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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

Revenue Cycle and Patient Communication Dominates MGMA18 Exhibit Hall

Posted on October 3, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Two themes emerged from the exhibit floor of this year’s MGMA annual conference (1) Practices are spending money on improving Revenue Cycle Management – RCM and (2) Practice managers are looking for more comprehensive ways to communicate with patients.

The exhibit hall of the 2018 MGMA Annual Conference (#MGMA18Annual) came to a close today and as the booths were quickly deconstructed, I took time to reflect on 25 pages of notes that I took from the various conversations I had. As I flipped through my blue-ink chicken scratches, I kept seeing two words in the margins: “PtComm” (my short hand for Patient Communication) and “RCM” (Revenue Cycle Management). On page after page, I scrawled these words to summarize the conversations.

In the Health iPASS booth, I had the chance to speak with one of their customers – Judith Basile, MSM, FACMPE, Practice Administrator at Associates in Orthopedics. Basile told me that implementing Health iPass’s RCM platform made “a huge impact on the financial health” of their practice and that it allowed them to “catch up to the consumer experience patients have outside of healthcare, where they can make payments quickly and easily”. With Health iPASS, Associates in Orthopedics experienced a 35% improvement in patient payments. They had only been on the platform for 18 months.

Over in the Pulse Systems booth, I spoke with Dar Griffeth, the company’s new SVP of RCM Services. Griffeth’s role was created because the company recognized the need their customer had for expert RCM advice. His job is to work with customers to identify how components of the Pulse solution can be adapted to improve the RCM process. This is in contrast to the common approach of deploying technology and then redesigning the workflow to fit – an approach that often results in slow adoption or outright failure. Griffeth’s role would not exist if RCM was a low priority for physician practices.

Matthew Hawkins, CEO of Waystar, the company that resulted from the combination of ZirMed and Navicure, shared where they had been focusing some of their development efforts. “Lately we have been focused on helping reduce or eliminate claim denials,” said Hawkins. “Having a claim denied is terribly inefficient. Practices have to spend precious time and effort investigating and correcting the claim. We thought – why does it have to be this way? What if we could eliminate denials altogether? That’s what we’ve been working on and our customers are happy we have made significant strides in this area.”

The exclamation point was Waystar’s announcement that it was acquiring Ovation – a claims monitoring technology from UPMC to further enhance Waystar’s claims processing platform.

The conversation turned to patient communications when I stopped to speak with Rick Halton, VP of Product and Marketing at Lumeon. I was unfamiliar with Lumeon and was curious to find out more. Halton argued convincingly that the current paradigm of care coordination was flawed – that the top-down approach where a central care coordinator is expected to shoulder the work to gather data from patients and keep patients adherent to their care programs. was doomed to fail. Instead, an approach where patients are full partners in their care was needed. In Halton’s opinion, the key was two-way communication between patients and their care teams.

Lumeon’s Care Pathways Management platform allows for a more automated and orchestrated approach to care delivery. One that is centered on the ability for patients and care teams to communicate in a seamless manner via text and in-app messages. “Everything from discharge to pre-operative readiness to lifestyle coaching is possible through the platform,” said Halton.

In prior years at MGMA, whenever I talked to people about patient communications my conversations were only about sending out appointment reminders and links to patient educational materials. What Lumeon was showing me was true 2-way communication with patients across many care scenarios.

Further evidence of this shift in patient communications came from my conversations with Well Health, Rhinogram and CareCloud.

Well Health makes a platform that consolidates all patient communications in one place – and allows for seamless transition from broadcast message delivery to real-time two-way communication with patients. Their interface looked intuitive and because they system stored all prior communications, it allows practices to quickly reference prior conversations, helping staff get to the heart of the issue more quickly than having to search through the EHR.

“It’s all about making it easy for both the patient AND the staff in the healthcare organization,” said Bill Kinner, President of Well Health. “We have to realize that in the world of value based care, effective 2-way communication with patients is the cornerstone to keeping people healthy. It’s the last mile of any population health, medication adherence or mental health program.”

Rhinogram had a similar philosophy. A relative newcomer to the ambulatory space, the company has enjoyed years of success with dental practices. I asked Dr Keith Dressler, Chairman & CEO of Rhinogram what set their system apart from all the others on display at MGMA: “Quite simply we see ourselves not as a communication platform, but as an asynchronous telehealth platform that uses text, Facebook Messages and other channels rather than real-time video to connect with patients”

Dressler’s response was a great way to reframe the entire patient communication space and showed me that vendors were moving away from their provider-initiated communication roots to include patient-initiated communication as well.

Nowhere was this shift more apparent than in the CareCloud booth. A year ago I wrote a post about the launch of the company’s then-new Breeze platform – a patient experience platform built in partnership with First Data. Breeze was designed to be the backbone for all sorts of new patient engagement applications. At MGMA18, CareCloud announced the launch of a customizable survey tool for capturing patient satisfaction information on Breeze.

“Our new survey capability is very exciting,” said Juan Molina, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CareCloud. “The surveys are customizable by the practice without the need for development resources. This allows our customers to quickly construct surveys that can gather patient feedback on anything – new programs they want to offer or changes they want to make to the practice itself. The sky is the limit. But at the core, this survey capability means our customers have another way to engage patients in a 2-way conversation about their experience.”

I must admit, prior to MGMA18 I had thought the patient communication space was played out. But having spoken with every patient communication vendor on the exhibit floor, I have a new appreciation about where the technology is headed. I’m actually excited to see what advancements will be made in the next 12 months.

PS: I also had great conversations with Kevin Pho MD – founder of KevinMD.com, Todd Evenson – COO at MGMA, Corinne Proctor Boudreau – Senior Manager at MEDITECH and Niko Skievaski – cofounder & President at Redox. Those conversations will be the subject of upcoming articles.

Better Performing Practices Invest in Communications

Posted on October 1, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

MGMA’s Winning Strategies From Top Medial Groups report identifies better-performing practices have invested in: (1) New/upgraded EHRs; (2) Electronic communication systems; and (3) Upgraded coding and revenue cycle management systems.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) released their Winning Strategies From Top Medical Groups report – on the morning of their annual conference. The report is based on data gathered from 3,000+ medical groups that were identified by MGMA as top-performers in at least one of four categories:

  1. Better-performing practices focus on using resources efficiently and create + stick to a financial plan.
  2. Better-performing practices are those whose providers and staff successfully contributed to earned revenue for the practice.
  3. Better-performing practices have lower operating costs as a percentage of revenue and manage their revenue cycle better.
  4. Better-performing practices report on quality metrics while also excelling in at least one other category.

According to the report, being a better-performer reaps significant benefits.

  • Better performing independently-owned surgical specialty practices have 20% lower operating costs vs other practices
  • Better performing primary care practices have 8.6% greater net income per physician vs other practices
  • Better performing practices collect 10% more accounts receivable in the first 30 days vs other practices

Overall, the report identified three key strategies that better-performing practices pursue:

  1. Building an engaging, patient-focused culture
  2. Focusing on long-term, strategic progress
  3. Constantly investing in improving operations

What was the most surprising result in the report? Todd Evenson, Chief Operating Officer of MGMA had this to say “I found it surprising how much more productive Better Performers were in terms of Work Relative Value Units (RVUs). Better-performing non-surgical specialty practices, for example, were found to have an average of 9,115 RVUs per physician compared to 7,300 for all other practices. The report highlights having the right staff, the right technology and the right people can make a big difference.”

For me, the most interesting aspect of the report was where HealthIT investments were being made. The report identifies that better-performers had or were planning to invest in:

  1. New or upgraded EHRs to support better patient communication, better provider experience and workflow efficiency
  2. Electronic communication systems (like secure texting) for use between providers and with patients
  3. Upgraded billing/coding software and revenue cycle management systems

I did not expect to see communication so prominent in the top Health IT priorities. For many years communication has been an afterthought. It is encouraging to see that in 2018 practice leaders are putting an emphasis on tools and systems to help bring the people who are delivering care closer to peers and closer to patients.

“The reality is, any practice can achieve top performance when the people within it make a sustained effort to do more of the right things well,” said Ken Hertz, Principal MGMA Consultant. “We developed this report not only to give practices strategies to get the most from their business but to show them that these efforts pay off—for practices and patients alike. When practices invest in improving their business, patients are more efficiently served, increasing patient satisfaction and health outcomes, and improving patient retention rates. It’s a feedback loop that benefits everyone.”

The Winning Strategies From Top Medical Groups report is available exclusively to MGMA members.

Medical Groups Adopting Telehealth, But Cautiously

Posted on February 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.

Telehealth has gone from a neat idea to an accepted part of the spectrum of care. However, it’s largely been hospitals, not doctors, which have dived into telemedicine wholeheartedly

Recent data suggests that while doctors are gradually adopting telecare, they have many reservations about doing so. A study published last year by Reaction Data found that while 68% of physicians said they were in favor of telemedicine, most were using it only in special situations such as reaching patients in rural areas, visit follow-ups and managing specific patient populations.

A new survey by the Medical Group Management Association has reached a similar conclusion. In a poll conducted last month by the trade group, the MGMA found medical practices’ approaches to telemedicine have changed only marginally since January of last year.

In this year’s Stat poll, which had 1,292 respondents, 26% of respondents said their organization offered telehealth services, and another 15% said they planned to offer them in the future. That’s up only 3% from January 2017 research, which found that 23% of respondents provided such services and 18% planned to add them.

Meanwhile, two key statistics have stayed in place from last year. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to this year’s survey said they didn’t offer telehealth services and 20% weren’t sure if they would, the same percentages found in last year’s research.

When it announced the results, MGMA shared some specific suggestions for planning and implementing a telehealth program. They include:

  • Researching and understanding patient needs
  • Setting clear goals for telehealth and tying them to an existing strategic plan, which demands fewer organizational changes and speeds adoption
  • Understanding how telehealth supports value-based care
  • Researching telehealth vendors and platforms
  • Researching reimbursement and licensure requirements (if any) in the practice environment
  • Engaging and educating practice staff members on telehealth issues and strategies
  • Having doctors reach out to colleagues in their specialty to learn how their telehealth implementation experience has gone
  • Bearing in mind that telehealth implementations typically take an average of one year from plan to rollout

All that being said, it seems likely that some of the practices which are hanging back from telehealth have taken most or even all of the steps outlined above. The thing is, even if a practice has researched the telemedicine market, understands its patients’ needs and knows what issues it will face during a service rollout, these steps still can’t address some of the fundamental realities holding telehealth back today.

The truth is, from what I’ve seen medical practices still face two difficult issues when they consider telehealth seriously: how to make money at it and how to fit it into their workflow. These are major problems and won’t be resolved by advice alone (not that this is MGMA’s fault of course).

Despite medical groups’ concerns, there will doubtless be a tipping point where practices begin to see telehealth services as a routine part of what they provide. However, it seems clear that we’re far from getting there.

Better Performing Practices More Efficient with IT Spending According to MGMA

Posted on October 23, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) recently released its 2017 MGMA DataDive Better Performers data, a report that provided a glimpse into the health of US medical practices across four key performance categories:

  1. Operations
  2. Profitability
  3. Productivity
  4. Value

Of the 2,941 physician practices that provided their performance data for the report, only 32 were found to be “better-performing” than their peers in three of the four categories. No practice was considered better-performing on all four categories.

For a deeper dive into the report, check out this post from Anne Zieger.

The report’s most surprising results were in the Operations – Information Technology category:

  • Physician-owned practices spent more than 2x on IT Per FTE Physician than their hospital-owned practices
  • Better performing physician-owned practices spent LESS on IT than their peers
  • Better performing hospital-owned practices spent MORE on IT than their peers

At first glance these results run counter to what many would expect. How could independent physician practices be spending more than 2x hospital-owned practices on IT – especially when you consider that a hospital has many more IT systems and applications.

To help make sense of the results, we sat down with David N Gans, MSHA, FACMPE – Senior Fellow, Industry Affairs at MGMA.

Why are hospital-owned practices spending less overall on HealthIT?

Gans: The raw numbers that we received from the practices was a bit deceiving. What we found was that not all IT costs borne by the hospital are filtering down to the practices owned by that hospital. Server costs, IT department salaries, support costs and network infrastructure costs, for example, did not appear as line item costs for the practices. Only equipment and the EHR licenses used by the practice’s staff were considered IT costs. Independently owned practices, however, bear all the costs associated with IT including licensing, servers, support and ongoing maintenance. Thus, it only appears that hospital owned practices are spending less than their counterparts. It is a quirk of the way costs are allocated in a hospital setting.

Why are better performing physician-owned practices spending less on HealthIT than their peers?

Gans: The scoring system we used for this report rewards efficiency. The more efficient you are in any category, the higher you will score. Using that lens, practices that were more judicious with their IT spending achieved higher efficiency scores. What you are seeing in the report results is an associative effect – the more effective you are with IT, the more efficient your practice is considered.

Gans was quick to point out that the survey did not measure the impact of or the outcomes achieved from the implementation of HealthIT. There was also not linkage between overall IT spend and practice profitability.

Why is it important that practices strive to be efficient. Isn’t that an antiquated notion?

Gans: It’s actually more important than ever for practices to focus on being efficient. If you go back to 2001 and look at three key economic indices it becomes painfully obvious why efficiency is the key to practice survival. Just look at this chart we have compiled:

The red line is the % increase in practice operating costs per FTE Physician relative to what it was in 2001. By 2020, costs will be 116.7% of what they were in 2001. The blue line is the consumer price index. The green line is the rise in Medicare reimbursements. There is no way a physician practice can stay in the black without taking a serious look at their operational efficiency. If you do nothing, costs will eat up your practice.

Gans is hopeful that new technologies and changes to the reimbursement mechanisms will help reduce the performance gap for practices. According to Gans, Artificial Intelligence, like IBM’s Watson, could make practices exponentially more efficient. It can crunch numbers much faster than a human ever could, which would allow physicians to offer more personalized care or care via less expensive channels (ie: telehealth).

“One thing is clear,” says Todd Evenson, Chief Operating Officer at MGMA. “As we change from volume to value, the financial metrics we track in this report will have to change. We will need to de-emphasize the production-style metrics we have used in the past to more value based ones. We will also need to find a way to measure the quality of care provided by practices. This will make this report even more important and relevant in the years to come.”

Patient Generated Data, Workflow and Usability Coming Into Focus for EHR Vendors

Posted on October 16, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

At the recent Medical Group Management Association annual conference (MGMA17), I made a point of visiting as many of the EHR vendors in the exhibit hall as I could so that I could ask them two questions:

  1. What are you working on right now, given that there is a bit of a lull between ONC requirements?
  2. How do EHRs and EHR vendors need to evolve over the next 5 years?

Below are some of the best responses I received.

Steve Dart, Senior Director of Product Management at AdvancedMD believes that both EHRs and EHR companies need to fundamentally change their paradigms in order to thrive over the next five years. “EHRs should facilitate the job that needs to get done rather than serve as a documentation repository,” says Dart. “What is that job? Helping patients live healthier lives while at the same helping physicians be happier at work. We really missed the boat during the Meaningful Use (MU) gold rush. We neither helped patients be healthier nor did we make physician lives easier. In fact, as an industry we generally made things more difficult for doctors.”

AdvancedMD is charting a new path forward, instead of just fixing their user interface (UI), they are rethinking their entire approach to their EHR. The company is taking full advantage of the lull in MU requirements by using the time to bring together designers, UI experts, physicians and office managers to design a brand new EHR. Dubbed the “connect the dots” strategy, AdvancedMD is centering their next generation on clinical and administrative workflows.

“When you think about it, healthcare is really just a journey of sequential workflows,” Dart explains. “A patient starts by experiencing symptoms, then moves to research physicians online, schedules an appointment, comes in for their visit, goes to get lab tests done, comes back to discuss the results and fills a prescription. What EHR companies have done is create whole bunch of point solutions for each one of these situations. What we haven’t done well is connect these all together with technology. We siloed everything. Instead what we need to realize is that each situation is actually a complex workflow and we journey from one workflow to another as patients. What we need now, and what AdvancedMD believes, is that we should build technology that enables these workflows – make them easier and more seamless for patients and physicians. Data collection, for example, should happen on devices that both doctors and patients already use and in a way that doesn’t detract from the visit.”

To illustrate that AdvancedMD is doing more than just giving their theory lip-service, Dart showed an early design prototype of an EHR interface that provides a longitudinal view of a practice. Instead of clicking down into one patient to order labs or renew prescriptions and then clicking down into the next patient to do the same, the new interface groups all lab orders together and all the prescriptions together. One click and the physician can see all that they need to do and clicks once to push the orders ahead. The new interface is highly intuitive and functional.

Juan Molina, VP of Strategy and Business Development at CareCloud also believes that EHRs need to radically change. “EHRs need to allow doctors and their staff to do their jobs better,” says Molina. “We have to stop asking doctors to be data entry clerks and documentation specialists. They need to go back to being 100% focused on the patient and providing care. As an industry we have focused too much on checking the box. We need to move beyond that through better use of technology – especially modern cloud-based architectures.”

Mollna is most excited about the potential of real-time analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the point of care. He feels that the promise of precision medicine and true personalized care will only be possible if “massive amounts of health data is crunched and context from that data delivered to the doctor at the time when they are seeing a patient.” CareCloud is using the freedom from compliance requirements to work on new partnerships for deep analytics, AI and patient experience (read about their partnership with First Data here).

It is refreshing to hear EHR companies talk about collaboration. Over the past several years it was frustrating to see vendors attempt to build everything themselves only to end up with inferior solutions to what was readily available in other industries from other vendors. Partnership and collaboration are a welcome shift in EHR strategy.

athenahealth is actively pursuing partnerships as part of their More Disruption Please (MDP) program. “We are constantly expanding and improving our cloud-based platform to align with our vision,” says Stephanie Zaremba, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at athenahealth. “We want to see a healthcare industry free from administrative burden, enabled to care for diverse and disparate populations, and one that ultimately lets doctors be doctors. We believe that the current paradigm of federal regulations hinders, rather than helps, our industry from making this vision a reality. The innovation we so desperately need can’t flourish in the confines of check-the-box requirements that do not grow and evolve with technological advances. But even if we’re stuck with the regulatory status quo, in the next five years, we hope that vendors will continue to embrace their collective potential, shifting from competitors to collaborators in an effort to create a more provider-friendly, patient-facing, and connective tech landscape that captures the full continuum of care.”

The announcement of the partnership between Pulse Systems and InteliChart at MGMA17 is a prime example of this newfound collaborative spirit. For years Pulse offered a perfectly serviceable patient portal, yet they recognized that they would never pour as much time and effort into that area of their solution versus a company like InteliChart.

“We are pursuing an open-EHR strategy,” explains Chris Walls, President & CEO of Pulse Systems. “Although we provide a comprehensive solution, we recognize that clients may not want every component from our stack. They may want to keep a best-of-breed solution that they already have in place. Rather than force our clients to change, we are working to ensure we can integrate and play nice with others.”

Pulse arrived at this open approach by listening closely to clients and prospects. What they found was an under-current of a best-of-breed approach. Physician offices wanted to use different tools and applications from different vendors but the lack of integration and internal IT resources forced them to go with a single monolithic solution instead.

Through this listening exercise, Pulse also realized that it was more than an EHR vendor to its clients. Many of their clients are smaller practices which do not have ready access to technical support. Rather than deflect their client’s calls for help with mundane things like anti-virus updates, internet connection issues and printer failures, they leaned into it. They created a dedicated IT Field Support team that handles calls for routine IT issues and will even fly out to help a client if needed.

By proactively helping their clients in this manner, Pulse has found that they reduce EHR issues down the road and they engender tremendous loyalty. When you think about it Pulse is essentially applying a Population Health approach to their own clients – offering preventative maintenance to avoid more costly support calls in the future.

Most impressive is how Greenway Health is using this lull in compliance requirements. “Now that we are freed from working on ONC compliance work, we are putting focus on customer requested enhancements” says Mark Janiszewski, EVP of Product Managmeent & Corporate Development at Greenway. “Much to the delight of our customers, we can now apply resources to the enhancements that they have asked for, but that were lower in priority compared to what was needed to comply with regulations and the Meaningful Use program.”

Greenway is also using their “found time” to take a serious look at EHR usability. They recognize that there is tension between physicians and EHR makers caused by the endless clicking and confusing user interfaces. Greenway is hoping to relieve that tension by collaborating with clients to improve their system. According to Janiszewski, the company has planned a series of customer visits where a team of designers and engineers can observe how people interact with their system over a 2-3 day period.

The team has already identified several areas of improvement after observing how admin staff were copying down ID numbers from one screen onto post-it notes in order to key it in on a different screen to bypass a lengthy click-path. The team is hard at work to ensure data is transferred across the system more seamlessly.

Over the next five years, Janiszewski believes that EHR companies will have to embrace the concept of multiple care settings and multiple data sources: “EHRs will need to have a higher degree of interoperability as patients move between care settings – from acute care to rehab to home care or from acute care to elder care. EHRs will also need to solve for Patient Generated Data. We are all wearing fitness trackers and using apps to track our health. This data needs to be incorporated in a meaningful way into the EHR. “

The responses from MGMA17 demonstrates that companies are well aware of the negative feelings healthcare providers have towards EHRs. What is very encouraging is that fixing the user interface is only one of many different solutions being pursued by EHR companies. Rather than myopically focusing on the shiny object in front of them, companies like Greenway, Pulse, athenahealth, CareCloud and AdvancedMD are taking a step back and looking at healthcare with a broader perspective in order to identify opportunities for improvement. It will be interesting to circle back with them a year from now to see what progress has been made.

Increasingly, Physician Practices Paying Fees To Receive Electronic Payments

Posted on October 13, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MGMA17 Day 2 – The Future of Patient Engagement Looks Bright

Posted on October 10, 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.

Day 2 at MGMA17 started very early for exhibitors when the doors to the exhibit hall opened sharply at 6:30am Pacific Time. It was clear that MGMA organizers were catering to the early-rising-east-coast contingent of attendees. Thankfully there was a warm breakfast with plenty of caffeine options available.

The early exhibit hours provided a unique opportunity to slowly browse the floor and read booth signage fully without being blocked by fellow attendees walking in the aisles…and in some cases without being blocked by company representatives in the booth itself.

As I walked around the exhibits I began to notice that the words “Patient Engagement” appeared frequently. EHR companies, revenue cycle management companies, call center providers and even HR consultants had this nebulous term emblazoned on their booth properties. I thought it would be interesting to ask a few of these companies how they interpreted patient engagement and how they saw it evolving over the next three years.

Josh Weiner, Chief Operating Officer at SolutionReach, was quick to say “Patient Engagement is more than having a portal on your EHR”. He believed that the key to engaging patients was communicating with them in an easy, convenient manner. “For SolutionReach, this means texting. Everyone knows how to text and it’s just so simple to use. A few years ago texting patients was just one-way. Doctors would send a text to a patient and that would be it. More recently companies like SolutionReach introduced the ability for healthcare providers to conduct one-to-one conversations with patients via text. We call it SR Conversations and we have over 4,000 clients using it.”

In the future, Weiner predicted that providers and patients would continue to use SMS texting as the primary means of patient engagement. The key difference is that instead of just sending text messages back and forth we would be sending mini-text-applications back and forth. He cited the example of the latest iOS upgrade which now featured the ability to send a map, a Starbucks gift card and other such applications within an SMS message. He foresaw a day when we will have the ability to send a prescription, a lab test, a referral and an appointment schedule to a patient via SMS.

At BinaryFountain, a company that makes a platform that consolidate patient feedback from multiple social media sources as well as from HCAHPS surveys and allows providers to publish positive comments made in those medium as online reviews, they define patient engagement through the lens of reputation management. Engaged patients mean they are more likely to provide a positive comment and if they provide a positive comment, they are more likely to rate the doctor/practice/hospital highly. That, in turn, leads to a better reputation which attracts patients who are more likely to be engaged in their care. In the future, the company believes that quantitative measures for patient engagement will be developed and that these measures will be used in a similar way that the 5-star rating system is used today.

West Communications is a provider of telephony solutions to a broad range of industries. In healthcare, West offers a number of patient communication tools that engage patients via phone, email, and text. They define patient engagement as the degree to which a patient is active in and adherent to their care plan. They saw a bright future for patient engagement – especially as technologies from other industries are adapted to healthcare. The West team, for example, has been working on adding AI-based intelligent IVR capabilities to their healthcare IVR solutions so that inbound calls from patients can be automatically triaged quickly based on needs.

At Stericycle Communication Solutions, Sarah Bennight, Healthcare Strategist, defined patient engagement as getting patients to be active throughout their care journey. “Patient engagement creates trust between patients and providers. It’s more than just pushing information out to patients, it’s true two-way conversations that are relevant to where the patients are in that moment. It means providing patients with useful calls to action – clicking on a button to book their next appointment, download information or connect with the right clinician.”

Bennight sees a patient engagement future that includes new forms of communication through platforms like Snapchat and iMessage. “The younger generation communicates in different ways. They’ve gone beyond voice, text, and email. Healthcare will need to adapt to these new forms of communication. We may even need to develop a healthcare nomenclature for communicating information via emoji’s and giphies.”

Finally, Varun Hippalgaonkar, Senior Vice President of Growth at HealthGrid suggested that patient engagement is the sum total of all the interactions that a patient has with their healthcare providers including face-to-face visits, phone calls, text messages, telemedicine, and emails. The key for Hippalgaonkar was not to try and engage patients across all channels, but rather to zero in on the communication modalities that each individual patient preferred.

“HealthGrid is striving to be the single communication platform for all pre-, day of and post- visit patient interactions. Our platform will provide a consistent patient experience in the communication channel or channels that patients prefer to use. We mine our own interaction data to determine the best way to interact with patients. For example, the analysis of past interactions may reveal that John Smith responds better during weekday mornings via text message and seems to prefer phone calls at night. When a hospital or a practice has the information they want to share with John, they simply put the content in our system and we handle how it will be delivered to him based on his known response patterns.”

Down the road, Hippalgaonkar saw patients interacting with AI-powered chat bots that were so sophisticated that patients would feel they were interacting with a person. These bots would work across the different communication channels providing a consistent experience no matter what modality the patient elected to use.

Hippalgaonkar summed up by saying: “In the end it’s all about motivating patients to make changes to their health or put another way, to engage in their health. We can only achieve this if we communicate with patients in a way that compels them to take action. As an industry, we need to build technologies and processes that takes things down to the individual patient level. We need to use AI, machine learning, personalization and deliver meaningful information to patients so that they are compelled to make a change.”

From these conversations, it was clear that patient engagement meant different things to different people. Yet everyone agreed healthcare needed more engagement and more involvement from patients in order to deliver on the promise of better health at lower cost. Motivating patients to become more involved is not going to be easy, but if the MGMA17 exhibit hall is representative of HealthIT overall, the future is certainly bright for patient engagement.

Full Disclosure: Solution Reach and Stericycle Communication Solutions are both sponsors of Healthcare Scene.

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.

Medical Groups Struggling To Collect Payments Promptly

Posted on August 18, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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