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Increasingly, Physician Practices Paying Fees To Receive Electronic Payments

Posted on October 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.

Virtually no one would argue that health plan reimbursement levels are particularly high. Adding a fee if they want to get paid electronically seems like adding insult to injury, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, one in six medical practices report being hit with these charges, according to research by the Medical Group Management Association. Its recent survey found that some practices are paying a meaningful percentage of total medical services payments to get paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).

Under rules created by the Affordable Care Act, designed to decrease healthcare administrative overhead, CMS created a standard for EFT transactions. Health plans have been required to offer EFT payments if providers request it since 2014.

Health plans’ payment policies seem to vary, however. A recent MGMA Stat poll, which generated responses from more than 900 medical practice leaders, found that while 50% of practices were not paying fees for receiving payments via EFT, others are absorbing big surcharges.

For one thing, health plans are increasingly offering practices a “virtual credit card” they can use to receive payments. While 32% of MGMA respondents said they weren’t sure whether they paid an electronic payments fee or not, other research suggests that many practices end up using virtual credit cards without knowing they would be charged 3-5% per payment received.

Meanwhile, 17% of respondents told MGMA they were definitely paying transaction fees, and of that group, almost 60% said that the health plans in question used a third-party payment vendor.

MGMA sees this as little short of highway robbery. “Some bad actors are fleecing physician groups by charging them to simply receive an electronic paycheck,” said Anders Gilberg, MGMA’s senior vice president for government affairs.

The MGMA is asking CMS to issue guidance preventing health plans and payment vendors from charging EFT-related fees. The group argues that such fees are counter to the goal of reducing healthcare administrative complexity, the stated purpose of requiring health plans to offer EFT payments.

Also, the American Hospital Association and NACHA, the electronic payments association, are asking CMS to set standards on when and how health plans can implement virtual cards, as well as making it easy for practices to move to EFT.

The imposition of fees is particularly unfair given that health plans benefit significantly from issuing EFT payments, the group says. For one thing, health insurers save millions of dollars by sending payments via EFT, MGMA notes. Not only that, sending payments via EFT allows health plans to automate the re-association of electronic payments with the Electronic Remittance Advice.

While it’s true that physician practices used to save time staff would’ve used to manually process and deposit paper checks, that doesn’t make the fees okay, the group argues. “Beyond the material administrative time savings for all sides, the time and resources that physician practices spend on billing and related tasks are better spent delivering healthcare to patients,” it said in a prepared statement.

Medical Groups Struggling To Collect Payments Promptly

Posted on August 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.

Particularly as patients assume responsibility for more of the costs of care, it’s getting harder for providers to collect on outstanding bills.

My recent look at a dashboard created by the Medical Group Management Association certainly underscores the point. The story it tells is a grim one. Despite their best efforts, few practices are succeeding at meeting RCM challenges.

The MGMA intends the dashboard, which focuses on the number of days bills spend in Accounts Receivable, to give medical groups some benchmark RCM data. It relies on data from the group’s 2016 DataDive Cost and Revenue study, and allows users to view (at no cost):

  • Mean percentages of accounts receivable aged 0-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days, 91-120 days and over 120 days
  • Mean days gross fee-for-service charges in A/R
  • Meeting days adjusted fee-for-service charges in A/R

It also allows users to select a specialty group type, including primary care, nonsurgical, surgical and multispecialty practices and look at their specific profile.

For example, the dashboard reveals that roughly 50% of accounts held by primary care practices spent a mean of 0-30 days in A/R, 11.2% of accounts were aged 31-60 days, 6.9% were at 61-90 days, 6.2% stayed in A/R for 91-120 days and 25.4% for 120+ days in A/R.

The MGMA page also stated that primary-care groups had an overall average of 61.86 adjusted days in A/R and 35.60 gross days in A/R.

Does that sound depressing? Well, it should. What’s more, other specialties’ performance was nearly as bad in some categories and even worse in others.

Look at the performance of nonsurgical groups. Only 44.7% of nonsurgical groups’ revenue came in within 30 days in A/R or less, almost 13% of accounts averaged 31-60 days before being paid, and almost 15% of accounts spent between 61 and 120 days in A/R. Twenty-eight percent of accounts had a mean 120+ days in A/R before being satisfied.

The other stats were even worse. For example, nonsurgical groups’ accounts spent a mean of 88 days in A/R and 46.2 gross days in A/R. Not very encouraging.

Even well-paid surgeons weren’t exempt from this problem. Most of the account aging stats were distributed similarly to the other specialty areas, and only 28.2% of accounts in this area spent more than 120 days in A/R. However, adjusted days in A/R came in at 136.7 and gross days in A/R at 54.

Meanwhile, the tally for multispecialty groups was a bit better, but not much. Account aging benchmarks were very similar to primary care practices, and adjusted days in A/R came in at 69.4.

Most of you probably had an idea that medical groups were facing these kind of collection problems, even if you didn’t have these benchmark numbers in hand. The thing is, they were even worse than I feared. (An acquaintance working in medical billing called the results “comical.”)

I don’t know what percentage of the accounts in question were self-pay, but given that self-pay is becoming a steadily higher proportion of medical practice revenue, these stats are pretty bad news. Something’s gotta give eventually. Plus, we’ll have to keep tracking how this data trends over time.

USAA Tapping EHR To Gather Data From Life Insurance Applicants

Posted on August 10, 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.

I can’t believe I missed this. Apparently, financial giant USAA announced earlier this year that it’s collecting health data from life insurance applicants by interfacing with patient portals. While it may not be the first life insurer to do so, I haven’t been able to find any others, which makes this pretty interesting.

Usually, when someone applies for life insurance, they have to produce medical records which support their application. (We wouldn’t want someone to buy a policy and pop off the next day, would we?) In the past, applicants have had to push their providers to send medical records to the insurer. As anyone who’s tried to get health records for themselves knows, getting this done can be challenging and is likely to slow down policy approvals.

Thanks to USAA’s new technology implementation, however, the process is much simpler. The new offering, which is available to applicants at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, allows consumers to deliver their health data directly to the insurer via their patient portal.

To make this possible, USAA worked with Cerner on EHR retrieval technology. The technology, known as HealtheHistory, supports health data collection,  encrypts data transmission and limits access to EHR data to approved persons. No word yet as to whether Cerner has struck similar deals elsewhere but it wouldn’t surprise me.

USAA’s new EHR-based approach has paid off nicely. The life insurer has seen an average 30-day reduction in the time it takes to acquire health records for applicants, and though it doesn’t say what the average was back in the days of paper records, I assume that this is a big improvement.

And now on to the less attractive aspects of this deal. I don’t know about you, but I see a couple of red flags here.

First, while life insurers may know how to capture health data, I doubt they’re cognizant of HIPAA nuances. Even if they hire a truckload of HIPAA experts, they don’t have much context for maintaining HIPAA compliance. What’s more, they rarely if ever have to look a patient in the face, which serves as something of a natural deterrent to provider data carelessness.

Also, given the industry’s track record, is it really a good idea to give a life insurer that much data? For example, consider the case of a healthy 36-year-old woman with no current medical issues who was denied coverage because she had the BRCA 1 gene. That gene, as some readers may know, is associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The life insurer apparently found out about the woman’s makeup as part of the application process, which included queries about genetic information. Apparently, the woman had had such testing, and as a result had to disclose it or risk being accused of fraud.

While the insurer in question may have the right, legally, to make such decisions, their doing so falls into a gray area ethically. What’s more, things would get foggier if, say, it decided to share such information with a sister health insurance division. Doing so may not be legal but I can easily see it happening.

Should someone’s genes be used to exclude them life or health insurance? Bar them from being approved for a mortgage from another sister company? Can insurers be trusted to meet HIPAA standards for use of PHI? It’ll be important to address such questions before we throw our weight behind open health data sharing with companies like USAA.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT, Second Stanza

Posted on July 7, 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.

As some of you may recall, I recently wrote a positive review of Kaiser Permanente’s use of consumer-facing health IT. (Kaiser Permanente is both my health insurer and provider.) Their offerings have a number of strengths including:

  • Interfaces: The kp.org site is decent, and the KP app highly usable
  • Access to care: Booking medical appointments is easy, as is cancelling them
  • Responsiveness: Physicians are quick to replay to email via the Kaiser portal
  • Connectedness: Thanks to being on a shared Epic platform, every provider knows my history (at least for the time I’ve spent within the KP system, which is pretty useful)

At the time, I also noted that I had a few minor concerns about the portal features and whatnot, but I was still a fan of KP’s setup.

By and large, my perceptions of Kaiser’s consumer health IT strengths haven’t changed. However, after a couple of months in the system, I’ve gotten a good look at its weaknesses as well. And I thought you might be interested in the problems Kaiser faces in connecting consumers, particularly given its use of best practices in many cases.

All told, these weaknesses suggest that over more than ten years after its Epic rollout, KP leaders still haven’t put their entire consumer health IT strategy in place. Here are a couple of my concerns.

Specialist appointments aren’t integrated

The biggest gripe I have with Kaiser’s interactive tools is that while I can schedule PCP appointments myself, I haven’t been able to set specialist appointments without speaking to a real live person. (My primary care doctor seems to be able to access specialist schedules and set appointments with them on my behalf.)

This may work for someone with no significant health problems, but creates a significant burden for me. After all, as someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I schedule a lot of specialist consults. You don’t realize how much time it takes to set each appointment with a clerical person until you’ve done it for five times in a week.  Try it sometime.

You might assume that this is a rationing measure, as organizations like KP are pretty strict about limiting access to specialist care. The truth is, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At least when it comes to my primary care physician (a big shout out to my PCP, Dr. Jason Singh) it doesn’t seem to be unduly hard to get access to specialists when needed.

No, I have concluded that the reason I can’t schedule specialist appointments online is that KP still hasn’t gotten their act together on this front. My guess is that the specialist systems live in some kind of silo, one that KP hasn’t managed to break down yet.

Mobile and web tools clash

As noted above, I’m largely satisfied with both KP’s consumer portal and its mobile app. True, the website sprawls a bit when it comes to presenting static content — such as physician bios — but the portal itself works fine. The mobile app, meanwhile, is great to use, as it presents my choices clearly and uses screen real estate effectively.

That being said, it annoys the heck out of me that there are minor but seemingly pointless, differences between how the portal and the mobile app function. It would be one thing the app was a shrunken down version of the website, offering a parallel but more limited version of available functions, but that isn’t how it works.

Instead, the services accessible through the portal and via the mobile app vary in small but irritating ways. For example, when emailing providers, you must choose a prewritten subject line from a drop-down menu. And I don’t know why, but the list of subjects available on the web portal version varies significantly from the list of subjects you can access via the mobile app.

There may be a rational reason for this. And mine may sound like a petty objection. But when you’re trying to address something as important as your healthcare, you want to know what’s going on with every detail.

I’d identify other ways in which the app and website portal vary, but I don’t have any other examples I can recall. And that’s the whole point. You don’t remember how the site and/or portal function until you stumble into another incompatibility. You roll your eyes and move on, but you see them again and waste one more spark of energy being annoyed.

It’s all about tradeoffs

So, you might ask if there’s any broad lesson to be taken from this. Honestly, probably not. I don’t like that KP’s tools pose these problems, but they don’t strike me as unusual.

And do my criticisms have any meaning for other healthcare organizations? Nothing more than a reminder that patients will take note of even small problems in your health IT execution, particularly when it comes to tools they rely upon to get things done.

In the end, of course, it’s all about trade-offs, as with any other industry. I don’t know whether KP chose to prioritize a potentially dangerous problem in provider-facing technologies over consumer quibbles, or just don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps they know and have added the fix to a long list of pending projects, or perhaps they don’t have their act together.

Still, lest it is lost in the discussion, remember I’m the customer, and I really don’t care about your IT problems. I just want to have tools that work every time and simplify my life.

So this is my official challenges to Kaiser leadership. For Pete’s sake, KP, would you please help me cut down on the specialist phone calls? Perhaps you could create a centralized specialist appointment call center, or use carrier pigeons, or let me suss out their schedules using my vast psychic powers — hey, they’re all options. Or maybe, just maybe, you can let me schedule the appointments online. Your call.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT

Posted on May 19, 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.

Usually, particularly when I have complaints, I don’t name the providers or vendors who serve my healthcare needs, largely because I don’t want to let my personal gripes overshadow my analysis of a particular health IT issue.

That being said, I thought I’d veer from that rule today, as I wanted to share some details on how Kaiser Permanente, my new provider and health plan, supports consumers with health IT functions. Despite having started with Kaiser – in this case the DC metro division – less than a week ago, being an e-patient I’ve had my hands all over its Web – and mobile-based options for patients.

I’m not going to say the system is perfect by any means. There are some blind alleys on the web site, and some problems in integrating clinical information into consumer records, but so far their set-up largely seems thoughtful and well-managed.

Having allegedly spent $4 billion plus on its Epic rollout, it’s hard to imagine how Kaiser could have realized that big a return even several years later, but it seems that the healthcare giant is at least doing many of the right things.

Getting enrolled

My first contact with Kaiser, after signing up with Healthcare.gov, was a piece of snail-mail which provided us with our insurance cards and a summary of our particular coverage. The insurance cards included my health plan ID/medical record number.

To enroll on the core Kaiser site, kp.org, I had to supply the record number, my birth date and a few other basic pieces of information. I also downloaded the KP app, which offers a far-more-elegant interface to the same functions.

Medical appointments

Once logged in, it was easy to choose a primary care doctor and OB/GYN by searching the site and clicking a selection button. If you wished you could review physician profiles and educational history as well as testimonial quotes from patients about that doctor before you chose them.

Having chosen a doctor, booking an appointment with them online was easy.  As with Zocdoc.com, you entered a range of dates for a possible consult, then chose the slot that worked for you. And if you need to cancel one of those appointments, it’s easy to do so online.

Digital communication

I was glad to see that the Kaiser portal allows you to email your doctor directly, something which is less common than you might think. (My last primary care group wouldn’t even put their doctors on the phone.)

Not only that, everyone I’ve talked to at KP so far– three medical appointments, as I was playing catch-up — has stressed that the email function isn’t just for show. My new providers insisted that they do answer email messages, and that I shouldn’t hesitate to write if I have questions or concerns.

Another way KP leverages digital communications is the simple, but effective, device of texting me when my prescriptions are due for a refill. This may not sound like much, but convenience matters! (I can also check med reminders by logging in to a custom KP meds app.)

Data sharing

Given that everyone at Kaiser uses the same Epic EMR, clinicians are of course more aware of what their colleagues are doing than my past gaggle of disconnected specialists. They seem quite serious about reading this history before seeing me, something which past physicians haven’t always done, even if I was previously seen by someone else in their practice.

KP also uses Epic’s Care Everywhere function, which allows them to pull in a limited summary of care from other Epic-based providers. While Care Everywhere has limits, the providers are making use of what they can.

One small wrinkle was that prior to two of my visits, I filled out a questionnaire online and when asked to submit it to my electronic patient record, did so. Nonetheless, I was asked to fill out the same questionnaire again, on paper, when I saw a specialist.

Test results

KP seems to be set up appropriately to share standard test results. However, I’ve already had one test, a mammogram, and in doing so found out that their data sharing infrastructure isn’t quite complete.

After being scanned, I was told that I’d receive my results via snail-mail, in about two weeks. I’m glad that this was a routine screening, rather than a test to investigate something scary, as I would have been pretty upset with this news if I was worried.

My conclusions

I don’t want to romanticize Kaiser’s consumer HIT services. After all, looked at one way, KP is only doing what integrated health systems are supposed to do, and not without at least a few hitches.

Still, at least on first view, on the whole I’m pretty happy with how Kaiser’s interactive functions are deployed, as well the general attitude staff members seem to have about consumer use of HIT tools. Generally speaking, they seem to encourage it, and for someone like me that’s quite welcome.

As I see it, if providers outside of the Kaiser bubble were as married to a shared infrastructure as KP providers are, my care would be much improved. Let’s see if I still if I still feel that way after the new health plan smell has worn off!

The Sexiest Data in Health IT: Datapalooza 2017

Posted on May 15, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor.
Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare.
twitter: @coherencemed

The data at this conference was the Best Data. The Biggest Data. No one has better data than this conference.

The sexiest data in all of healthIT was highlighted in Washington DC at Datapalooza April 27-28, 2017.  One of the main themes was how to deal with social determinants of health and the value of that data.  Sachin H. Jain, MD of Caremore Health reminded us that “If a patient doesn’t have food at home waiting for them they won’t get better” social data needs to be in the equation. Some of the chatter on the subject of healthcare reform has been criticism that providing mandatory coverage hasn’t always been paired with knowledge of the area. If a patient qualifies for Medicaid and has a lower paying job how can they afford to miss work and get care for their health issues?
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Rural areas also have access issues. Patient “Charles” works full time during the week and qualifies for Medicaid. He can’t afford to miss a lot of work but needs a half a day to get treatments which affect his ability to work. There is no public transportation in his town to the hospital in a city an hour and a half away. Charles can’t afford the gas or unpaid time off work for his treatment.

Urban patient “Haley” returns to her local ER department more than once a week with Asthma attacks.  Her treatments are failing because she lives in an apartment with mold in the walls. As Craig Kartchner from the Intermountain Healthcare team responded to the #datapalooza  hashtag online- These can be the most difficult things to change.

The 2016 report to Congress addresses the difficulty of the intersection between social factors and providing quality healthcare in terms of Social Determinants of Health:

“If beneficiaries with social risk factors have worse health outcomes because the providers they see provide low quality care, value based purchasing could be a powerful tool to drive improvements in care and reduce health disparities. However, if beneficiaries with social risk factors have worse health outcomes because of elements beyond the quality of care provided, such as the social risk factors themselves, value based payment models could do just the opposite. If providers have limited ability to influence health outcomes for beneficiaries with social risk factors, they may become reluctant to care for beneficiaries with social risk factors, out of fear of incurring penalties due to factors they have limited ability to influence.”

Innovaccer just launched a free tool to help care teams track and monitor Medicare advantage plans. I went to their website and looked at my county and found data about the strengths in Salt Lake where I’m located. They included:

  • Low prevalence of smoking
  • Low Unemployed Percentage
  • Low prevalence of physically inactive adults

Challenges for my area?

  • Low graduation rate
  • High average of daily Air pollution
  • High income inequality
  • High Violent crime rate per 100,000 population

Salt Lake actually has some really bad inversion problems during the winter months and some days the particulate matter in the air creates problems for respiratory problems. During the 2016-2017 winter there were 18 days of red air quality and 28 days of yellow air quality. A smart solution for addressing social determinants of health that negatively impact patients in this area could be addressing decreasing air pollution through increased public transportation. Healthcare systems will see an increase in cost of care during those times and long term population health challenges can emerge. You can look at your county after you enter your email address on their site. This kind of social data visualization can give high level insights into the social factors your population faces.

One of the themes of HealthDataPalooza was how to use system change to navigate the intersection between taking care of patients and not finding way to exclude groups. During his panel discussion of predictive analytics, Craig Monson the medical director for analytics and reporting discussed how “data analytics is the shiny new toy of healthcare.”    In addition to winning the unofficial datapalooza award for the most quotes and one liners – Craig presented the Clinical Risk Prediction Initiative (CRISPI).  This is a multi variable logistic regression model with data from the Atrius health data warehouse. His questions for systems to remember in their data analysis selection are “Who is the population you are serving? What is the outcome you need? What is the intervention you should implement?”

Warning- Craig reminds us that in a world of increasing sexy artificial intelligence coding a lot of the value analysis can be done with regression. Based on that statement alone I think he can be trusted. I still need to see his data.

CRISPI analyzed the relative utility of certain types of data, and didn’t have a large jump in utility when adding Social Determinant Data. This data was one of the most popular data sets during Datapalooza discussions but the reality of making actionable insights into system improvement? Craig’s analysis said it was lacking. Does this mean social determinant data isn’t significant or that it needs to be handled with a combination of traditional modeling and other methods?  Craig’s assertion seemed to fly in the face of the hot new trend of Social Determinants of Health data from the surface.

Do we have too much data or the wrong use of the data? Most of the companies investing into this space used data sources outside the traditional definition to help create solutions with social determinate of health and Patient outcomes. They differed in how they analyzed social determinant data. Traditional data sources for the social determinants of health are well defined within the public health research.  The conditions in which you work and live impact your health.

Datapalooza had some of the greatest minds in data analytics and speakers addressed gaps in data usefulness. Knowing that a certain large county wide population has a problem with air quality might not be enough to improve patient outcomes. There is need for analysis of traditional data sources in this realm and how they can get meaningful impact for patients and communities. Healthcare innovators need to look at different data sources.  Nick Dawson, Executive director of Johns-Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub responded to the conversation about food at home with the data about Washington DC.  “DC like many cities has open public data on food scarcity. But it’s not part of a clinical record. The two datasets never touch.” Data about food scarcity can help hospital systems collaborate with SNAP and Government as well as local food programs. Dawson leads an innovation lab at Johns Hopkins Sibley where managers, directors, VPs and C Suite leaders are responsible for working with 4 innovation projects each year.

Audun Utengen, the Co Founder of Symplur said “There’s so much gold in the social media data if you choose to see it.” Social data available online helps providers meet patients where they are and collect valuable data.  Social media data is another source to collect data about patient preferences and interactions for reaching healthcare populations providers are trying to serve. With so much data available sorting through relevant and helpful data provides a new challenge for healthcare systems and providers.

New Data sources can be paired with a consultative model for improving the intersection of accountable care and lack of access due to social factors. We have more sophisticated analytic tools than ever for providing high value care in the intersection between provider responsibility and social collaboration. This proactive collaboration needs to occur on local and national levels.  “It’s the social determinants of health and the behavioral aspects that we need to fund and will change healthcare” we were reminded. Finding local community programs that have success and helping develop a strategy for approaching Social Determinants of Health is on the mind of healthIT professionals.

A number of companies examine data from sources such as social media and internet usage or behavioral data to design improvements for social determinants of health outcomes.   They seek to bridge the gaps mentioned by Dawson. Data sets exist that could help build programs for social determinants of health.  Mandi Bishop started Lifely Insights centered around building custom community plans with behavioral insights into social determinant data. Health in all Policies is a government initiative supporting increased structure and guidelines in these areas. They support local and State initiatives with a focus on prevention.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the data landscape evolves this year. Government Challenges such as the Healthy Behavior Data Challenge launched at Datapalooza will help fund great improvements. All the data people will get together and determine meaningful data sets for building programs addressing the social determinants of health. They will have visualization tools with Tableau. They will find ways to get food to patients at home so those patients will get better. Programs will find a way to get care to rural patients with financial difficulty and build safe housing.

From a healthcare delivery perspective the idea of collaborating about data models can help improve community health and decrease provider and payer cost. The social determinants of health can cost healthcare organizations more money than data modeling and proactive community collaboration.

Great regressions, saving money and improving outcomes?

That is Datapalooza.

Using AI To Streamline EMR Workflow For Clinicians

Posted on May 10, 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.

Understandably, most of the discussion around AI use in healthcare focuses on data analytics for population health management and predictive analytics. Given the massive scale of the data we’re collecting, that’s no surprise.

In fact, one could argue that using AI technologies has gone from an interesting idea to an increasingly established parto the health IT mix. After all, few human beings can truly understand what’s revealed by terabytes of data on their own, even using well-designed dashboards, filters, scripting and what have you. I believe it takes a self-educating AI “persona,” if you will, to glean advanced insights from the eternity of information we have today.

That being said, I believe there’s other compelling uses for AI-fueled technologies for healthcare organizations. If we use even a relatively simple form of interpretive intelligence, we can improve health IT workflows for clinicians.

As clinicians have pointed out over and over, most of what they do with EMRs is repetitive monkey work, varied only by the need to customize small but vital elements of the medical record. Tasks related to that work – such as sending copies of a CT scan to a referring doctor – usually have to be done in another application. (And that’s if they’re lucky. They might be forced to hunt down and mail a DVD disc loaded with the image.)

Then there’s documentation work which, though important enough, has to be done in a way to satisfy payers. I know some practice management systems that integrate with the office EMR auto-populate the patient record with coding and billing information, but my sense is that this type of automation wouldn’t scale within a health system given the data silos that still exist.

What if we used AI to make all of this easier for providers? I’m talking about using a predictive intelligence, integrated with the EMR, that personalizes the way data entry, documentation and follow-up needs are presented. The AI solution could automatically queue up or even execute some of the routine tasks on its own, leaving doctors to focus on the essence of their work. We all know Dr. Z doesn’t really want to chase down that imaging study and mail it to Albany. AI technology could also route patients to testing and scans in the most efficient manner, adjusted for acuity of course.

While AI development has been focused on enterprise issues for some time, it’s already moving beyond the back office into day-to-day care. In fact, always-ahead-of-the-curve Geisinger Health System is already doing a great deal to bring AI and predictive analytics to the bedside.

Geisinger, which has had a full-featured EMR in place since 1996, was struggling to aggregate and manage patient data, largely because its legacy analytics systems couldn’t handle the flood of new data types emerging today.

To address the problem, the system rolled out a unified data architecture which allowed it to integrate current data with its existing data analytics and management tools. This includes a program bringing together all sepsis-vulnerable patient information in one place as they travel through the hospital. The tool uses real-time data to track patients in septic shock, helping doctors to stick to protocols.

As for me, I’d like to see AI tools pushed further. Let’s use them to lessen the administrative burden on overworked physicians, eliminating needless chores and simplifying documentation workflow. And it’s more than time to use AI capabilities to create a personalized, efficient EMR workflow for every clinician.

Think I’m dreaming here? I hope not! Using AI to eliminate physician hassles could be a very big deal.

ACP Offers Recommendations On Reducing MD Administrative Overload

Posted on March 30, 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.

As everyone knows, physicians are being overwhelmed by outsized levels of administrative chores. As if dealing with insurance companies wasn’t challenging enough, in recent years EMRs have added to this burden, with clinicians doing double duty as data entry clerks after they’re seen patients.

Unfortunately, streamlining EMR use for clinical use has proven to be a major challenge. Still, there are steps healthcare organizations can take to cut down on clinicians’ administrative frustrations, according to the American College of Physicians.

The ACP’s recommendations include the following:

  1. Stakeholders responsible for imposing administrative tasks – such as payors, government and vendors – should analyze the impact of administrative tasks on physicians. If a task is found to have a negative effect on care quality, needlessly questions a clinician’s judgment or increases costs, it should be challenged, fixed or removed.
  2. If an administrative task can’t be cut, it must be reviewed, revised, aligned or streamlined to reduce stakeholders’ burden.
  3. Stakeholders should collaborate with professional societies, clinicians, patients and EMR vendors to develop performance measures that minimize needless clinician burden and integrate performance reporting and quality improvement.
  4. All key stakeholders should collaborate in reducing, streamlining, reducing and aligning clinicians’ administrative tasks by making better use of health IT.
  5. As the US healthcare system shifts to value-based payment, stakeholders should consider streamlining or eliminating duplicative administrative demands.
  6. The ACP would like to see rigorous research done on the impact of administrative tasks on healthcare quality, time and cost; on clinicians, staff and healthcare organizations; patient and family; and patient outcomes.
  7. The ACP calls for research on best practices for cutting down on clinicians’ administrative tasks within both practices and organizations. All key stakeholders, including clinician societies, payors, regulators, vendors and suppliers, should disseminate these evidence-based best practices.

It appears that even the federal government has begun to take these issues to heart. According to Modern Healthcare, late last year CMS announced a long-term initiative intended to reduce physicians’ administrative burdens.  Then-acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt said the initiative would hopefully make it a bit easier for practices to meet the requirements of the Quality Payment Program under MACRA.

But other sources of administrative frustration are likely to linger for the foreseeable future, as they’re deeply ingrained in stakeholder business processes or simply difficult to change.

For example, the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that some of the biggest aggravations and time wasters for its members include the need to get prior authorizations from health plans and outdated CMS documentation guidelines for E/M services which don’t leverage EMR capabilities. Sadly, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either of those problems to be solved.

Still, it seems some healthcare organizations want to take on the administrative overhead problem. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has launched an initiative aimed at reducing the number of computer-related tasks doctors have to perform. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, UPMC is partnering with Microsoft to minimize physicians’ need to do electronic paperwork. Executives with the two organizations say this effort should result in tools for both doctors and patients.

Accountable Care HIT Spending Growing Worldwide

Posted on November 30, 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 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.

A new market research report has concluded that given the pressures advancing the development of accountable care models, the market for solutions serving ACOs should expand worldwide, though North America is likely to lead the segment for the near future.

The report, by research firm Markets & Markets, covers a wide range of technologies, including EHRs, healthcare analytics, HIE, RCM, CDSS, population health, claims management and care management. It also looks at delivery mode, e.g. on premise, web and cloud and end-user, which includes providers and payers. So bear that in mind when you look at these numbers. That being said, providers accounted for the largest share of this niche last year, and should see the highest growth in the sector over the next five years.

Broadly speaking, Markets & Markets reports that the accountable care solutions market grew a healthy growth rate during the last decade. Researchers there expect to see this market grow at a CAGR of 16.6% over the next five years, to hit $18.86 billion by 2021.

When it comes to leaders in the sector, researchers identify Cerner, IBM, Aetna and Epic as leaders in the current ACO solutions market and probable future winners between 2016 and 2021. Other major players in the space include UnitedHealth Group, Allscripts, McKesson, Verisk Health, Zeomega, eClinicalWorks and NextGen. Given how broadly they define this category, I’m not sure how important this is, but there you have it.

According Markets & Markets, the growth of the ACO solutions market worldwide is due to forces we know well, including shifting government regulations, the rollout of initiatives shifting financial risk from payers to providers, the demand to slow down healthcare cost increases in the advance of IT and big data capabilities. (Personally, I’d add the desire of health systems – ACO-affiliated or not – to differentiate themselves by performing well at the population health level.)

If your view is largely US-centric, as is mine, you might be interested to note that the trend towards ACO-like entities in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions is expanding, the researchers report. Most specifically, Markets & Markets researchers found that there is notable growth occurring in Asian countries, which, it reports, are modifying regulations and monitoring the implementation of procedures, policies and guidelines to promote innovation and commercialization. This has led to an increasing number of hospitals and academic institutions interested in the sector, along with a government focus on implementing health IT solutions and infrastructure – factors likely to generate an expanding ACO solutions market there.

After reading all of this, the question I’m left with is whether there’s any point in differentiating an “ACO” specific player as these researchers have. Maybe I’m playing with words too much hear, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the definition of health system infrastructure is evolving, whether it’s part of an ACO as such or not?

AMA Approves List Of Best Principles For Mobile Health App Design

Posted on November 29, 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 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.

The American Medical Association has effectively thrown her weight behind the use of mobile health applications, at least if those apps meet the criteria members agreed on at a recent AMA meeting. That being said, the group also argues that the industry needs to expand the evidence base demonstrating that apps are accurate, effective, safe and secure. The principles, which were approved at its recent Interim Meeting, are intended to guide coverage and payment policies supporting the use of mHealth apps.

The AMA attendees agreed on the following principles, which are intended to guide the use of not only mobile health apps but also associated devices, trackers and sensors by patients, physicians and others. They require that mobile apps and devices meet the following somewhat predictable criteria:

  • Supporting the establishment or continuation of a valid patient-physician relationship
  • Having a clinical evidence base to support their use in order to ensure mHealth apps safety and effectiveness
  • Following evidence-based practice guidelines, to the degree they are available, to ensure patient safety, quality of care and positive health outcomes
  • Supporting data portability and interoperability in order to promote care coordination through medical home and accountable care models
  • Abiding by state licensure laws and state medical practice laws and requirements in the state in which the patient receives services facilitated by the app
  • Requiring that physicians and other health practitioners delivering services through the app be licensed in the state where the patient receives services, or will be providing these services is otherwise authorized by that state’s medical board
  • Ensuring that the delivery of any service via the app is consistent with the state scope of practice laws

In addition to laying out these principles, the AMA also looked at legal issues physicians might face in using mHealth apps. And that’s where things got interesting.

For one thing, the AMA argues that it’s at least partially on a physician’s head to school patients on how secure and private a given app may be (or fail to be). That implies that your average physician will probably have to become more aware of how well a range of apps handle such issues, something I doubt most have studied to date.

The AMA also charges physicians to become aware of whether mHealth apps and associated devices, trackers and sensors are abiding by all applicable privacy and security laws. In fact, according to the new policy, doctors are supposed to consult with an attorney if they don’t know whether mobile health apps meet federal or state privacy and security laws. That warning, while doubtless prudent, must not be helping members sleep at night.

Finally, the AMA notes that there are still questions remaining as to what risks physicians face who use, recommend or prescribe mobile apps. I have little doubt that they are right about this.

Just think of the malpractice lawsuit possibilities. Is the doctor liable because they relied on inaccurate app results collected by the patient? If the app they recommended presented inaccurate results? How about if the app was created by the practice or health system for which they work? What about if the physician relied on inaccurate data generated by a sensor or wearable — is a physician liable or the device manufacturer? If I can come up with these questions, you know a plaintiff’s attorney can do a lot better.