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ICD-10 Deja Vu – End of Grace Period

Posted on June 8, 2016 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.

I recently came across this article by Aiden Spencer about the possibility that ICD-10 could still cause issues for healthcare organizations once the grace period ends. Here’s what he suggests:

The CMS grace period was a welcomed relief because it meant practices would still be reimbursed under Medicare Part B for claims that at least had a valid ICD-10 diagnosis code. This meant physicians and their staff could get up to speed without worrying about taking a huge hit to their revenue stream.

With only five months left until the grace period ends, industry experts are predicting that an ICD-10 crisis might still be coming for some providers. Will you be one of them? Are you currently implementing quality medical billing software, or will the system you’re using fail come October 1st?

This certainly feels like what we were talking about last October when ICD-10 went live. A bunch of fuss and very little impact on healthcare. Are we heading for another round of fear and anxiety over the end of the ICD-10 grace period?

My gut tells me that it won’t be a bit deal for most healthcare organizations. They’ve had a year to improve their ICD-10 coding and so it won’t likely be an issue for most. This is particularly true for organizations who have quality HIM staff that’s gone through and done audits of their ICD-10 coding practices to ensure that they were doing so accurately.

I saw one stat from KPMG that only 11 percent of healthcare organizations described the ICD-10 implementation as a “failure to operate in an ICD-10 environment” with 80% finding the move to ICD-10 to be smooth. I imagine we’ll have a similar breakout when the ICD-10 grace period ends. Just make sure you’re not part of the 11 percent.

Direct Primary Care Docs And EMRs

Posted on April 14, 2016 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.

For those that haven’t stumbled upon it, direct primary care is an emerging model for changing the relationship between primary care docs and their patients. Under this model, patients pay primary care practices a flat fee per month which covers all services they use during that month. From what I’ve seen, fees are typically between $50 and $100 per month, depending on the patient’s age.

The key to this model — which borrows from but is emphatically not a concierge set-up — is taking insurance companies out of the relationship. And investors seem to be excited about this approach, with VC money flowing into DPC companies and startups like Turntable Health, which is backed by CEO Tony Hsieh.

I bring this up because I wanted to lay out a theory and see what you folks think. The theory doesn’t come from me; it was tossed out in a blog item by Twine Health, which makes a collaborative care platform. In the item, Twine blogger Chris Storer argues that the DPC movement is enabling doctors to junk their EMRs, which he suggests have been put in place to handle insurance documentation.

While the notion is self-serving, given that Twine seemingly wants to replace EMRs in the healthcare continuum, I thought it gave rise to an interesting thought experiment. Are EMRs mostly a tool to placate insurance companies? It’s worth considering. While Twine may or may not offer a solution, it’s hard to argue that existing EMRs “have empowered both physicians and patients in developing relationships that result in better healthcare outcomes.”

In the blog item, Storer argues that primary care practices largely use EMRs as a means of capturing data, and by doing so meeting insurance claims requirements. Though he offers no evidence to this effect, Storer suggests that DPC practices are dumping EMRs to focus better on patient care. There’s actually at least one direct-primary-care oriented EMR on the market (, which is backed by a DPC practice in Wichita, KS), but that doesn’t prove the blogger wrong.

For Twine and its ilk, the question seems to be whether switching from EMRs to another care management model would actually improve the patient experience in and of itself. I’m sure that Twine (and others who consider themselves competitors) believe that it will.

As I see it, though, they’re talking around some key issues. no matter how user-friendly a platform is, No how laudable its goals are, I doubt that even a direct primary care practice unfettered by insurance requirements could seamlessly shift their practice to a platform such this. And no matter how good next-gen collaborative tools are — and I’m optimistic about them, as a category — the workflow issues which have alienated patients in the EMR age won’t go away entirely.

So while I’ll believe that DPC practices want to pitch their EMR, my guess is that the odds of their replacing it with an alternative platform are slim. Now, if collaborative care players catch practices when they’re being formed, that may be a different story. But for now my guess is that any practice that has an EMR in place is unlikely to dump it for the time being. The alternatives (including going back to paper charts) are unlikely to make sense.

Will Medical Billing Systems Fail Under ICD-10 Phase 2?

Posted on April 6, 2016 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.

The people at CureMD sent out this tweet and image with a pretty powerful assertion about the future of medical billing systems.
Medical Billing Systems Fail Under ICD-10

I’d like to know where CureMD got the stat in their tweet. That’s a pretty strong assertion about medical billing systems. Based on my knowledge and experience, I’m not sure I agree with them. If they’d have said that ICD-10 in general would cause 50% of medical billing systems to fail, I would have thought it was high but possible. It’s not clear to me how phase 2 of ICD-10 will be so much worse for medical billing systems. Maybe they’ll share in the webinar.

I have seen a bunch of medical billing systems that were running on fumes heading into ICD-10. There was no one really actively developing these systems and they weren’t worrying about ICD-10. They were just sucking whatever revenue they could out of their existing clients and they were going to end of life the product once they ran out of clients. They’re like medical billing system zombies.

Turns out that there are a lot more of these types of systems in healthcare than you probably realized. In fact, I’m surprised we haven’t heard more about their demise after ICD-10’s implementation last year. Whenever I’d talk to doctors, they’d often tell me which EHR they had or which EHR they were considering. Then, I’d ask them which PM system they used and they’d tell me about some software I’d never heard of before. They knew it. They liked it. Many of them would happily say that “you could pull it from their cold dead hands.”

It’s interesting to see CureMD predict that it may be time for us to start doing just that. What are you seeing? Are medical billing systems going to have trouble with the 2nd phase of ICD-10? Will we see a bunch of them finally close up shop? What do you see?

What’s Ahead with Alternative Payment Models

Posted on March 24, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Matt Waltrich, Vice President of Payer Solutions at RemitDATA.
Matt Waltrich
As the market continues to evaluate alternative pricing models, bundled pricing shows great promise

Imagine this: Your car needs new brakes and your auto shop tells you the cost is in the range of $150 to $3,000.   They tell you to pay $500 now since that’s the amount you have on hand.  The next day, the service is done and you pick up your car.  Thirty days later, you receive a $700 bill for ‘rotor installation time and materials’.   When you call, they explain that the staff mechanic was off that day and they had to bring in an expert to fill in.   A few days later you get another bill for $350 for additional work that was needed on your calipers.     When you call the auto shop again, they tell you they don’t control ‘third party costs.’  You were never told up front about these costs, and you are now on the hook for $1,050 in extra fees.  Time to find a new auto shop.

Sadly, in the world of healthcare, this is not an uncommon scenario, where $1,050 could just as easily be a financially crushing $105,000 unexpected medical bill.

Although healthcare pricing models have traditionally been designed around fee for service, payer/provider contract rates are often complex, with little transparency and consistency for the patient.  In May 2013 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reported huge discrepancies in the prices that hospitals charge for common in-patient procedures.  This echoes the perception that pricing set by providers is often arbitrary, such that only the uninsured are charged the list rates.  In some cases, pricing even seems to be disconnected from the actual cost of care, with inflated rates offsetting negotiated discounts.

In an effort to address this, provisions within the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are targeting how healthcare is organized, delivered, and paid for. For example, the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative was created by the ACA to increase fee for service reimbursements for Medicare based on alternative payment models (APM) and to increase the percentage of reimbursements linked to quality and value.  Reimbursements are aligned with four broadly defined models.  These models bundle payments for multiple services under individual episodes of care. With BPCI organizations enter into payment arrangements that include financial and performance accountability for these episodes of care. The goal is higher quality and more coordinated care at a lower cost to Medicare.

The industry will watch models like this closely.  Applied more broadly, pricing models like BPCI can give payers a new approach to deliver greater value to providers and patients.  Bundled pricing makes it easier for patients to compare medical costs and understand how procedures are valued, including the cost of the facility and providers. This approach empowers patients to price compare, and seek out low cost, high quality care.

Some health plans have already implemented their own alternative payment models, for example:

  • In 2008, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts developed its Alternative Quality Contract (AQC) which gives provider groups an annual budget for meeting all the healthcare needs of their patients while still hitting quality targets.
  • In 2011, CaroMont Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), implemented a bundled payment arrangement for an entire knee replacement.

As payers begin to invest in implementing more bundled payment initiatives, the application of comparative analytics can help guide payers toward identifying the greatest opportunities to impact cost of care.   By examining historical claims data, payers can identify their highest volume and cost procedures (grouped by episodes of care) to establish actual prices. By applying these pricing methodologies, payers can reduce costs with a consumer-driven model that focuses on value-based choices.

Several factors should be considered in determining the success of these models:

  • Provider willingness to embrace risk/reward models
  • The ability for providers to collaborate amongst themselves and effectively manage payment distribution for episodes of care in a coordinated fashion.
  • The alignment of plan benefit designs that encourage members to use providers in bundled payment arrangements.

With proper development and application, bundled pricing models have the potential to drive significant change in the industry by lowering cost of care, improving outcomes, and giving health care consumers better transparency around true costs.  With the broad adoption of alternative payment models throughout the healthcare industry, surprise bills and unanticipated fees may become a thing of the past.

Another Quality Initiative Ahead of Its Time, From California

Posted on March 21, 2016 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site ( and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

When people go to get health care–or any other activity–we evaluate it for both cost and quality. But health care regulators have to recognize when the ingredients for quality assessment are missing. Otherwise, assessing quality becomes like the drunk who famously looked for his key under the lamplight instead of where the key actually lay. And sadly, as I read a March 4 draft of a California initiative to rate health care insurance, I find that once again the foundations for assessing quality are not in place, and we are chasing lamplights rather than the keys that will unlock better care.

The initiative I’ll discuss in this article comes out of Covered California, one of the Unites States’ 13 state-based marketplaces for health insurance mandated by the ACA. (All the other states use a federal marketplace or some hybrid solution.) As the country’s biggest state–and one known for progressive experiments–California is worth following to see how adept they are at promoting the universally acknowledged Triple Aim of health care.

An overview of health care quality

There’s no dearth of quality measurement efforts in health care–I gave a partial overview in another article. The Covered California draft cites many of these efforts and advises insurers to hook up with them.

Alas–there are problems with all the quality control efforts:

  • Problems with gathering accurate data (and as we’ll see in California’s case, problems with the overhead and bureaucracy created by this gathering)

  • Problems finding measures that reflect actual improvements in outcomes

  • Problems separating things doctors can control (such as follow-up phone calls) with things they can’t (lack of social supports or means of getting treatment)

  • Problems turning insights into programs that improve care.

But the biggest problem in health care quality, I believe, is the intractable variety of patients. How can you say that a particular patient with a particular combination of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and diabetes should improve by a certain amount over a certain period of time? How can you guess how many office visits it will take to achieve a change, how many pills, how many hospitalizations? How much should an insurer pay for this treatment?

The more sophisticated payers stratify patients, classifying them by the seriousness of their conditions. And of course, doctors have learned how to game that system. A cleverly designed study by the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research has uncovered upcoding in the U.S.’s largest quality-based reimbursement program, Medicare Advantage. They demonstrate that doctors are gaming the system in two ways. First, as the use of Medicare Advantage goes up, so do the diagnosed risk levels of patients. Second, patients who transition from private insurance into Medicare Advantage show higher risk not seen in fee-for-service Medicare.

I don’t see any fixes in the Covered California draft to the problem of upcoding. Probably, like most government reimbursement programs, California will slap on some weighting factor that rewards hospitals with higher numbers of poor and underprivileged patients. But this is a crude measure and is often suspected of underestimating the extra costs these patients bring.

A look at the Covered California draft

Covered California certainly understands what the health care field needs, and one has to be impressed with the sheer reach and comprehensiveness of their quality plan. Among other things, they take on:

  • Patient involvement and access to records (how the providers hated that in the federal Meaningful Use requirements!)

  • Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities

  • Electronic record interoperability

  • Preventive health and wellness services

  • Mental and behavioral health

  • Pharmaceutical costs

  • Telemedicine

If there are any pet initiatives of healthcare reformers that didn’t make it into the Covered California plan, I certainly am having trouble finding them.

Being so extensive, the plan suffers from two more burdens. First, the reporting requirements are enormous–I would imagine that insurers and providers would balk simply at that. The requirements are burdensome partly because Covered California doesn’t seem to trust that the major thrust of health reform–paying for outcomes instead of for individual services–will provide an incentive for providers to do other good things. They haven’t forgotten value-based reimbursement (it’s in section 8.02, page 33), but they also insist on detailed reporting about patient engagement, identifying high-risk patients, and reducing overuse through choosing treatments wisely. All those things should happen on their own if insurers and clinicians adopt payments for outcomes.

Second, many of the mandates are vague. It’s not always clear what Covered California is looking for–let alone how the reporting requirements will contribute to positive change. For instance, how will insurers be evaluated in their use of behavioral health, and how will that use be mapped to meeting the goals of the Triple Aim?

Is rescue on the horizon?

According to a news report, the Covered California plan is “drawing heavy fire from medical providers and insurers.” I’m not surprised, given all the weaknesses I found, but I’m disappointed that their objections (as stated in the article) come from the worst possible motivation: they don’t like its call for transparent pricing. Hiding the padding of costs by major hospitals, the cozy payer/provider deals, and the widespread disparities unrelated to quality doesn’t put providers and insurers on the moral high ground.

To me, the true problem is that the health care field has not learned yet how to measure quality and cost effectiveness. There’s hope, though, with the Precision Medicine initiative that recently celebrated its first anniversary. Although analytical firms seem to be focusing on processing genomic information from patients–a high-tech and lucrative undertaking, but one that offers small gains–the real benefit would come if we “correlate activity, physiological measures and environmental exposures with health outcomes.” Those sources of patient variation account for most of the variability in care and in outcomes. Capture that, and quality will be measurable.

15 Questions to Self Assess Your Medical Billing

Posted on December 10, 2015 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.

Care360 has put out a great little whitepaper that looks at outsourcing your medical billing. In the whitepaper, they talk about various aspects of doing your medical billing in house or outsourced including: control, communication, cost, performance, and management style.

This is all great, but I find that many practices are still trying to figure out whether they should spend time considering outsourced medical billing or not. So, the best part of the whitepaper for me was these 15 questions that provide a good self assessment of a practice’s medical billing:

Medical Billing Self Assessment

Remember that answering yes doesn’t mean you should outsource your billing. For example, if on question #13 you say you are looking to expand your practice, then that might be a reason not to outsource your billing. From my experience medical billing generally benefits from scale. So, if you’re planning to grow your practice large enough, it might make since to keep your billing staff in house if you can grow it large enough to enjoy the benefits of scale.

There are a lot more details on outsourced medical billing in the whitepaper. I’m seeing more and more organizations outsourcing their billing as it’s become more complex. These questions provide a good framework for you to consider your current approach and how you could benefit or suffer if you outsourced your billing.

Outsourced Medical Billing #KareoChat on Twitter

Posted on August 26, 2015 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.

On Thursday, August 27th at 9 AM PT (Noon ET), I’ll be hosting the #KareoChat where we’ll be discussing the good and bad of outsourced medical billing. You can follow along tomorrow on Twitter by watching the #KareoChat hashtag or by checking out my tweets on @ehrandhit.
Outsourced Medical Billing Twitter Chat
Here are the questions we’ll be discussing in tomorrow’s Twitter chat:

  1. Why are many practices choosing outsourced billing over in house?
  2. What are the disadvantages of outsourced billing?
  3. How will ACOs and value based reimbursement work with an outsourced billing company?
  4. How do you select a high quality outside billing company? What differentiates these companies?
  5. Does your outsourced billing company need to have tight integration with your EHR? Why or why not?
  6. What are the pros and cons of outsourcing your billing to your EHR vendor?

I’m particularly interested in people’s responses to question number 3. I think many in healthcare understand the good and bad of doing the billing in house or outsourcing it. Although, I’m pretty sure I’ll learn even more on the Twitter chat tomorrow. However, how things like ACOs and value based reimbursement will impact an outsourced billing company is still a really important topic of discussion. Will it drive more people towards outsourcing their billing or will it mean more practices bring their billing in house? I’ll be interested to hear people’s thoughts on tomorrow’s Twitter chat or feel free to start the discussion in the comments below.

Will We Need Billing Codes Once We Have Nice Structured EHR Clinical Data?

Posted on July 27, 2015 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.

I had a really fascinating discussion recently with @AlexHBurgess where we discussed the role of billing codes in an EHR today and also the future of billing codes as EHR notes get much better and more granular. This is particularly interesting to me as I’m at the HealthPort HIM Summit the next couple days.

Here’s the question that started the conversation:

This was @AlexHBurgess’s response:

And then I replied:

The last question is something worth chewing on. I’ll have to ask it of a few HIM managers the next couple days. I think the simple answer is that we’ll still likely need billing codes. I don’t think that our payers are forward thinking enough or at least progressive enough to try and push forward a non-billing code reimbursement system. It’s pretty interesting to think about though.

The second reason I don’t think it’s likely to happen is that the data in the EHR will likely not be good enough. Although, if the data in the EHR (and not just the billing codes that were selected) were how you got paid, then you’d see a dramatic improvement in the quality of the EHR data. So, maybe it’s not a bad idea after all. I’m pretty sure my medical billing friends would scoff at this idea as they think about the number of times they’ve had to have doctors correct something in the paper chart to make sure the billing was ok.

Long story short, I think that you could theoretically get rid of medical billing codes and just use EHR data for reimbursement. However, in practice I don’t really see this ever becoming a reality. At least not in the short to medium term.