHR system crashes, which typically has a nasty ripple effect.

One example of how EHR downtime affects hospital operations comes from Sutter Health, the largest health system in northern California, whose EHR went offline for more than 24 hours in May. The crash took place when a fire-suppression system was activated in the system’s data center.

During the shutdown, Sutter hospitals followed a series of steps often used by its peers, such as cutting elective surgeries, transporting patients to other hospitals and discharging patients who weren’t very sick. They also switched over to paper records. But despite these efforts, Sutter still faced some problems that weren’t addressed by its plans.

For one thing, younger doctors were thrown a curve ball, as many had never worked with paper charts. This alone gummed up the works during the downtime episode. There were no signs that these doctors made any mistakes due to using paper records, but the risk was there.

Then there were the effects on patients – and some were ugly. For example, when Santa Clara resident Susan Harkema’s father died, she called Sutter Health’s Hospital of the Valley to arrange for removal of his body to a crematorium. According to a story appearing in San Jose Mercury News, Harkema tried a hotline and backup numbers but couldn’t reach anyone due to the outage. It took 8 hours for a hospice nurse to arrive and collect the body, the newspaper reported.

Another patient tweeted that they had to go out of the Sutter system for critical care, which left the treating physicians without care history to review. “It was stressful and scary, and we still aren’t sure we have a successful outcome,” they said.

The net of all of this seems to be that hospital downtime policies could use more than a few tweaks, and more importantly, a better failsafe protecting EHRs from going offline in the first place. Sure, no EHR system is perfect, and crashes are inevitable, but providers can be better prepared.

Geisinger, Penn State Researchers Predict Risk Of Rehospitalization Within Three Days Of Discharge

Posted on June 15, 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 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.

In recent times, healthcare organizations have focused deeply on the causes of patient readmissions to the hospital. It’s a problem that affects both physicians and health systems, particularly if the two are not in synch.

To date, providers have focused on readmissions happening within 30 days, largely in an effort to avoid financial penalties imposed by Medicare and Medicaid. However, if the following research is solid, it could push the focus of care much closer to hospital discharge dates.

In an effort which could change the process of avoiding readmissions, a group of researchers has found a way to predict a patient’s risk for needing additional medical care within three days of discharge. The new approach developed jointly by Penn State and Geisinger Health Plan, relies on clinical, administrative and socio-economic data drawn from patients admitted to Geisinger over two years.

The model they created is known as REDD, an acronym which stands for readmission, emergency department or death. Using this model can help physicians target interventions effective and reduce the number of adverse events, according to Deepak Agrawal, one of the Penn State researchers.

You won’t be surprised to hear that readmissions after 30 days are often related to social determinants of health, such as a poor home environment, limited access to services and scant social support. Providers are certainly working to close these gaps, but to date, this has remained a major challenge.

However, the dynamics are different when finding patients who may be readmitted quickly. “Readmissions closer to discharge are more likely to related to factors that are actually present but are not identified at the time the patient is discharged,” said research team leader Sundar Kumara, Allen E. Pearce and Allen M. Pierce Professor of Industrial Engineering with Penn State, who was quoted in a prepared statement.

Another Penn State researcher, Cheng-Bang Chen, added another interesting observation. He noted that the more time that passes after a patient gets discharged, the less likely it is that problems will be caught in time. After all, it may be a while before treating physicians have time to review lengthy hospital records, and the patient could experience a time-sensitive event before the physician completes the review.

To test the REDD program, Geisinger ran a six-month pilot tracking high-risk patients and adding additional services designed to avoid readmissions, ED visits or death.

To treat this population effectively, physicians took a number of steps, such as scheduling appointments with patients’ primary care doctors, educating patients about their medications and post-discharge care plans,  having the inpatient clinical pharmacist review the provider’s recommendations, filling patient prescriptions before discharge and having the hospital check on patients discharged to a skilled nursing facility one day after discharge.

It’s worth noting that there was one major issue which undermined the research results. Penn State reported that because of a shortage of nurses at the hospital during the pilot, they couldn’t tell whether the REDD program met its goals.

Still, researchers are convinced they’re heading in the right direction. “If the REDD model was fully implemented and aligned with clinical workflows, it has the potential to dramatically reduce hospital readmissions,” said Eric Reich, manager of health care re-engineering at Geisinger.

Let’s hope he’s right.

4 Tricks to Help Busy Practices Stay Organized

Posted on June 13, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Over the past several months, we’ve been discussing how to use surveys to find out what your patients think of you—and then how to make the necessary changes. In addition, we’ve been looking at some of the most common complaints uncovered in patient surveys. These include:

* Excessive wait times (read more about that here)
* Inadequate communication (read more about that here)
* Disorganized operations

Today we are discussing the importance of keeping your practice moving smoothly and efficiently. No one likes going to a doctor’s visit only to find that they are running behind, have forgotten you were coming, or have lost your patient records. And yet that happens all too often.

Office managers and physicians are constantly balancing a huge number of tasks, including patient problems, staffing challenges, budget planning, payroll, and more. Unless you consciously strive to improve the organization and efficiency in your practice, you end up spending a whole lot of time putting out fires instead of preventing them from happening. This inevitably leads to more stress for you, lower productivity for staff, and poor satisfaction from patients.

With today’s consumer-focused patients, it’s imperative that you keep your office running like a well-oiled machine at all times. Otherwise, they are likely to simply move their business to the practice down the street instead. So here are a few tips to make juggling all the balls in your life a little easier.

  1. Schedule time for planning.
    One of the best ways to make sure you’re staying ahead of everything is to plan out your day in advance. Do you have a shipment of new supplies arriving? A new employee to train? Emails to be created? In this industry, every day brings something new. In order to make sure that nothing interferes with the patient experience, you’ve got to plan ahead. The best way to do this is to actually block off some time on your calendar where you decide what needs to be focused on—a simple 15-30 minutes each day is usually all you need. Many people find that the end of the day is a great time for this. That way you can be prepared for whatever the next day may bring.
  2. Batch your tasks.
    When doing your planning, give batching a try. Batching is when you select similar jobs and schedule them to be completed in one setting. Productivity experts have found that when we batch tasks, we are more focused, efficient, and, ultimately, more productive. We simply work better when we can focus on one thing at a time. Many large tasks can be batched by day. For example:

    • Mondays—Staff communication and training
    • Tuesdays—Payroll, billing, and other financial tasks
    • Wednesday– Marketing to get new patients (running ads, managing online presence, etc)
    • Thursday—Patient outreach to get returning patients (newsletters, social media, etc.)
    • Fridays—General administrative tasks and planning for the following week

    Of course, there will be times when things come up that need your attention. Be flexible in addressing those issues.

  3. Maximize efficiencies.
    Your practice should make life easier for patients. This means that you need to take a close look at everything from appointment scheduling to the check-in process to the way patients move within your facility to see if there can be improvements. Consider:

    1. Implementing an online scheduling tool, where patients can schedule their own appointments. This will help cut back on time on the phone.
    2. Using an automated wait list to fill last minute cancellations. Using a system to automatically send out an email or text message blast to everyone wanting to be seen sooner can free up time for staff and fill those exam rooms.
    3. Making your reception area easy to locate and clear of clutter so that patients can use it to sign forms. You may also try using a digital check-in process with a tablet or computer.
    4. Reviewing the flow of your practice. Patients should move from the waiting room to the exam room and back without much confusion. This is done best when they always move in a single direction—much like a highway.
  4. Take advantage of technology—but be wise.
    There are a lot of things still being done manually in an office that can be put on “auto” instead. Everything from recall to appointment reminders to birthday messaging and more can be done in a way that doesn’t require daily supervision from you. We have so many amazing technologies that can help us stay organized. Apps, calendars, to-do lists, and so on. It is important, however, to not let technology distract you. Did you know that every time you switch between tasks, you lose around 15 minutes? So every time you check email, for example, in the middle of another task, you lose precious amounts of productive time. Instead, set aside a time when you check your email (or complete other tech-related tasks) each day and stick to it. Perhaps you do it first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before leaving. That way you do not waste tons of time.

Ultimately, every practice wants to deliver exceptional patient care, and a big part of that is practice organization and efficiency. Ask yourself, “Is my office making a real effort to improve processes and make life easier for patients?” If not, implement procedures to do so. It will have a lasting, positive impact on both office staff efficiency and overall patient satisfaction.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.