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Stanford Offers 10-Year Vision For EHRs

Posted on October 12, 2018 I Written By

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

Despite many efforts to improve EHRs, few physicians see them as adding value to the practice. Sadly, it’s little surprise given that many vendors don’t worry much about what physicians want, focusing instead on selling features to CIOs.

As a result, they still don’t like their EHRs that much. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Stanford Medicine and the Harris Poll found that 44% of physicians said that the top value of the EHR was to serve as digital storage, which isn’t a ringing endorsement. Just eight percent saw the EHR as having clinical value, with three percent citing disease prevention, 2% clinical decision support and 3% patient engagement as top benefits.

Is it possible to create a new EHR model that physicians love? According to Stanford, we could build out an ideal EHR by the year 2028.

In Stanford’s vision, clinicians and other healthcare professionals simply take care of the patients without having to think about health records. Once examinations are complete, information would flow seamlessly to all parties involved, including payers, hospitals, physicians and the patient.

Meanwhile, it would be possible to populate the EHR with little or no effort. For example, an automated physician’s assistant would “listen” to interactions between the doctor and the patient and analyze what was said. Depending on what is said in the room, along with verbal cues of the clinicians, it would record all relevant information in the physical exam.

What’s more, the automated physician’s assistant would have AI capabilities, allowing it to synthesize medical literature, the patient’s history and relevant histories of other patients available in anonymized, aggregated form.

Having reviewed these factors, the system would then populate different possible diagnoses for the clinician to address. The analysis would take patient characteristics into account, including lifestyle, medication history, and genetic makeup.

In addition to its vision, the survey report offered some short-term recommendations on how medical practices can support physician EHR use. They included:

  • Training physicians well on how to use the EHR when they’re coming on board, as well as when there are incremental changes to the system
  • Involving physicians in the development of clinical workflows that take advantage of EHR capabilities
  • Delivering EHR development projects as quickly as possible once physicians request them
  • Making data analytics abilities available to physicians in a manner that can be used intuitively at the point of care
  • Considering automated solutions to eliminate manual EHR documentation

Technologists, for their part, can take also take immediate steps to support physician EHR use, including:

  • Developing systems and product updates in partnership with physicians
  • Limiting the use of manual EHR documentation by using AI, natural language processing and other emerging technologies
  • Using AI to perform several other functions, including synthesizing and summarizing relevant information in the EHR for each patient encounter and offering current and contextualized information to each member of the patient care team

In addition, to boost the value of EHRs over the long-term, 67% of physicians said making interoperability work was important, followed by improving predictive analytics capabilities (43%), and integrating financial information into the EHR to help patients understand care costs (32%).

Quality Payment Program Tops List Of Regulatory Burdens On Medical Practices

Posted on October 10, 2018 I Written By

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

A new survey by the Medical Group Management Association has found that meeting the demands of the Medicare Quality Payment Program tops the list of regulatory burdens named by respondents in medical practices.

The survey, which collected responses from 426 medical groups, found that their regulatory burdens were climbing, with 86% reporting that such burdens had increased over the past 12 months. A smaller but similar share of respondents (79%) reported that the overall regulatory burden associated with participating in Medicare specifically had increased during the same period.

When asked to name the regulatory requirements they considered to be very or extremely burdensome, 88% named the Quality Payment Program, followed by prior authorization (82%), lack of EHR interoperability (80%), government EHR requirements (77%) and audits/appeals (68%). In contrast, just 49% of respondents saw compliance with HIPAA privacy and security requirements to be a major concern.

Given the challenges it imposes on practices, it’s no wonder that the MGMA respondents struggle with MIPS, with just 9% stating that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the performance feedback the program offers. Two-thirds of respondents told the MGMA that at least in its current form, MIPS doesn’t support their practice’s clinical quality priorities.

Perhaps the most irksome aspects of the MIPS program seemed to be the full-year quality reporting period and scoring methodology. Roughly two-thirds of respondents were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with these aspects of the program. “The lack of clarity and constant readjusting of the MACRA regulations regarding MIPS/APMs is also frustrating,” one group member said.

In addition, despite ongoing efforts to support patient data exchange, the percent of respondents who rated a lack of EHR interoperability as very or extremely burdensome has climbed over the last 12 months, from 68% last year to 80% in 2018.

Ultimately, this problem could have serious financial consequences for some organizations. “Interoperability will never be achieved at the rate we’re going without bankrupting most private medical practices,” wrote one respondent. “As each of the EHR vendors moves towards their own interpretation of interoperability, they create different versions of their own software that cost all of us more to implement and we can’t afford any more.”

If these issues aren’t addressed, it seems likely Medicare’s drive toward value-based payment will be less successful than its leaders would hope.  Seventy-nine percent of practices responding to the MGMA survey said they didn’t think the move toward value-based payment had been successful to date, and it doesn’t seem likely that this will change if physicians continue to feel overburdened and misunderstood

Medical Practice Use Of Automated Claims Options Growing Slowly

Posted on June 25, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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 study by a healthcare industry group has concluded that medical and dental practices are processing claims manually rather than going for full automation, a trend which is robbing the industry of very high levels of potential savings. While many physicians and dentists are using web portals to process claims, in most cases they haven’t reached the ”set it and forget it” level, a trend which could undercut possible savings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitals, Doctors And Patients Impacted By Unplanned EHR Downtime

Posted on June 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patients Expect Retail-Style Digital Health Experiences

Posted on March 30, 2018 I Written By

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

The retail industry has been pretty successful in integrating digital tools into their business. All major retailers have customized apps of their own, many if not all retail sites offer chatbots to answer questions and virtually all have spent countless millions on their e-commerce websites.

Healthcare organizations, on the other hand, are far behind when judged by these standards. That’s particularly true in the case of medical practices, few of which offer much in the way of digital sophistication. In fact, in most cases the most patients can hope for is a basic portal offering data, scheduling and bill payment options. (Ok, at times, bigger offices may toss in a kiosk or two, but that’s not a huge service upgrade.)

According to one study, however, consumers are losing patience with this gap. New research by NTT DATA Services has concluded that 59% of US consumers expect their healthcare digital experience to be comparable to their retail digital experience. This is part of a larger trend in which patients are looking for seamless care bringing together diagnosis, treatment, rehab and health promotion, according to Alan Hughes of NTT in a prepared statement.

Some of consumers’ frustrations around mobile options include not being able to accomplish what they wanted to do (62%), feeling that the options offered are not relevant to them (42%) and that entering data into forms took too long to complete (40%). This is not exactly a good report card.

Meanwhile, patients have a long list of services they feel could be improved, including searching for a doctor or specialist (81%), accessing their family health records (80%), making or changing an appointment (79%), accessing test results (76%), paying their bills (75%) and filling a prescription (74%). In other words, consumers see most of the digital services provided by medical practices as subpar. Again, this is not encouraging news.

What’s more, within the general population of consumers, there is one subsection of patients who are particularly demanding, a group NTT has dubbed “explorers.” ITT research found that 78% of explorers say that the digital healthcare experience must improve. Perhaps even more importantly, 50% of these explorers would leave their current doctor if another offered a better digital experience.

If healthcare providers can barely meet the needs of the general population, they’re likely to lose these explorers pretty quickly if they don’t get their act together. Medical practices, in particular, need to step up their digital health game.

Does HIMSS Serve Practicing Doctors Well?

Posted on March 5, 2018 I Written By

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

Take a look around you at HIMSS18 and you will see a lot of different types. Of course, the biggest and flashiest presence will be the hordes of vendor marketing and salespeople. You’ll also run into C-suite and mid-level executives with health systems in hospitals or managing partners of large medical practices, along with a grab bag of consultants, researchers, attorneys and bloggers like myself.

What you seldom see, however — and this has been true for decades — are physicians active in day-to-day medical practice. I’m sure the reasons for this vary, including a reluctance to spend the time and money to attend and questions about the show’s immediate value, but regardless, practicing doctors are sorely underrepresented at the annual HIT blast.

In the past, I might’ve suggested that the reason they aren’t showing up was lack of interest. After all, in the past, most physicians had very little contact with their IT infrastructure. Sure, they interacted with billing and coding systems, and to a lesser extent practice management platforms, but that was about it.

That’s hardly the case today, though. For most doctors, it’s smartphones in the morning, tablets in the afternoon and EMRs all day. What’s more, some practices are integrating connected health monitoring and wearables data to the mix and some are rolling out telemedicine services.  While few doctors have to dig into the guts of these tools, they’re increasingly dependent upon them and in some cases, and hardly function without daily access.

Given the extent to which these tools are ultimately designed to serve clinicians at the point of care, it’s disconcerting how seldom HIMSS attendees seem to put clinicians’ IT challenges front and center.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but my sense is that most of the show is designed to serve health systems CIOs, practice leaders with complex IT needs and to a lesser extent, the influencers that guide sales decisions (such as analyst firms). I’m not saying small-practice doctors get ignored, but from what I’ve seen they don’t get catered to either. In fact, many companies focused on small practices have stopped exhibiting at HIMSS because of this and instead focus on the various medical society conferences.

Sadly, this reflects the larger dynamic in which vendors work to strike deals with senior executives first, putting physician needs largely aside. Rather than seeing to it that the actual end users find the products to be workable, they accept the reality that most cases, non-physicians are calling the shots.

For the benefit of the entire health IT community, I hope that in successive years, HIMSS does far more to attract the 10-doctor and below practices that make up the backbone of the medical community. Letting the deepest pockets in health IT systems dictate everything is simply toxic.

Three-Quarters Of Medical Practices Aren’t Getting Full Value From Their EHR

Posted on February 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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.

Given how many EHRs seem to feature position-hostile designs, it’s hardly surprising to learn that many medical practices aren’t getting the most from them. However, I was taken aback by how deep this underutilization seems to run.

A new study appearing in the American Journal of Managed Care has concluded that a whopping 73% of practices weren’t using their EHRs to the fullest extent and that another 40% make little or no use of health IT functions. Even given the obstacles to using EHRs, this seems like a big waste of money, time and potential, doesn’t it?

To conduct the study, researchers used data from a relevant HIMSS Analytics survey. The data included responses from 30,123 ambulatory practices with an operational EHR in place, most with fewer than seven affiliated doctors in place.  Researchers sifted the data to determine the extent to which these practices were using EHR-based health IT functionalities.

Of course, some medical groups were on top of their game. Researchers found that 26.6% of practices could be classified as health IT super-users that squeezed every benefit from their systems. As you might guess, the likelihood that a practice was a super-user grew as the number of affiliate doctors increased, as well as when the practice was located in a metropolitan area. But far more groups seem to have fallen well behind the leaders.

According to the data, among practices using CPOE tools, only 36% used them for more than 75% of orders. Also, while groups commonly used basic functions such as data storage, with 100% of practices storing transcribed reports electronically and 61% using the EHR for nursing documentation, most lagged in other areas. For example, only 29% used tools allowing them to find and modified orders for all patients on a specific medication.

To address this gap, researchers say, policymakers should consider how to address the barriers PCP and specialist practices face in using the health IT tools more fully. Understanding how this disparity has emerged and how to address it is critical, they suggest, as less sophisticated use of EHRs may have an impact on care quality and also on groups’ ability to participate in community efforts such as HIEs.

The truth is, if the under-utilizer practices don’t get some kind of help or support, it’s unlikely they’ll step up their use of EHR functions. Particularly if they’ve had the system in place for a while, the workflow is baked into the system and physician habits established. Maybe the pressure to provide value-based care will do the trick, but it remains to be seen. This is a problem that won’t go away quickly.

E-Patient Update: Doctors Need To Lead Tech Charge

Posted on April 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.

Doctors, like any other group of people, vary in how comfortable they are with technology. Despite the fact that their job is more technology-focused than ever before, many clinicians use tech tools because they must.

As a result, they aren’t great role models when it comes to encouraging patients to engage with portals, try mobile apps or even pay their healthcare bills online. I too am frustrated when doctors can’t answer basic tech questions, despite my high comfort level with technology. I like to think that we’re on the same page, and I feel sort of alienated when my doctors don’t seem to care about the digital health advantage.

This needs to change. Given the extent to which technology permeates care delivery, physicians must become better at explaining how basic tech tools work, why they’re used and how they benefit patients.

Below, I’ve listed three tools which I consider to be critical to current medical practices, based on both my patient experiences and my ongoing research on health IT tools. To me, knowing something about each of them is unavoidable if doctors want to keep up with trends and improve patient care.

The top three tools I see as central to serving patients effectively are:

  • Patient portals: This is arguably the most important technical option doctors can share with patients. To get the most value out of portals, every doctor – especially in primary care – should be able to explain to patients why accessing their data can improve their health and lives.
  • Connected health: For a while, connected health/remote monitoring solutions were a high-end, expensive way to track patient health. But today, these options are everywhere and accessible virtually anyone. (My husband bought a connected glucose monitor for $10 a few weeks ago!) If nothing else, clinicians should be able to explain to patients how such devices can help tame chronic diseases and prevent hospitalizations.
  • Mobile apps: While few apps, if any, are universally trusted by doctors, there’s still plenty of them which can help patients log, measure and monitor important data, such as medication compliance or blood pressure levels. While they don’t need to understand how mobile apps work, they should know something of why patients can benefit from using them.

Of course, this list is brief, but it’s a decent place to start. After all, I’m not suggesting that physicians need to get a master’s in health IT to serve patients adequately; I’m just recommending that they study up and prepare to guide their patients in using helpful tools.

Ultimately, it’s not as important that clinicians use or even have a deep understanding of digital health tools, health bands, smartwatches, sensor-laden clothing or virtual reality. They don’t have to understand cybersecurity or know how to reboot a server. They just have to know how to help patients navigate the healthcare world as it is.

By this point, in fact, I’d argue that it’s irresponsible to avoid learning about technologies that can help patients manage their health. Bear in mind that even if they don’t act like it, even confident, experienced patients like me truly admire our doctors and take what they say seriously. So if I am enthusiastic about using tech tools to manage my health, but my doctor’s eyes glaze over when I talk about them, even I feel a bit discouraged. So why not learn enough to encourage me on my journey?

External Incentives Key Factor In HIT Adoption By Small PCPs

Posted on January 25, 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.

A new study appearing in The American Journal of Managed Care concludes that one of the key factors influencing health IT adoption by small primary care practices is the availability of external incentives.

To conduct the study, researchers surveyed 566 primary care groups with eight or fewer physicians on board. Their key assumption, based on previous studies, was that PCPs were more likely to adopt HIT if they had both external incentives to change and sufficient internal capabilities to move ahead with such plans.

Researchers did several years’ worth of research, including one survey period between 2007 and 2010 and a second from 2012 to 2013. The proportion of practices reporting that they used only paper records fell by half from one time period to the other, from 66.8% to 32.3%. Meanwhile, the practices adopted higher levels of non-EMR health technology.

The mean health IT summary index – which tracks the number of positive responses to 18 questions on usage of health IT components – grew from 4.7 to 7.3. In other words, practices implemented an average of 2.6 additional health IT functions between the two periods.

Utilization rates for specific health IT technologies grew across 16 of the 18 specific technologies listed. For example, while just 25% of practices reported using e-prescribing tech during the first period of the study, 70% reported doing so during the study’s second wave. Another tech category showing dramatic growth was the proportion of practices letting patients view their medical record, which climbed from one percent to 19% by the second wave of research.

Researchers also took a look at the impact factors like practice size, ownership and external incentives had on the likelihood of health IT use. As expected, practices owned by hospitals instead of doctors had higher mean health IT scores across both waves of the survey. Also, practices with 3 to 8 physicians onboard had higher scores than those were one or two doctors.

In addition, external incentives were another significant factor predicting PCP technology use. Researchers found that greater health IT adoption was associated with pay-for-performance programs, participation in public reporting of clinical quality data and a greater proportion of revenue from Medicare. (Researchers assumed that the latter meant they had greater exposure to CMS’s EHR Incentive Program.)

Along the way, the researchers found areas in which PCPs could improve their use of health IT, such as the use of email of online medical records to connect with patients. Only one-fifth of practices were doing so at the time of the second wave of surveys.

I would have liked to learn more about the “internal capabilies” primary care practices would need, other than having access to hospital dollars, to get the most of health IT tools. I’d assume that elements such as having a decent budget, some internal IT expertise and management support or important, but I’m just speculating. This does give us some interesting lessons on what future adoption on new technology in healthcare will look like and require.

Call to Halt ICD-10 Puts New Angle on Demand for Physicians

Posted on January 12, 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.

The American Medical Association’s most recent call to halt implementation of ICD-10 codes brings to light an interesting angle to the coding story – one that I hadn’t recognized until I read up on just why the AMA has consistently made it known that the switch is a bad idea.

The association believes transitioning to the new, 68,000 codes will place too much of a financial and administrative burden on physicians (especially small practices), and will ultimately force many of them to shut their doors.

Attending education sessions at AHIMA last fall left me with the impression that though learning the new codes and suffering through dual coding wouldn’t be fun, they would ultimately help physicians and hospitals receive proper reimbursement for their services. Yes, there were vendor cheerleaders on many panels, but the logic made sense even to a novice like me.

I realize that physician practices are quite a different kind of beast when it comes to handling administrative tasks, and I can certainly understand how a small practice would feel completely overwhelmed when, as the AMA stated in a letter to CMS, overlapping federal regulations combined with predicted Medicare pay cuts will make switching to ICD-10 a huge difficulty for them.

But I feel as if there’s a catch 22 here. If physicians don’t make the switch, they won’t see the potential financial benefits of more accurate coding. If they do make the switch, they’ll likely face such huge financial strains that they’ll opt to go out of business. Are there any physician readers out there who are cheerleading the ICD-10 switch?

It occurred to me, reading recently about the predicted banner year for physicians seeking hospital employment, that physicians that do decide to close their doors as a result of ICD-10 may contribute to this glut of MDs looking for work.

Perhaps there’s a domino effect waiting to happen – CMS stands firm on the ICD-10 deadline / Physicians work incredibly hard to try and make it happen. / Physicians fail and go out of business, or decide early on that it’s just not worth the trouble and close up shop. / Said physicians seek hospital employment. / There aren’t enough hospital jobs to go around and many MDs are left in the unemployment line.

That’s just one scenario I’ve been mulling over, and of course doesn’t take into consideration the large amount of other challenges facing physicians right now. What’s your take on the ICD-10 and physician staffing situation?