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When Payor Innovation is Driven By Government

Posted on October 15, 2018 I Written By

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

This tweet from Jamey Edwards, CEO of Cloudbreak Health, inspired a really interesting discussion in a Twitter DM (direct message) group I’m in called Healthcare Disruptors. For those not familiar with private DM groups, in this case, there’s a group of 49 people on Twitter that are part of this group and members of the group regularly share information, events, insights, etc and the group comments on it.

Private Twitter DM groups aside, one of the comments in the group highlighted a concept I’ve heard for years. The government (largely Medicare and Medicaid) is the largest payor and the private sector has been taking its queues from Medicare and Medicaid for years. Is it any wonder that we haven’t seen much evolution in the payor space when we’re waiting on a massive government entity to drive the innovation?

Waiting for government to drive innovation largely explains why healthcare hasn’t evolved.

To solve this problem, there are two options First, the government could evolve more quickly and create new models for reimbursement that change the landscape. Is there anyone holding their breath on this one? Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite intrigued by Medicare’s attempts to push telehealth related reimbursement codes and their decision to try and reimburse based on the time spent with patients instead of how much you document in the record. These are big changes and I’m hopeful that they’ll be good changes. Not to mention ACOs which will hopefully help show us the path to a full value based reimbursement world and get us off the fee for service treadmill.

That said, I’ll never forget a CMS listening session that I went to. Someone asked about a specific policy and when we might hear the details of the final rule. The CMS representative said, “Pretty quickly.” Then, he corrected himself and said, “Government quickly which probably means months, not years.” The government moves slow. That’s just the reality. This is why innovation in healthcare shouldn’t depend solely on the government.

The other way for innovation to occur is for other payors to lead the innovation. When was the last time that payors did something really innovative? When did Medicare take something from the private payor space because it was an innovative solution? I’ll admit that I’m not a complete expert on the payor space, but I asked some friends and so far none of us have remembered a time where this happened.

What’s going to change this? The answer to that is not clear. Do you see something I’m not seeing? The better promise comes from something outside this traditional system disrupting healthcare as we know it. It feels like something like that needs to come, because Jamey is right that this is a big problem for many Americans, both republicans and democrats.

Why Delaying the Transition to 2015 Edition Technology Would Be a Problem for Patients and Families – MACRA Monday

Posted on September 11, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Erin Mackay, Associate Director, Health Information Technology Policy and Programs, National Partnership for Women & Families.  This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

The National Partnership for Women & Families recently weighed in on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed rule for 2018 updates to the Quality Payment Program (QPP). In our comments, we express concerns that many of the proposed requirements would have a chilling effect on the country’s badly needed transition to a health care system that rewards quality and value over volume. Of particular concern to us is the proposed delay in clinicians’ transition to the 2015 Edition electronic health record (EHR) certification requirements.

Putting off requirements to use more advanced health IT would be a one-two punch to health transformation. First, new models of care that demand high-quality, efficient practices and coordinated care rely on robust health IT. Likewise, these new models only succeed when patients have the information – about their medications, health status, diagnoses and treatment received – they need to participate in their care and make informed decisions with their health care teams.

Here are three ways the proposed rule would delay critical functionalities that are foundational to a patient and family-centered health care system:

1) Delaying Availability of APIs for Consumer Access
It would undermine the commitment to patient engagement to delay the availability of application programming interfaces (APIs) as a way for patients and their caregivers to access, download and share health data. When available, APIs will let consumers choose from a range of apps that pull in health data from various health care providers and hospitals, helping form a comprehensive picture of their health and health care and facilitating information sharing. Gone will be the days when patients and family caregivers struggled to remember passwords for multiple patient portals, or were able to view only one aspect of their medical history at a time.

2) Slowing More Robust Collection of Demographic Data
To enhance health equity, we must first be able to identify disparities by gathering standardized, granular demographic data. Right now, certified EHRs are not designed to distinguish among Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese patients, for instance, instead collapsing these identities into a single “Asian” category. Similarly, EHRs cannot currently store structured information about patients’ sexual orientation or gender identity. In both these examples, this information has clinical relevance and is vital for improving health outcomes. For example, too often transgender individuals do not receive appropriate “gendered” preventive screenings such as Pap tests, mammograms and prostate exams.

3) Failing to Capture Information on Social Determinants of Health
In addition to better demographic information, to best support providers in delivering patient- and family-centered care, EHRs should also capture information about non-clinical factors pertinent to individuals’ health. The 2015 Edition includes a new criterion to capture relevant social, psychological and behavioral data. This includes information on financial resource strain, educational attainment, stress, depression, physical activity, alcohol use, social connection and isolation, and intimate partner violence. At the individual level, this information could help clinicians and care teams determine treatment options that address the unique needs of the patients and families they serve. To improve population health, clinicians, hospitals and community organizations need this information to identify communities that need additional support in order to get and stay healthy.

Conclusion
Overall, the proposed rule for QPP 2018 raises a number of concerns for the National Partnership, particularly the proposed delay of 2015 Edition certified health IT products. We strongly encourage CMS to maintain the current requirements and timeline for clinicians transitioning to the 2015 Edition to provide the necessary infrastructure for the kind of patient- and family-centered health system our country urgently needs.

Connecticut Medical Society Launches HIE When State Can’t Pull It Off

Posted on September 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.

The Connecticut State Medical Society had had enough. Its members had waited 10 years for the state of Connecticut to launch a functioning HIE, to no avail, so the Society decided to take matters into its own hands.

Now, the state’s physicians, healthcare facilities, and assorted other providers are sharing data via the medical society’s new HIE, CTHealthLink.  Participants who use the HIE not only share data but also have access to reports designed add value to physician consults and improve outcomes.

The CSMS project must have been daunting, but at least it had a model to use. Its approach is based on a provider-backed HIE in use in Kansas, the Kansas  Health Information Network (KHIN). KHIN brought the Kansas Hospital Association, the Wichita Health Information Exchange and greater Kansas City HIE eHealthAlign together.

If you read the HIE project overview, it becomes clear that CSMS wants to help members navigate MACRA requirements.  “The goal is to empower physicians as they transition to the new alternative payment models involving quality reporting, advancing care information, and improvement activities,” the CSMS notes on the CTHealthLink site.

Prior to the CTHealthLink rollout, CSMS leaders worried that clinicians would miss out on Medicare and Medicaid incentives provided for participating in an HIE, and be subject to penalties instead, according to Matthew Katz, Executive Vice President and chief executive officer of the physician group, who spoke to The CT Mirror.

Under MIPS, all physicians and many other clinicians can get incentives for participating in a HIE, an attractive prospect. However, the flipside of this is that eligible providers who don’t participate in MIPS by the end of 2017 would see a 4% cut in their Medicare reimbursement in 2019, obviously attractive prospect. Small wonder that the CSMS couldn’t wait longer.

The state’s clinicians have been quite patient to date. According to the Mirror, Connecticut’s first HIE effort was in 2007, when they attempted to create network specifically for Medicaid. Though the network was backed by a $5 million grant, it failed, as few physicians had adopted digital medical records at the time.

Between 2007 and 2016, the state followed up with two more efforts to connect state providers. Both efforts failed to create a functioning system, despite having $18 million in funding to back its efforts.

In contrast, CTHealthLink is steaming ahead. But there is a catch. At $50 to $120 per physician per month, joining the HIE can be pretty pricey, especially for large practices. For example. at $50 per physician per month, a medical practice of 1,200 physicians would pay approximately $720,000 per year, or as much as $1.7 million if the $120 monthly fee applied, noted Lisa Stump, chief information officer for Yale New Haven Health, who also spoke to the Mirror. This may very well inhibit the HIE’s growth.

Meanwhile, despite previous failures, the state of Connecticut hasn’t given up on creating its own HIE, this time with $14 million in federal and state funding. One of the key drivers is an effort to make Medicaid reporting simpler, which the state’s Department of Social Services is cheering on. The state’s HIE is scheduled to be functioning by the beginning of 2018. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.

MACRA Monday: MIPS Imposes A Major Burden

Posted on August 28, 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

A new study by the Medical Group Management Association has concluded that most practices find participating in the MACRA Quality Payment Program to be very challenging. The study, which focuses on regulatory burdens affecting group practices, also identifies several other rule-related challenges practices face.

In its press release, the MGMA notes that almost half of practices surveyed said they spent more than $40,000 per FTE physician each year to comply with various regulations. Nonetheless, they continue to participate in programs that reward them despite the hassles involved.

According to the research, the vast majority of respondents are participating in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) this year, and 72% said they expected to exceed the minimum reporting requirements.

That being said, their success clearly hasn’t come easily, with 82% of practices rated MIPS as either “very” or “extremely” burdensome. Within MIPS, groups cite clinical relevance (80%) as their top challenge. Seventy-three percent of survey respondents said MIPS doesn’t support their practice’s clinical quality priorities.

In fact, many respondents said that complying with MIPS was like pulling teeth. Over 70% reported that they found the MIPS scoring system to be very or extremely complex, and 69% said they are very or extremely concerned that unclear program guidance will impact their ability to participate in MIPS successfully.

Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that if Medicare’s regulatory complexity were reduced, they could shift more resources to providing patient care. Their frustration is palpable, as the following anonymous comment illustrates: “The regulatory and administrative burdens have dramatically increased over the past two years. However, the biggest problem isn’t the increase itself, [it’s] that the increase is for no good purpose.”

Other programs respondents named as very/extremely taxing included national electronic attachment standards (74%), audits and appeals (69%) and lack of EHR interoperability, followed by payer use of virtual credit cards (59%).

It’s interesting to note the disconnect between the number of practices participating in MIPS (and seemingly, crushing it) and the complaints most are making about participation. Clearly, given how painful it can be to comply with the rules, most practices see their involvement as necessary from a financial perspective.

It’s unlikely that this participation it will get much easier in the near future, though. Eventually, as regulators keep taking feedback and streamlining the MIPS program, they may be able to streamline its requirements, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Leveraging New Age Technology to Overcome MACRA Challenges – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 21, 2017 I Written By

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

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. David A. Goldman, CEO and founder, Goldman Eye and Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine.  This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

MACRA and the Quality Payment Program (QPP) were implemented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to improve healthcare by focusing on the quality of care provided to patients. There are two paths under the QPP: the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track which covers most clinicians, and the Advanced Alternate Payment Models (APMs) track which applies to providers who have taken on some risk related to patient outcomes (Medicare Shared Savings 2,3 and Next Gen ACO participants for example).

MACRA and MIPS are intended to advance quality based care by implementing outcome-based payment adjustments. Providers will be measured across a number of different performance categories and will be paid on a curve. By 2022, physicians who outperform their peers may receive up to a 9 percent positive payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements based on their performance in 2020. Those who report poor performance may receive up to a 9 percent negative payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements in 2022.

Specialtyspecific Measures & Bonus Points

As previously mentioned, if you perform better than your peers when it comes to MIPS, you can substantially increase your Medicare reimbursements. Conversely, reporting a score below the performance threshold could prevent you from receiving a positive payment adjustment on your Medicare reimbursements, and not reporting on MIPS could cause you to be penalized.

Some MIPS categories will be the same across all specialties such as Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities, whereas others can be geared towards a specialty, like Quality. Quality accounts for 60 percent of your total MIPS score in 2017. As an Eligible Clinician (EC), you should select six measures, including one Outcome Measure or if an Outcome Measure is not available, a High Priority Measure. After your first Outcome or High Priority Measure, any additional ones you report will count towards your bonus points (up to six points). In addition, an EC can earn another six points by doing end-to-end reporting. More information on the measure specifications can be found here.

Under the Advancing Care Information (ACI) category, ECs have the option to earn 5 bonus points by being in active engagement with a specialized registry, which are typically specialty-specific. The third category of MIPS is called Improvement Activities (IAs) which has over 90 activities to choose from. ECs, regardless of specialty, can choose activities that apply to their practice size and way of practicing like expanded practice access and closing the referral loop. Depending on the IA selected, ECs can also earn a 10 point bonus under the ACI category.

How can we turn this change into an opportunity?

A major factor in succeeding in MIPS is the use of today’s latest technology. Innovative electronic health record (EHR) systems, which can collect and organize clinical data in a structured format, empower doctors to extract meaningful insights at the patient and population levels. Instead of relying on any one physician’s narrative assessment or unstructured data for a diagnosis or treatment, physicians who have access to an interoperable platform can reference relative findings from their peers while eliminating redundancies, automating communications and improving patient outcomes.

How Do You Track Your Performance

The answer is certainly not using pen and paper. Look for a certified EHR vendor that has technology which provides services and products that can track data in real time and provide analytics to show your progress and outcomes. You want MIPS intelligence directly built-in to your EHR system.

Modernizing Medicine offers a specialty-specific suite of products and services that gives physicians added support. modmed Ophthalmology™ helps ophthalmologists transition to MIPS by providing them with quality data and reporting capabilities with the products and services they provide. Included within the suite is the company’s flagship EHR system, EMA™. EMA provides functionality for automated quality data capture, population health registries, real patient engagement and analytical tools, plus the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS.

I have been utilizing EMA for the past few years and am also a team lead on Modernizing Medicine’s ophthalmology team. As a practicing ophthalmologist, I have gone through the process of spending countless hours documenting patient reporting following a long day in the office. Couple that with ensuring my compliance measures are in check – it adds up. Now, my measures are completed efficiently, accurately and securely, ready to be submitted to CMS at the end of my reporting period. I even led a webinar on the topic of MIPS, if you want to see it in action.

EHR System Checklist for MIPS

From my unique perspective of working for an EHR vendor and utilizing the certified technology in my practice, I’ve shared a few qualities to look for in an EHR to support your reporting needs:

  • 2014 / 2015 ONC Certified
  • Integrated MIPS intelligence
  • Built in Improvement Activities
  • Qualified MIPS Registry
  • Automated data capturing and reporting
  • Built-in, real-time analytics reporting for Quality, Resource Use, Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities
  • A vendor with an all-in on solution, including the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS
  • Advisory services and consultation during MIPS transition and reporting

While there is much work to be done in terms of keeping up with and understanding today’s fast-paced healthcare landscape, one thing is for certain – the proper use of specialty-specific technology can help alleviate hours of extra work, stress and physician burnout. As noted above, there are certain aspects of MACRA that apply across all specialties, whereas others are specialty-specific and working with a vendor that can guide you along this MIPS journey can be crucial to your financial success.

David A. Goldman, M.D. is the Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine and founder of Goldman Eye in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The Case For Dumping EMR Interoperability Goals

Posted on December 22, 2015 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 new year is upon us, and maybe we should consider some new approaches, or even throw out accepted wisdom. Why not consider some major pain points and reconsider how we’re handling them?

In that spirit, my question is this: Should we give up on the idea that EMR vendors will ever allow their data will be interoperable? While this conclusion isn’t exactly a no-brainer, many of us have certainly toyed with the idea. So let’s take ‘er out for a spin.

One major consideration is that EMR vendors have some very compelling reasons for keeping things as they are. Perhaps most notably, interoperability would mean that providers wouldn’t be trapped in deals with a single vendor, as they could just shift the data over to a new platform if the need arose. If I sold EMRs I’d fight tooth and nail to prevent my product from being dumped too easily.

As if that weren’t enough of a disincentive, EMR vendors would need to spend big bucks to achieve interoperability, with no direct reward in sight. Somehow, I doubt that they’re ever going to make such an investment to win some “nice guy” award from the industry.

And even if they could somehow achieve interoperability without breaking a sweat, we’ve got to contend with inertia. Making changes on that scale takes a great deal of effort, and EMR vendors have very little reason to do so.

Maybe the federal government could achieve interoperability through some kind of epic power play, like refusing to issue Medicare reimbursement to providers whose EMRs didn’t meet some ONC interoperability standard.

But even that kind of brute force wouldn’t solve the interoperability problem with one stroke. Such an approach would come with a raft of serious concerns. What interoperability standard would ONC use, and how long would it take to choose? Then, how long would vendors have to meet the standard?  How long would providers have to decommission their existing EMR — and let’s not forget, quite possibly interlocking HIT systems — and where would they get the money for the new/upgraded systems?

Not only that, it would it cost billions of dollars, without a doubt, to make this transition. It could take a decade before the transition was complete. A lot can happen to derail such an initiative over that amount of time, and market forces could render the premises of such an effort obsolete.

On top of that, any effort which encouraged providers to dump their existing EMR platform would greatly diminish, if not erase, the value of the billions of dollars invested in Meaningful Use incentives. A lot of effort has gone into workflow and interface designs that support MU compliance, and starting from scratch on a new platform would NOT be a walk in the park.  So meeting MU goals might be possible over time, but could fall by the wayside for the short term.

All told, it seems that we may be chasing our tails trying to push through interoperability. In theory it sounds good, but when you look at the details it seems unlikely to happen. That being said, the need to share patient data isn’t going to go away, so what alternatives might work? I’ll follow up with some additional thoughts.

Hospitals Must Start Medicare EHR Participation in 2015 to Earn Incentives

Posted on February 11, 2015 I Written By

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

Not participating in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program yet? 2015 is the last year for eligible hospitals to begin and still earn incentive payments.

To earn a 2015 incentive payment and avoid a 2016 payment adjustment, first-time participants should:

  • Begin their 90-day reporting period no later than April 1, 2015
  • Attest by July 1, 2015

Eligible hospitals that miss this deadline can still earn a 2015 incentive payment—and avoid the 2017 payment adjustment—if they begin their reporting period by July 1 and attest by November 30. However, they will be subject to the 2016 payment adjustment unless they apply and qualify for a hardship exception.

Hospitals that successfully attest in 2015 will also be eligible to earn a 2016 incentive if they continue to participate.

Eligible hospitals that begin participating after 2015 will not be able to earn incentive payments. They will also be subject to payment adjustments in 2016 and 2017.

Additional Resources
The EHR Incentive Programs website offers tools and resources to help eligible hospitals to successfully participate:

Medicare Eligible Hospitals: Take Action by April 1 to Avoid 2015 Payment Adjustment

Posted on March 10, 2014 I Written By

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

Payment adjustments for eligible hospitals that have not successfully participated in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program will begin on October 1, 2014. Hospitals can avoid the payment adjustment by taking action by April 1.

Hospitals that have never participated in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program can:

  • Submit a hardship exception application for experiencing circumstances that posted a significant barrier to achieving meaningful use
  • Begin 90 days of meaningful use for the 2014 reporting year by April 1 and attest by July 1

Hospitals that participated in 2011 or 2012, but did not successfully participate in 2013 due to circumstances that created barriers can also submit a hardship exception.

About Hardship Exceptions
The hardship exception application for Medicare eligible hospitals is available on the EHR Incentive Programs website and outlines the specific types of circumstances that CMS considers to be barriers to achieving meaningful use. Supporting documentation must also be provided. CMS will review applications to determine whether or not a hardship exception should be granted.

As a reminder, the application must be submitted electronically or postmarked no later than 11:59pm ET on April 1, 2014 to be considered. If approved, the exception is valid for one year.

The Growing EMR Tea Party

Posted on November 8, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com 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 InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. 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 wrote a post a few months ago asking if meaningful use will put medicare in a bad position. In that post, Dr. Borges makes an argument for why meaningful use is going to have a negative impact on Medicare. In the comments, David Swink offered this additional comment about what he calls the EMR Tea Party:

I agree with Dr. Borges. He, and many other physicians of like mind, compose the EMR Tea Party — those who do not object to the modernization of record-keeping, but do object to the top-down “carrot-becomes-the-stick” approach to EMR that is being foisted on them. He is a medical John Galt (of Atlas Shrugged), who is more likely to retire or otherwise deny his talents as a “Giver” to society than to succumb to the diktats of the “Takers”.

The idea of a physician EMR Tea Party is quite interesting. I have seen a number of doctors like Dr. Borges that are leaving Medicare to avoid the meaningful use requirements. I’ve also seen that pretty much every doctor I’ve ever talked to would love to stop taking Medicare. However, I’ve also seen that a large majority of doctors don’t have that option because so much of their patient population is on Medicare. Plus, some percentage of those doctors don’t want to leave Medicare patients high and dry.

With this in mind, I’m not quite seeing the leave Medicare Tea Party getting that much momentum. However, I am seeing an EMR Tea Party that is swelling among doctors that want their EMR software to improve productivity, improve patient care, and allow them to be doctors instead of data entry clerks. This growing movement is much more powerful.

Meaningful use has a major impact (mostly negatively) on these desired EMR results. You might remember my post on the EHR Certification excuse as an example. I think this is also a reason why we have yet to see any private payers requiring EHR certification or meaningful use. They don’t want to anger doctors by requiring them to do many things which are unnatural to their current workflow and provide little value to the payer.

The real question is how big will this EMR Tea Party get over time. Not to mention, as more hospitals acquire ambulatory practices, will doctors have the influence they need to affect these changes?

EHR Incentive Increases Medicare Costs

Posted on September 25, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com 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 InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. 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 is a major trend happening in healthcare that was covered pretty well in The New York Times. That’s right. EHR doesn’t often get much play in the major journals, but this is a really big deal. Plus, I’ve had doctors write into me about the subject as well.

The key finding that The New York Times article discusses is that Medicare costs have gone up substantially for those using an EHR. This is happening because doctors are upcoding more than they’d done previously. It’s a bit ironic to me that this is going to be a major problem for Medicare since 6 years ago when I first started writing about EHR software one of the major reasons to implement an EHR was to increase your revenue by upcoding.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the challenge of coding first hand. I was at AAFP sitting at a table of physicians who were there to discuss EHR. This older lady and a gentleman shared with the group that they were chronic under coders. It felt a bit like an AA meeting where these doctors were finally coming clean on their habits. The rest of the doctors in the group just nodded their head since they knew that under coding was a major issue in healthcare.

What Medicare or the administration didn’t seem to realize is that the cost of Medicare is based on this under coding. Doctors have been under coding for so long that it just became part of the cost structure. Little did those in Congress think that by spending $36 billion on EHR (or whatever number you prefer) they’d actually cost Medicare billions of extra dollars. I bet the CBO didn’t plan for that in their budget projections.

This new trend in upcoding begs the question on whether doctors are doing this legitimately or if this is a form of fraud and abuse that’s being made possible by EHR. In a completely unscientific way, I suggest that probably 95% of the upcoding that’s happening is legitimate. Plus, a large portion of the 5% upcoding fraud and abuse would have been happening regardless of EHR. Why do I believe that so little of the upcoding is legitimate?

It goes back to that experience at AAFP where I heard doctors talk about their under coding habits. There was an underlying tension in their statements that they would love to bill more, but they had a number of underlying fears that made them choose not to code higher. First was fear of audit. The last thing any doctor wants is an audit and if under coding will avoid the dreaded audit, then it is the price to pay for that comfort. Second, I’ve heard doctor after doctor talk about times a patient examination should have been at a higher coding level, but their documentation didn’t match that higher level code. The doctors chose to under code the visit as opposed to documenting the normal findings in the visit which would allow them to code at a higher level.

EMR doesn’t do much for the first fear described above. However, EMR often makes it possible for a doctor to code a normal finding in the EMR that they wouldn’t have taken the time to code in a paper chart. I expect that this accounts for a good portion of the upcoding we’re seeing. Combine that with easy chart reviews and EMR coding engines and you see Medicare costs increasing by billions of dollars thanks to EHR. Oh the unintended consequences of government intervention.