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Is Value Based Care Just Regulatory and Reimbursement Hoop Jumping?

Posted on September 17, 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.

In theory, we all love the move to value based care. Why aren’t we paying healthcare providers to improve care. It just makes sense. In fact, the fee for service model in many ways feels so unnatural. While the theoretical value based care sounds good, getting there is much easier said than done. Translating the simple idea of value based care into regulations and reimbursement is a really hard thing to do.

I’ve often asked the question, “Is value based care just a regulation and reimbursement hoop jumping activity?” Does he who can jump through the hoops the best win? Or is it really the person who improves the care the most win?

I found two Twitter threads discussing ACOs that may shed some insight into not only ACOs, but the shift to value based reimbursement. Plus, I think it might help to answer the question above.

The first ACO thread is in response to an NGACO report from CMS that was shared by David Muhlestein.

In response to David’s tweet, Adam Solomon offered his perspectives in this tweet storm:

Sorry to chime in late. Our NGACO experience was very interesting. Our benchmark was based on our historical utilization for a similarly attributed population. They then added a very low trend factor to come up with a final target.

In the end, our PBPM cost was actually lower than the benchmark, but we still owed over $5 million to CMS. What happened?

Because the baseline year risk was calculated in the 2014 model and year 1 was the 2016 model, they couldn’t directly compare the acuity of the two populations. Therefore, the utilized a ratio comparing our trend to that of others. Our RAF score didn’t jump as much as theirs.

So our RAF “decreased” suggesting our active population was healthier than our baseline. That accounted for over $2.5 million dollars of “loss.”

The other hit was the way they calculated stop loss. Sure, there was an elective level of aggregate stop loss, but they also assigned a PBPM cost for individual stop loss based on expectations for number of patients with claims over the 90th percentile.

Because California has historically high costs, they estimated that we would have an abnormally high number of patients that exceeded that threshold. That was something like a $20 PBPM hit or another $3.5 million of artificial cost to us.

In the end, although we saved CMS money, we still needed to pay them for our “loss.”

Separate from that, the NORC Report noted above uses a different methodology to estimate savings. Instead of using ourselves as a baseline, they used a regional reference population.

The saddest part for us was that our utilization was always at the top end with little room for improvement. As an example, here’s admits/k for year 2 NGACOs. We’re dark blue.

In a separate tweet storm, Farzad Mostashari, Former National Coordinator at ONC and now Founder of Aledade offered this look at the ACO results:

1/ 2017 #MSSP #ACO Results!
ACOs have scaled rapidly across the country!

In aggregate, the 472 ACOs were accountable for nearly 9 million Medicare beneficiaries and $95 Billion- that’s a quarter of all fee for service, and almost half of the entire Medicare Advantage market.

2/ If you add up all the actual costs versus benchmarks, these 472 ACOs were collectively $1.1B under their benchmarks (more on whether that’s the right counterfactual later).

Medicare shared $780 million in payments with the ACOs, netting the taxpayer $313M

But wait!

There’s lots of evidence that the benchmark under-estimates the savings produced. @JMichaelMcW et al have shown convincingly that a true “difference in difference” approach would show substantially higher net impact.

The green eyeshades folks at CMS OACT said add 60%

3/ So that means that the best guess for MSSP savings is actually $1.75B in 2017, with Medicare paying out $780M (45%)- not a bad deal for the taxpayer!!!

That does NOT count savings that come from lower costs to the taxpayer from Medicare Advantage rates that are keyed off FFS

4/ Here’s how the CMS actuaries put it:

And on quality- the average ACO earned 92% on their quality scores- and the scores improve the longer you are in the program according to the ACO Rule’s Regulatory Impact Assesment.

(The Aledade average quality score applied was over 95%, and as high as 99.8% #GoKANSAS)

6/ Lemme say that again….

ACOs saved Medicare over a Billion dollars in 2017.

Cheaper than FFS, cheaper than MA.

And they did it without cutting payments to doctors or narrow networks

And they did it with higher patient quality.

That’s called delivering what was promised

7/ the Track 1 ACOs more than held their own here

Best guess is that Track 2/3 generated 190M in savings (w 60% spillover) and received $95M (50%)

Track 1: $1.5B in savings, $685M in payments (44%)

(I’m still a believer in moving to 2-sided risk to help weed out ACO squatting)

8/ You know what was a great investment? Giving small and rural physician-led ACOs an advance payment to help them invest in infrastructure and setup costs.

It was critical to the success of several of our @AledadeACO

More commercial payors should do this!

9/ But what this initial release does not help us do is see which type of ACOs are creating the most value.

My guess is that it’s not much different from what the CMS actuaries found for PY 2016- ACOs that include hospitals and directly control more of the cost of care do worse

10/ The “low revenue” ACOs (in the OACT analysis – less than 10% of total cost of care came to them) were only a third of the lives in the program, but generated roughly 98% of the savings.

THAT is why in the ACO Rule CMS proposed letting them stay in low risk models longer

11/ That was the entire thesis behind “the paradox of primary care leadership” that informed the founding of @AledadeACO

That is also why @AledadeACO partners with independent physician practices, not hospitals like others do.

Health Reform and Physician-Led Accountable Care
Even though most adult primary care physicians may not realize it, they each can be seen as a chief executive officer (CEO) in charge of approximately $10 million of annual revenue. Consider that a t…

12/ A quick analysis by the amazing @Travis_Broome divides these 2017 results by whether the ACOs included a “facility/CCN” (CAH, RHC, FQHC don’t count for this purpose) –

Same pattern- 95% of the savings are coming from the ACOs that don’t include hospitals.

13/ Only 3.5M of the 9M ACO-attributed benes were cared for by the smaller ACOs that didn’t include a hospital facility- and they generated 95% of the savings.

If you’re an independent practice seeing these results and the policy direction, why would you join a hospital ACO?
So how did @AledadeACO do?

We are always very transparent with our results- even when things didn’t go our way- to look for ways to be better, and to make policies better that are holding back broader success.

This article 2 years ago was full of pain.
The Opportunities and Challenges of the MSSP ACO Program: A Report From the Field
This article provides a detailed description of a Medicare Shared Savings Program accountable care organization (ACO)’s actions and results, to increase understanding of the challenges and opportunit…

15/ This was a good year for @AledadeACO

Only 1/7 freshmen ACOs made savings- but we have learned to set expectations- it’s a long game.

But 5/8 ACOs that were sophomores or older will get checks.

And 2/3 that didn’t get MSSP crushed it in commercial contracts.

16/ But I’m more proud that EVERY ONE of our @AledadeACO have measurably improved health for the patients we are accountable for.

We have increased wellness visits, transitional care, and chronic care management- and that’s translated into lower ED visits and readmissions

17/ So where do we go from here?

The #MSSP #ACO program has been a hugely successful motivator of nationwide transformation, but it can be reformed, and I believe @SeemaCMS is on the right track.

Here’s what I would expect might change between the NPRM and the final ACO rule:

18/ The GlidePath to risk reduces ACO squatting, and brings revenue-based downside risk to MSSP, but the lowered gainshare in 1st 2 years (25%) is not enough to get new entrants and ACO investments.

(as suggested) “low revenue” ACOs should get higher gain-share and lower MSR

19/ The refined benchmarking method gives greater predictability by allowing risk adjustment and regional trending-which is great!
But the cap on risk adj (3% over 5 years?!) don’t control for rising risk and introduces gaming on falling risk

Instead of a cap, do renormalization

20/ Concern about “windfall profits” led to an ill-advised proposal to cap regional efficiency at 5% – In Medicare Advantage if you are efficient, you get to keep the difference, which has spurred huge innovation in the space. why blunt improvement? 100% tax brackets are not good

21/ Credit to CMS for trying to fix the unintended “regional comparator” problem- where rural ACO savings are reduced in direct proportion to market share. But the “national trend blend” proposal makes NO SENSE.

Let’s just take ACO benes out of the regional comparison please!

22/ But the biggest impact of these results on the proposed rule should be on the idea that the way to benefit the Trust Fund is to protect it from ACO earnings.

These caps, etc reduce ACO earnings- and ACO motivation/participation- and therefore reduced benefit to Medicare

23/ The NPRM RIA estimates through 2024 these caps push $390M in lower ACO earnings, but lower ACO participation under these policies will INCREASE claims costs by $60M- and would prevent beneficiaries from receiving the benefits of the program. That’s not the right balance

24/ The magic of accountable care is when physicians & Medicare partner together to sustainably align financial incentives, help beneficiaries and the Trust Fund.

Medicare hasn’t behaved like some commercial payers who are still seeing zero sum. Let’s hold onto that partnership

I’ll let you be the judge after reading through these threads. Are ACOs going to really improve healthcare and lower costs? Will the best healthcare win? Or will the people who understand the government rule making process and healthcare accounting be the big winners?

As I read through these, it seems like you better get your accountants and healthcare policy experts ready. That brings joy to every doctor’s ears…I’m sure!

Creating Healthcare Interoperability Bundles

Posted on October 25, 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.

At this point in the evolution of healthcare data, you’d think it would be easy to at least define interoperability, even if we can’t make it happen. But the truth is that despite the critical importance of the term, we still aren’t as clear as we should be on how to define it. In fact, the range of possible solutions that can be called “interoperable” is all over the map.

For example, a TechTarget site defines interoperability as “the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer.” When defined down to its most basic elements, even passive methods of pushing data from one to another count is interoperability, even if that data doesn’t get used in clinical care.

Meanwhile, an analysis by research firm KLAS breaks interoperability down into four levels of usefulness, ranked from information being available, to providers having the ability to locate records, to the availability of clinical view to this data having an impact on patient care.

According to a recent survey by the firm, 20% of respondents had access to patient information, 13% could easily locate the data, 8% could access the data via a clinical view and just 6% had interoperable data in hand that could impact patient care.

Clearly, there’s a big gap between these two definitions, and that’s a problem. Why? Because the way we define baseline interoperability will have concrete consequences on how data is organized, transmitted and stored. So I’d argue that until we have a better idea of what true, full interoperability looks like, maybe we should map out interoperability “bundles” that suit a given clinical situation.

A Variety of Interoperabilities

For example, if you’re an ACO addressing population health issues, it would make sense to define a specific level of interoperability needed to support patient self-management and behavioral change. And that would include not only sharing between EMR databases, but also remote monitoring information and even fitness tracking data. After all, there is little value to trying to, say, address chronic health concerns without addressing some data collected outside of clinic or hospital.

On the other hand, when caring for a nursing home-bound patient, coordination of care across hospitals, rehab centers, nurses, pharmacists and other caregivers is vital. So full-fledged interoperability in this setting must be effective horizontally, i.e. between institutions. Without a richly-detailed history of care, it can be quite difficult to help a dependent patient with a low level of physical or mental functioning effectively. (For more background on nursing home data sharing click here.)

Then, consider the case of a healthy married couple with two healthy children. Getting together the right data on these patients may simply be a matter of seeing to it that urgent care visit data is shared with a primary care physician, and that the occasional specialist is looped in as needed. To serve this population, in other words, you don’t need too many bells and whistles interoperability-wise.

Of course, it would be great if we could throw the floodgates open and share data with everyone everywhere the way, say, cellular networks do already. But given that such in event won’t happen anytime in the near future, it probably makes sense to limit our expectations and build some data sharing models that work today.

Significant Articles in the Health IT Community in 2015

Posted on December 15, 2015 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.

Have you kept current with changes in device connectivity, Meaningful Use, analytics in healthcare, and other health IT topics during 2015? Here are some of the articles I find significant that came out over the past year.

The year kicked off with an ominous poll about Stage 2 Meaningful Use, with implications that came to a head later with the release of Stage 3 requirements. Out of 1800 physicians polled around the beginning of the year, more than half were throwing in the towel–they were not even going to try to qualify for Stage 2 payments. Negotiations over Stage 3 of Meaningful Use were intense and fierce. A January 2015 letter from medical associations to ONC asked for more certainty around testing and certification, and mentioned the need for better data exchange (which the health field likes to call interoperability) in the C-CDA, the most popular document exchange format.

A number of expert panels asked ONC to cut back on some requirements, including public health measures and patient view-download-transmit. One major industry group asked for a delay of Stage 3 till 2019, essentially tolerating a lack of communication among EHRs. The final rules, absurdly described as a simplification, backed down on nothing from patient data access to quality measure reporting. Beth Israel CIO John Halamka–who has shuttled back and forth between his Massachusetts home and Washington, DC to advise ONC on how to achieve health IT reform–took aim at Meaningful Use and several other federal initiatives.

Another harbinger of emerging issues in health IT came in January with a speech about privacy risks in connected devices by the head of the Federal Trade Commission (not an organization we hear from often in the health IT space). The FTC is concerned about the security of recent trends in what industry analysts like to call the Internet of Things, and medical devices rank high in these risks. The speech was a lead-up to a major report issued by the FTC on protecting devices in the Internet of Things. Articles in WIRED and Bloomberg described serious security flaws. In August, John Halamka wrote own warning about medical devices, which have not yet started taking security really seriously. Smart watches are just as vulnerable as other devices.

Because so much medical innovation is happening in fast-moving software, and low-budget developers are hankering for quick and cheap ways to release their applications, in February, the FDA started to chip away at its bureaucratic gamut by releasing guidelines releasing developers from FDA regulation medical apps without impacts on treatment and apps used just to transfer data or do similarly non-transformative operations. They also released a rule for unique IDs on medical devices, a long-overdue measure that helps hospitals and researchers integrate devices into monitoring systems. Without clear and unambiguous IDs, one cannot trace which safety problems are associated with which devices. Other forms of automation may also now become possible. In September, the FDA announced a public advisory committee on devices.

Another FDA decision with a potential long-range impact was allowing 23andMe to market its genetic testing to consumers.

The Department of Health and Human Services has taken on exceedingly ambitious goals during 2015. In addition to the daunting Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, they announced a substantial increase in the use of fee-for-value, although they would still leave half of providers on the old system of doling out individual payments for individual procedures. In December, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo announced that Health Information Exchanges (which limit themselves only to a small geographic area, or sometimes one state) would be able to exchange data throughout the country within one year. Observers immediately pointed out that the state of interoperability is not ready for this transition (and they could well have added the need for better analytics as well). HHS’s five-year plan includes the use of patient-generated and non-clinical data.

The poor state of interoperability was highlighted in an article about fees charged by EHR vendors just for setting up a connection and for each data transfer.

In the perennial search for why doctors are not exchanging patient information, attention has turned to rumors of deliberate information blocking. It’s a difficult accusation to pin down. Is information blocked by health care providers or by vendors? Does charging a fee, refusing to support a particular form of information exchange, or using a unique data format constitute information blocking? On the positive side, unnecessary imaging procedures can be reduced through information exchange.

Accountable Care Organizations are also having trouble, both because they are information-poor and because the CMS version of fee-for-value is too timid, along with other financial blows and perhaps an inability to retain patients. An August article analyzed the positives and negatives in a CMS announcement. On a large scale, fee-for-value may work. But a key component of improvement in chronic conditions is behavioral health which EHRs are also unsuited for.

Pricing and consumer choice have become a major battleground in the current health insurance business. The steep rise in health insurance deductibles and copays has been justified (somewhat retroactively) by claiming that patients should have more responsibility to control health care costs. But the reality of health care shopping points in the other direction. A report card on state price transparency laws found the situation “bleak.” Another article shows that efforts to list prices are hampered by interoperability and other problems. One personal account of a billing disaster shows the state of price transparency today, and may be dangerous to read because it could trigger traumatic memories of your own interactions with health providers and insurers. Narrow and confusing insurance networks as well as fragmented delivery of services hamper doctor shopping. You may go to a doctor who your insurance plan assures you is in their network, only to be charged outrageous out-of-network costs. Tools are often out of date overly simplistic.

In regard to the quality ratings that are supposed to allow intelligent choices to patients, A study found that four hospital rating sites have very different ratings for the same hospitals. The criteria used to rate them is inconsistent. Quality measures provided by government databases are marred by incorrect data. The American Medical Association, always disturbed by public ratings of doctors for obvious reasons, recently complained of incorrect numbers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In July, the ProPublica site offered a search service called the Surgeon Scorecard. One article summarized the many positive and negative reactions. The New England Journal of Medicine has called ratings of surgeons unreliable.

2015 was the year of the intensely watched Department of Defense upgrade to its health care system. One long article offered an in-depth examination of DoD options and their implications for the evolution of health care. Another article promoted the advantages of open-source VistA, an argument that was not persuasive enough for the DoD. Still, openness was one of the criteria sought by the DoD.

The remote delivery of information, monitoring, and treatment (which goes by the quaint term “telemedicine”) has been the subject of much discussion. Those concerned with this development can follow the links in a summary article to see the various positions of major industry players. One advocate of patient empowerment interviewed doctors to find that, contrary to common fears, they can offer email access to patients without becoming overwhelmed. In fact, they think it leads to better outcomes. (However, it still isn’t reimbursed.)

Laws permitting reimbursement for telemedicine continued to spread among the states. But a major battle shaped up around a ruling in Texas that doctors have a pre-existing face-to-face meeting with any patient whom they want to treat remotely. The spread of telemedicine depends also on reform of state licensing laws to permit practices across state lines.

Much wailing and tears welled up over the required transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. The AMA, with some good arguments, suggested just waiting for ICD-11. But the transition cost much less than anticipated, making ICD-10 much less of a hot button, although it may be harmful to diagnosis.

Formal studies of EHR strengths and weaknesses are rare, so I’ll mention this survey finding that EHRs aid with public health but are ungainly for the sophisticated uses required for long-term, accountable patient care. Meanwhile, half of hospitals surveyed are unhappy with their EHRs’ usability and functionality and doctors are increasingly frustrated with EHRs. Nurses complained about technologies’s time demands and the eternal lack of interoperability. A HIMSS survey turned up somewhat more postive feelings.

EHRs are also expensive enough to hurt hospital balance sheets and force them to forgo other important expenditures.

Electronic health records also took a hit from ONC’s Sentinel Events program. To err, it seems, is not only human but now computer-aided. A Sentinel Event Alert indicated that more errors in health IT products should be reported, claiming that many go unreported because patient harm was avoided. The FDA started checking self-reported problems on PatientsLikeMe for adverse drug events.

The ONC reported gains in patient ability to view, download, and transmit their health information online, but found patient portals still limited. Although one article praised patient portals by Epic, Allscripts, and NextGen, an overview of studies found that patient portals are disappointing, partly because elderly patients have trouble with them. A literature review highlighted where patient portals fall short. In contrast, giving patients full access to doctors’ notes increases compliance and reduces errors. HHS’s Office of Civil Rights released rules underlining patients’ rights to access their data.

While we’re wallowing in downers, review a study questioning the value of patient-centered medical homes.

Reuters published a warning about employee wellness programs, which are nowhere near as fair or accurate as they claim to be. They are turning into just another expression of unequal power between employer and employee, with tendencies to punish sick people.

An interesting article questioned the industry narrative about the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act, saying that the industry is expanding robustly in the face of the tax. However, this tax is still a hot political issue.

Does anyone remember that Republican congressmen published an alternative health care reform plan to replace the ACA? An analysis finds both good and bad points in its approach to mandates, malpractice, and insurance coverage.

Early reports on use of Apple’s open ResearchKit suggested problems with selection bias and diversity.

An in-depth look at the use of devices to enhance mental activity examined where they might be useful or harmful.

A major genetic data mining effort by pharma companies and Britain’s National Health Service was announced. The FDA announced a site called precisionFDA for sharing resources related to genetic testing. A recent site invites people to upload health and fitness data to support research.

As data becomes more liquid and is collected by more entities, patient privacy suffers. An analysis of web sites turned up shocking practices in , even at supposedly reputable sites like WebMD. Lax security in health care networks was addressed in a Forbes article.

Of minor interest to health IT workers, but eagerly awaited by doctors, was Congress’s “doc fix” to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula. The bill did contain additional clauses that were called significant by a number of observers, including former National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari no less, for opening up new initiatives in interoperability, telehealth, patient monitoring, and especially fee-for-value.

Connected health took a step forward when CMS issued reimbursement guidelines for patient monitoring in the community.

A wonky but important dispute concerned whether self-insured employers should be required to report public health measures, because public health by definition needs to draw information from as wide a population as possible.

Data breaches always make lurid news, sometimes under surprising circumstances, and not always caused by health care providers. The 2015 security news was dominated by a massive breach at the Anthem health insurer.

Along with great fanfare in Scientific American for “precision medicine,” another Scientific American article covered its privacy risks.

A blog posting promoted early and intensive interactions with end users during app design.

A study found that HIT implementations hamper clinicians, but could not identify the reasons.

Natural language processing was praised for its potential for simplifying data entry, and to discover useful side effects and treatment issues.

CVS’s refusal to stock tobacco products was called “a major sea-change for public health” and part of a general trend of pharmacies toward whole care of the patient.

A long interview with FHIR leader Grahame Grieve described the progress of the project, and its the need for clinicians to take data exchange seriously. A quiet milestone was reached in October with a a production version from Cerner.

Given the frequent invocation of Uber (even more than the Cheesecake Factory) as a model for health IT innovation, it’s worth seeing the reasons that model is inapplicable.

A number of hot new sensors and devices were announced, including a tiny sensor from Intel, a device from Google to measure blood sugar and another for multiple vital signs, enhancements to Microsoft products, a temperature monitor for babies, a headset for detecting epilepsy, cheap cameras from New Zealand and MIT for doing retinal scans, a smart phone app for recognizing respiratory illnesses, a smart-phone connected device for detecting brain injuries and one for detecting cancer, a sleep-tracking ring, bed sensors, ultrasound-guided needle placement, a device for detecting pneumonia, and a pill that can track heartbeats.

The medical field isn’t making extensive use yet of data collection and analysis–or uses analytics for financial gain rather than patient care–the potential is demonstrated by many isolated success stories, including one from Johns Hopkins study using 25 patient measures to study sepsis and another from an Ontario hospital. In an intriguing peek at our possible future, IBM Watson has started to integrate patient data with its base of clinical research studies.

Frustrated enough with 2015? To end on an upbeat note, envision a future made bright by predictive analytics.

We’re Hosting the #KareoChat and Discussing Value Based Care and ACOs – Join Us!

Posted on June 23, 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.

ACO and Value Based Reimbursement Twitter Chat
We’re excited to be hosting this week’s #KareoChat on Thursday, 6/25 at 9 AM PT (Noon ET) where we’ll be diving into the details around Value Based Care and ACOs. We’ll be hosting the chat from @ehrandhit and chiming in on occasion from @techguy and @healthcarescene as well.

The topic of value based care and ACOs is extremely important to small practice physicians since understanding and participating in it will be key to their survival. At least that’s my take. I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on these changes on Thursday’s Twitter chat. Here are the questions we’ll be discussing over the hour:

  1. What’s the latest trends in value based reimbursement that we should know or watch? #KareoChat
  2. Why or why aren’t you participating in an ACO? #KareoChat
  3. Describe the pros and cons you see with the change to value based reimbursement. #KareoChat
  4. What are you doing to prepare your practice for value based reimbursement and ACOs? #KareoChat
  5. Which technologies and applications will we need in a value based reimbursement and ACO world? #KareoChat
  6. What’s the role of small practices in a value based reimbursement world? Can they survive? #KareoChat

For those of you not familiar with a Twitter chat, you can follow the discussion on Twitter by watching the hashtag #KareoChat. You can also take part in the Twitter chat by including the #KareoChat hashtag in any tweets you send.

I look forward to “seeing” and learning from many of you on Twitter on Thursday. Feel free to start the conversation in the comments below as well.

Full Disclosure: Kareo is a sponsor of EMR and EHR.

The Tower of EMR Babel

Posted on May 28, 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.

It’s the sad state of interoperability. This week when I was teaching an EHR workshop I asked for those attending to define what an Electronic Health Record was in their own words. I’d say 90% of them said something about making the healthcare data available to be shared or some variation on that idea. This wasn’t surprising for me since I’ve heard hundreds and possibly thousands of doctors say the same thing. EHR is suppose to make it so we can share data.

While people pay lip service to this idea and just assume that somehow EHR would make data sharing possible, that’s far from the reality today. This is true even in some organizations where they own both the hospital and the ambulatory provider. How sad is this? Extremely sad in my book.

I’ve often wondered what would change the tide. I’ve been long hopeful that ACOs and value based care would help to push the data sharing forward, but that’s going to be a long process. The private HIEs are working the best of any HIEs I’ve seen, so maybe the trend of hospitals acquiring small practices and hospital systems acquiring hospital systems will get us to EHR data sharing nirvana. Although, I don’t think it’s going to make it there in most communities. Instead it’s just going to have a number of large organizations not wanting to share data as opposed to some large and some small ones.

Do people really have much hope for true EHR data sharing? Does FHIR give you this hope? I’m personally not all that optimistic. We all know it’s the right thing to do, but there are some powerful forces fighting against us.

Annual Evaluation of Health IT: Are We Stuck in a Holding Pattern? (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on April 14, 2015 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.

The previous installment of this article was devoted to the various controversies whirling around Meaningful Use. But there are lots of other areas of technology and regulation affecting the progress (or stasis) of health IT.

FHIR: Great Promise, But So Far Just a Promise

After a decade or so of trying to make incompatible formats based on obsolete technology serve modern needs such as seamless data exchange, the health IT industry made a sudden turn to a standard invented by a few entrepreneurial developers. With FHIR they pulled on a thread that will unravel the whole garment of current practices and standards, while forming the basis for a beautiful new tapestry. FHIR will support modern data exchange (through a RESTful API), modern security, modern health practices such as using patient-generated data, and common standards that can be extended in a structured manner by different disciplines and communities.

When it’s done, that is. FHIR is still at version 0.82. Any version number less than 1, in the computer field, signals that all sorts of unanticipated changes may still be made and that anyone coding around the standard risks having to rip out their work and starting over. Furthermore, FHIR is a garment deliberately designed with big holes to be filled by others:

  • Many fields are defined precisely, but elements of the contents are left open, such as the units in which medicine is measured. This is obviously a pretty important detail to tie down.

  • Security relies on standards in the OpenID/OAuth area, which are dependable and well known by developers through their popularity on the Web. Still, somebody has to build this security in to health IT products.

  • Because countries and medical disciplines vary so greatly, the final word on FHIR data is left to “profiles” to be worked out by those communities.

One health data expert I talked to expressed the hope that market forces would compel the vendors to cooperate and make sure these various patches are interoperable as they are pieced into the garment. I would rather design a standard with firm support for these things.

Some of the missing pieces can be supplied relatively painlessly through SMART, an open API that predates FHIR but has been ported to it. An impressive set of major vendors and provider organizations have formed the Argonaut project to carry out some tasks with quick pay-offs, like making security work and implementing some high-value profiles. Let’s hope that FHIR and its accompanying projects start to have an impact soon.

The ONC has repeatedly expressed enthusiasm for FHIR, and CMS has alerted vendors that they need to start working on implementations. Interestingly, the Meaningful Use Stage 3 recommendation from CMS announces the opinion that health care providers shouldn’t charge their patients for access to their data through an API. An end to this scandalous exploitation of patients by both vendors and health care providers might have an impact on providers’ income.

Accountable Care Organizations: Walls Still Up

CMS created ACOs as a regulatory package delivering the gifts of coordinated care and pay-for-value. This was risky. ACOs require data exchange to effect smooth transfers of care, but data exchange was a rare occurrence as late as 2013, and the technical conditions have not changed since then so I can’t imagine it’s much better.

Pay-for-value also calls for analytics so providers can stratify populations and make rational choices. Finally, the degree of risk that CMS has asked ACOs to take on is pretty low, so they are not being pushed too hard to make the necessary culture changes to benefit from pay-for-value.

All that said, ACOs aren’t doing too badly. New ones are coming on board, albeit slowly, and cost savings have been demonstrated. An article titled “Poor interoperability, exchange hinders ACOs” actually reports much more positive results than the title suggests. There may be good grounds for ONC’s pronouncement that they will push more providers to form ACOs.

Still, ACOs are making a slow tack toward interoperability and coordinated care. The walls between health care settings are gradually lowering, but providers still huddle behind the larger walls of incompatible software that has trouble handling analytics.

I’ll wrap up this look at progress and its adversaries in the next installment of this article.

Farzad Mostashari Launches New Startup Company Aledade – A Physician-Led ACO in a Box

Posted on June 18, 2014 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 know when I first heard that Farzad Mostashari landed at the Brookings Institution after leaving his position as National Coordinator, I couldn’t imagine it being Farzad’s long time home. However, it was a really smart short term landing spot that would give him the opportunity to prepare for his next adventure.

We just learned that Farzad is now entering the startup world with the launch of a new company called Aledade which partners with primary care doctors to form ACOs. In a blog post introducing the startup, Farzad said “The world of start-ups may not be the usual path for those leaving a senior federal post, but it’s the right decision.” I’m not sure the career path of former senior federal employees, but I think the startup world is going to fit Farzad really well. Plus, who would you rather have leading your ACO efforts than Farzad?

Maybe we should have been able to predict this move if we’d listened closely to Neil Versel’s interview with Farzad Mostashari at HIMSS. As Neil comments, “Always the champion of the little guy in healthcare, Mostashari also brought up the notion of physician-led ACOs, or, as he called it, the “Davids going up against the Goliaths.””

Aledade has received $4.5 million in investment from Venrock and the company is targeting four areas of the country: Delaware, Arkansas, Maryland and the metro New York area (not surprising considering Farzad’s past connection to NYC).

What’s also interesting is that Aledade is building their financial model on a performance model. They aren’t requiring any up-front cost to physicians and instead are opting to make money when the physicians realize savings. I’ll be really interested to see how this works out in practice. Many of the savings that ACOs have realized could be considered fuzzy math. Although, maybe Aledade will just take a percentage of the additional ACO payments the physician ACO receives.

I’ll be interested to see what technologies come out of Aledade. I can’t imagine them launching a full EHR and so they’ll have to integrate whatever they do with dozens of EHR companies. This will be a tremendous challenge. Will they build the technology in house or just partner with an outside vendor?

I’ve heard Farzad say that the move towards value based reimbursement was happening quicker than most of us realize and that the fee for service and value based reimbursement models can’t happen at the same time. The launch of Aledade is a great example that he’s not just paying lip service, but he’s fully committed to this change.

Must-See Sessions, Exhibitors at HFMA #ANI2013

Posted on June 13, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

It’s that time of year again. The Healthcare Finance Management Association’s annual ANI conference is just days away. I’ve come to associate the month of June with all things revenue cycle and the anticipation of learning more than I ever wanted to know about financial risk, reimbursement strategies, RACs, coding … the list could go on and on. I do enjoy the show, almost more than HIMSS, because it is smaller, shorter and so much more manageable from a logistics standpoint. HFMA puts out a great mobile app each year, and this year marks the first time I’ll be able to take advantage of it thanks to a (finally) upgraded phone.

Last year in Las Vegas, the show floor and educational sessions were largely focused on ICD-10 and ACOs. Flipping through this year’s brochure, I see that health insurance exchanges, Stage 2 of Meaningful Use and payer relationship strategies will also see a bit of the limelight. Personally, I’m looking forward to learning what healthcare finance folks think of this surge in healthcare consumer cries for price transparency. Are they paying attention? Will charge masters ever change (for the better)?

I thought I’d share some of the sessions I’m most looking forward to attending. I admit that I’m a big fan of panel discussions. Solo presenters can turn into sleep-inducing monologues far too quickly.

To Merge or Not to Merge: Hospital Executive Panel Discussion (Monday, 6/17)
What are the advantages and challenges of maintaining stand-alone status? What factors could influence a decision to see affiliation partners? What various affiliation strategies have worked for others?

Living in Atlanta, which has seen its fair share of hospital mergers and partnerships, I’ve often wondered why some facilities choose to go it alone and some choose to affiliate. I’m looking forward to hearing some inside scoop from the four scheduled hospital executives.

Transitioning to Value: Barriers, Solutions and Opportunities (Tuesday, 6/18)
Former CMS administrator Don Berwick will give this keynote address, which promises to “identify the barriers that must be overcome to reform the delivery system, the outcomes of successful delivery models, and the signals of progress within provider organizations.”

I can’t help but wonder how his stage presence will compare to Farzad Mostashari’s, and what sort of neck attire he’ll don.

Physician/Hospital Revenue Cycle Integration: a Panel Discussion (Tuesday, 6/18)
This session will cover the “opportunities and challenges of unifying the revenue cycle to reduce overall costs while increasing collections and patient satisfaction.”

I think it will be interesting to hear from providers just how important patient satisfaction (and presumably referrals) are to a provider’s bottom line. I expect at least one of the panelists will bring up Stage 2, as I’m learning that patient engagement and satisfaction are closely intertwined.

Women as Leaders: Charting the Course (Tuesday, 6/18)
As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m looking forward to learning how the HFMA board members (dare I call them #RevCycleChicks?) on this panel manage careers, families and communities.

Quiet: Harnessing the Strengths of Introverts to Change How We Work, Lead and Innovate (Wednesday, 6/19)
This keynote from author Susan Cain seems tailor-made just for me. Until social media came into my life, I’d always considered myself an introvert. But social networks have turned that idea on its head in unexpected ways, and so I wonder if Cain will touch on digital media in her presentation.

Best Practices for Managing Consumer Payments in the Current Environment (Wednesday, 6/19)
This “late-breaking session” promises to share best practices on improving collections and patient satisfaction.

I hope they’ll touch on the “future” environment, as it seems reasonable to assume that 2014 will likely make a number of current best practices out of date.

Then, of course, there is the exhibit hall, which I always enjoy roaming around without plan or purpose. A few recent postcards have piqued my interest in several companies:


I’m not even sure what the name of this company is, but the idea of a singing sock intrigues me.


I fared poorly at Emdeon’s Cash Stacker games last year, and am determined to do better this time around. Plus, the company always seems to be doing interesting things in the revenue cycle space, so I look forward to catching up with several of their team members to get the inside scoop.


I’m very intrigued by the idea of provider benchmarking at the moment, so I’m planning to learn more about what RelayHealth is doing in this area.


While this postcard doesn’t allude to athenahealth’s recent claims of guaranteed ICD-10 compliance, it will definitely be my main talking point when I stop by their booth.

Good works are always a good idea, and several companies are making charitable contributions in lieu of giveaways:



What sessions and exhibitors are you looking forward to? Let me know what I shouldn’t miss via the comments below.

Patient Accountability and Responsibility

Posted on February 22, 2013 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 think you can add this post to my series of posts on the Physician Revolt that I talked about earlier. The following message is from a doctor who emailed me. Obviously, they didn’t realize it would be published, so ignore some of the grammar errors, but the message is a good one that we should be discussing.

The doctors are going to be graded on the health outcomes but yet patients are going to do whatever. Nowhere in the law it states that patient is responsible for anything.

So while the ACOs are going to offer coverage…… there is going to be no immediate access due to shortage of MDs and the current MDs whose slots are overfilled are going to be dinged with penalties for not taking care of their patients completely (ie. all time coverage for all patients all the time). which means the MD has to refund the already reduced reimbursements back to the government because patients will complain about this.

Of course, the patients themselves will not tighten their belt and become personally responsible for their health so that they take up less appointment slots……..

So the significant question is Where are the patients held accountable in all these free health care reforms?

This is an important question as we shift to an ACO model. I think the above narrative places a little too much blame on the patient for the higher healthcare costs. Certainly there are things that doctors and our health system can do to lower costs that are outside of the patient. A simple example is 2 doctors ordering duplicate tests. If they just transferred the data, they’d provide the same care for a much lower cost. Plus, I think there are ways that a doctor together with a clinical care team can improve the overall quality of care of a patient population regardless of the patient’s choices. Another example of this is the hospital to PCP hand off. Doing this right can lower healthcare costs by reducing hospital readmissions.

While much can be done by doctors and the healthcare system as a whole, the doctor does raise a good question about patient responsibility. In what ways could we incentivize patients to take some accountability and responsibility for their healthcare as well?

The first thing that popped in my head was the way car insurance companies are doing it. One of the insurance companies is tapping into your car’s computer to monitor safe driving and then they provide discounts to you for being a safe driver. Are we going to have the same models in healthcare? In some ways we do, since if you’re a non-smoker your health insurance costs a lot less. Will health insurance companies start lowering a patient’s health insurance costs based on data from a wearable device that monitors your activity?

I’m honestly not sure how it’s all going to play out, but I am sure that healthcare IT is going to play a role in the process. We’ll never totally solve the issue of patient responsibility and accountability. That’s a feature of life, but I think that technology can help to hold us all more accountable for our health choices. What technologies do you see helping this?

The Story of the Colorado Beacon Consortium’s ACO Plans

Posted on January 28, 2013 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.

There are a lot of aspects of the HITECH act that don’t get much attention. Sure, the majority of the spending is the EHR incentive money and meaningful use. So, we should focus on what’s happening with that money. However, much less attention gets paid to the other parts of the HITECH act since it’s only a few hundred million dollars (yes, I laughed when I typed that).

I do find it ironic that the “beacon” communities part of the HITECH act haven’t gotten much exposure at all. The whole idea of a beacon is to be seen by everyone, no? I’m sure each beacon community has had to submit some sort of lengthy reporting to ONC about their beacon community. I’m all about government holding people accountable for the money that they spend, but wouldn’t it be better if the beacon communities had to become true beacons in healthcare?

This rant comes on the heels of me watching this video from the Colorado Beacon Consortium. The video is professionally done and does a good job trying to capture the provider viewpoint of what they’re doing. It’s a little dry to watch, but really tries to show how the physicians and patients have benefited from technology.

Have you seen other examples of what the beacon communities are doing? I’d love to see more.