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Moving from “Reporting on” to “Leading” Healthcare – A Conversation with Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, President & CEO of MGMA

Posted on October 11, 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.

In Chapter 3 of Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright’s new book Back to Balance, she writes: “People are increasingly being treated as if they are the same. Science and data are being used to decrease variability in an attempt to get doctors to treat patients in predictable ways.” This statement is Fischer-Wright’s way of saying that the current focus on standardization of healthcare processes in the quest to reduce costs and increase quality may not be the brass ring we should be striving for. She believes that a balance is needed between healthcare standardization and the fact that each patient is a unique individual.

As president of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), a role Fischer-Wright has held since 2015, she is uniquely positioned to see first-hand the impact standardization (from both legislative and technological forces) has had on the medical profession. With over 40,000 members, MGMA represents many of America’s physician practices – a group particularly hard hit over the past few years by the technology compliance requirements of Meaningful Use and changes to reimbursements.

For many physician practices Meaningful Use has turned out to be more of a compliance program rather than an incentive program. To meet the program’s requirements, physicians have had to alter their workflows and documentation approaches. Complying with the program and satisfying the reporting requirements became the focus, which Fischer-Wright believes is a terrible unintended consequence.

“We have been so focused on standardizing the way doctors work that we have taken our eyes off the real goal,” said Fischer-Wright in and interview with HealthcareScene. “As physicians our focus needs to be on patient outcomes not whether we documented the encounter in a certain way. In our drive to mass standardization, we are in danger of ingraining the false belief that populations of patients behave in the same way and can be treated through a single standardized treatment regimen. That’s simply not the case. Patients are unique.”

Achieving a balance in healthcare will not be easy – a sentiment that permeates Back to Balance, but Fischer-Wright is certain that healthcare technology will play a key role: “We need HealthIT companies to stop focusing just on what can be done and start working on enabling what needs to be done. Physicians want to leverage technology to deliver better care to patient at a lower cost, but not at the expense of the patient/physician relationship. Let’s stop building tools that force doctors to stare at the computer screen instead of making eye contact with their patients.”

To that end, Fischer-Wright issued a friendly challenge to the vendors in the MGMA17 exhibit hall: “Create products and services that physicians actually enjoy using. Help reduce barriers between physician, patients and between healthcare organizations. Empower care don’t detract from it.”

She went on to say that MGMA itself will be stepping up to help champion the cause of better HealthIT for patients AND physicians. In fact, Fischer-Wright was excited to talk about the new direction for MGMA as an organization. For most of its history, MGMA has reported on the healthcare industry from a physician practice perspective. Over the past year with the help of a supportive Board of Directors and active members, the MGMA leadership team has begun to shift the organization to a more prominent leadership role.

“We are going to take a much more active role in healthcare. We are going to focus on fixing healthcare from the ground up –  from providers & patients upwards. In the next few years MGMA will be much bigger, much strong and even more relevant to physician practices. We are forging partnerships with other key players in healthcare, federal/state/local governments and other associations/societies.“

Members should expect more conferences, more educational opportunities and more publications on a more frequent basis from MGMA going forward. Fischer-Wright also hinted at several new technology-related offerings but opted not to provide details. Looking at the latest news from MGMA on their revamped data-gathering/analytics, however, it would not be surprising if their new offerings were data related. MGMA is one of the few organizations that regularly collects information on and provides context on the state of physician practices in the US.

It will be exciting to watch MGMA evolve in the years ahead.

Willingness To Invest In Outpatient EHRs and PM Solutions Grows

Posted on September 15, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

While the ambulatory EHR market remains somewhat stable, the number of organizations preparing to get out of their existing system has climbed over previous years, along with an increase in the number of organizations prepared to upgrade their practice management solution, according to new data from HIMSS.

To conduct the 9th Annual Outpatient PM & EHR Study, HIMSS Analytics reached out to physicians, practice managers/administrators, practice CEOs/presidents, PAs, NPs and practice IT directors/staff. A total of 436 professionals responded to its web-based survey.

The survey concluded that 93% of hospital-owned outpatient facilities had a live, in-operation EMR in place. Meanwhile, 70% of respondents representing free-standing outpatient facilities said they had an EHR in place, down from 78% last year.

As part of its survey, HIMSS Analytics asked respondents whether they planned to purchase an entirely new ambulatory EHR system, replace the existing system upgrade the system within the next two years.

The responses suggest that there’s been some new movement in the ambulatory EHR market. Most notably, 10.6% of respondents said they plan to replace their current solution, up from 6.4% in 2014. This is arguably a significant change. Also, 23.8% respondents said they were upgrading their current ambulatory solution, up from 20.8% in 2014.

In addition, the number of respondents with no investment plans fell below 60% for the first time in four years, HIMSS Analytics noted.

Though the practice management system market seems to be a bit more stable, some churn appears to be emerging here as well. Eleven percent of respondents said they plan to upgrade their current PM solution, down from 20.8% in 2014, and 9.3% said they plan to replace their current system, up from 6.4% in 2014.

All in all, there’s not a great deal of replacement activity underway, though the data does suggest a small spike. That being said, I was interested to note that respondents’ willingness to invest in a new system was higher than their willingness to upgrade a system they have.

The question is, why would ambulatory providers be ready to junk their existing EHR and practice management solutions now as opposed to three years ago? Are we reaching the end of a grand health IT replacement cycle or is there more going on here?

One possibility is that with MACRA kicking in, outpatient providers have been forced to reevaluate their existing systems in terms of their ability to support participation in QPP. Another fairly obvious possibility is that ambulatory providers are choosing to systems they feel can support their movement into value-based care.

From what I can tell, providers choosing new systems for these reasons are actually a bit behind the curve, but not terribly so. When their peers attempt to push forward with their three, four or even five-year-old systems, then you may see a replacement frenzy. Sometimes you just can’t afford to stick with Old Faithful.

Patients Message Providers More When Providers Reach Out

Posted on April 26, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new study has concluded that patients use secure electronic messaging more when their primary care providers initiate and respond to secure messages.

To conduct the study, the research team worked a large database stocked with information on health care transactions and secure messaging records on 81,645 US Army soldiers. The data also included information from almost 3,000 clinicians with access to a patient portal system. The dataset encompassed the 4-year period between January 2011 and November 2014.

The data, which appears in a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, suggests that current provider-patient exchanges via secure messaging aren’t that common. For example, during the study period just 7 percent of patients initiated a secure message during a given month. Meanwhile, Providers initiated an average of 0.007 messages per patient each month, while responding to 0.09 messages per patient during a month.

That being said, when physicians got more engaged with the messaging process, patients responded dramatically.

Patients who knew their providers were responsive initiated a whopping 334 percent more secure messages than their baseline. Even among patients whose providers responded infrequently to their messages, the level at which they initiated messages to their clinicians was 254 percent higher than with PCPs who weren’t responding. (Oddly, when PCP response rates were at the “medium” level, patients increased messaging by 167 percent.)

In fact, when clinicians communicated more, there seemed to be spillover effects. Specifically, the researchers found that patients messaged PCPs more if that provider was very responsive to other patients, suggesting that there’s a network effect in play here.

Meanwhile, when PCPs were the ones prone to initiating messages, patients were 60 percent more likely to send a secure message. In other words, patients were more energized by PCP responses than clinician-initiated messages.

Of course, for secure messaging to have any real impact on care quality and outcomes, a critical mass of patients need to use messaging tools. Historically, though, providers have struggled to get patients to use their portal, with usage levels hovering between 10 percent and 32 percent.

Usage rates for portals have stayed stubbornly low even when doctors work hard to get their patients interested. Even patients who have signed up to use the portal often don’t follow through, research suggests. And of course, patients who don’t touch the portal aren’t exchanging care-enhancing messages with their provider.

If we’re going to get patients to participate in messaging with their doctor, we’re going to have to admit that the features offered by basic portals simply aren’t that valuable. While most offer patients access to some details of their medical records and test results, and sometimes allow them to schedule appointments, many don’t provide much more.

Meanwhile, a surprising number of providers haven’t even enabled a secure messaging function on their portal, which confines it to being a sterile data receptacle. I’d argue that without offering this feature, portals do almost nothing to engage their typical patient.

Of course, physicians fear being overwhelmed by patient messages, and reasonably fear that they won’t have time to respond adequately. Even though many organizations including the research of Dr. CT Lin has shown this just isn’t the case. That being said, if they want to increase patient engagement – and improve their overall health – secure messaging is one of the simplest tools for making that happen. So even if it means redesigning their workflow or tasking advanced practice nurse with responding to routine queries, it’s worth doing.

E-Patient Update: Reducing Your Patients’ Security Anxiety

Posted on March 31, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Even if you’re not a computer-savvy person, these days you can hardly miss the fact that healthcare data is a desirable target for cyber-criminals. After all, over the past few years, healthcare data breaches have been in the news almost every day, with some affecting millions of consumers.

As a result, many patients have become at least a bit afraid of interacting with health data online. Some are afraid that data stored on their doctor or hospital’s server will be compromised, some are afraid to manage their data on their own, and others don’t even know what they’re worried about – but they’re scared to get involved with health data online.

As an e-patient who’s lived online in one form or another since the 80s (anyone remember GEnie or Compuserve?) I’ve probably grown a bit too blasé about security risks. While I guard my online banking password as carefully as anyone else, I don’t tend to worry too much about abstract threats posed by someone who might someday, somehow find my healthcare data among millions of other files.

But I realize that most patients – and providers – take these issues very seriously, and with good reason. Even if HIPAA weren’t the law of the land, providers couldn’t afford to have patients feel like their privacy wasn’t being respected. After all, patients can’t get the highest-quality treatment available if they aren’t comfortable being candid about their health behaviors.

What’s more, no provider wants to have their non-clinical data hacked either. Protecting Social Security numbers, credit card details and other financial data is a critical responsibility, and failing at it could cost patients more than their privacy.

Still, if we manage to intimidate the people we’re trying to help, that can’t be good either. Surely we can protect health data without alienating too many patients.

Striking a balance

I believe it’s important to strike a balance between being serious about security and making it difficult or frightening for patients to engage with their data. While I’m not a security expert, here’s some thoughts on how to strike that balance, from the standpoint of a computer-friendly patient.

  • Don’t overdo things: Following strong security practices is a good idea, but if they’re upsetting or cumbersome they may defeat your larger purposes. I’m reminded of the policy of one of my parents’ providers, who would only provide a new password for their Epic portal if my folks came to the office in person. Wouldn’t a snail mail letter serve, at least if they used registered mail?
  • Use common-sense procedures: By all means, see to it that your patients access their data securely, but work that into your standard registration process and workflow. By the time a patient leaves your office they should have access to everything they need for portal access.
  • Guide patients through changes: In some cases, providers will want to change their security approach, which may mean that patients have to choose a new ID and password or otherwise change their routine. If that’s necessary, send them an email or text message letting them know that these changes are expected. Otherwise they might be worried that the changes represent a threat.
  • Remember patient fears: While practice administrators and IT staff may understand security basics, and why such protections are necessary, patients may not. Bear in mind that if you take a grim tone when discussing security issues, they may be afraid to visit your portal. Keep security explanations professional but pleasant.

Remember your goals

Speaking as a consumer of patient health data, I have to say that many of the health data sites I’ve accessed are a bit tricky to use. (OK, to be honest, many seem to be designed by a committee of 40-something engineers that never saw a gimmicky interface they didn’t like.)

And that isn’t all. Unfortunately, even a highly usable patient data portal or app can become far more difficult to use if necessary security protections are added to the mix. And of course, sometimes that may be how things have to be.

I guess I’m just encouraging providers who read this to remember their long-term goals. Don’t forget that even security measures should be evaluated as part of a patient’s experience, and at least see that they do as little as possible to undercut that experience.

After all, if a girl-geek and e-patient like myself finds the security management aspect of accessing my data to be a bummer, I can only imagine other consumers will just walk away from the keyboard. With any luck, we can find ways to be security-conscious without imposing major barriers to patient engagement.

E-Patient Update:  You Need Our Help

Posted on January 20, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I just read the results of a survey by Black Book Research suggesting that many typical consumers don’t trust, like or understand health IT.

The survey, which reached out to 12,090 adult consumers in September 2016, found that 57% of those interacting with health IT at hospitals or medical practices were skeptical of its benefit. Worse, 87% said they weren’t willing to share all of their information.

Up to 70% of consumers reported that they distrusted patient portals, medical apps and EMRs. Meanwhile, while many respondents said they were interested in using health trackers, 94% said that their physicians weren’t willing or able to synch wearables data with their EMR.

On the surface, these stats are discouraging. At a minimum, they suggest that getting patients and doctors on the same page about health IT continues to be an uphill battle. But there’s a powerful tactic providers can use which – to my knowledge – hasn’t been tried with consumers.

Introducing the consumer health IT champion

As you probably know, many providers have recruited physician or nurse “champions” to help their peers understand and adjust to EMRs. I’m sure this tactic hasn’t worked perfectly for everyone who’s tried it, but it seems to have an impact. And why not? Most people are far more comfortable learning something new from someone who understands their work and shares their concerns.

The thing is, few if any providers are taking the same approach in rolling out consumer health IT. But they certainly could. I’d bet that there’s at least a few patients in every population who like, use and understand consumer health technologies, as well as having at least a sense of why providers are adopting back-end technology like EMRs. And we know how to get Great-Aunt Mildred to consider wearing a FitBit or entering data into a portal.

So why not make us your health IT champions? After all, if you asked me to, say, hold a patient workshop explaining how I use these tools in my life, and why they matter, I’d jump at the chance. E-patients like myself are by our nature evangelists, and we’re happy to share our excitement if you give us a chance. Maybe you’d need to offer some HIT power users a stipend or a gift card, but I doubt it would take much to get one of us to share our interests.

It’s worth the effort

Of course, most people who read this will probably flinch a bit, as taking this on might seem like a big hassle. But consider the following:

  • Finding such people shouldn’t be too tough. For example, I talk about wearables, mobile health options and connected health often with my PCP, and my enthusiasm for them is a little hard to miss. I doubt I’m alone in this respect.
  • All it would take to get started is to get a few of us on board. Yes, providers may have to market such events to patients, offer them coffee and snacks when they attend, and perhaps spend time evaluating the results on the back end. But we’re not talking major investments here.
  • You can’t afford to have patients fear or reject IT categorically. As value-based care becomes the standard, you’ll need their cooperation to meet your goals, and that will almost certainly include access to patient-generated data from mobile apps and wearables. People like me can address their fears and demonstrate the benefits of these technologies without making them defensive.

I hope hospitals and medical practices take advantage of people like me soon. We’re waiting in the wings, and we truly want to see the public support health IT. Let’s work together!

Columbia-Affiliated Physician Group Plans Rollout Of Mobile Engagement Platform

Posted on December 15, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A massive multispecialty medical practice associated with Columbia University has decided to implement a mobile patient engagement platform, as part of a larger strategy aimed at boosting patient satisfaction and ease of access to care.

The vendor behind the technology, HealthGrid, describes its platform as offering the physicians the ability to “provide actionable care coordination, access to critical health information and to enable [patient] self-care management.” HealthGrid also says that its platform will help the group comply with the requirements of Meaningful Use and MIPS.

The group, ColumbiaDoctors, includes more than 1,700 physicians, surgeons, dentists and nurses, and offers more than 230 specialty and subspecialty areas of care. All of the group’s clinicians are affiliated with New York-Presbyterian hospital and serve as faculty at Columbia University Medical Center.

The group is investing heavily in making its services more accessible and patient-friendly. In April, for example, ColumbiaDoctors agreed to roll out the DocASAP platform, which is designed to offer patients advanced online scheduling capabilities, including features allowing patients to find and book patients via mobile and desktop channels, tools helping patients find the best provider for their needs and analytics tools for business process improvement.

HealthGrid, for its part, describes itself as a CRM platform whose goal is to “meet patients where they are.” The vendor has developed a rules engine, based on clinical protocols, that connects with patients at key points in the care process. This includes reaching out to patients regarding needed appointments, education, medications and screening, both before and after they get care. The system also allows patients to pay their co-pays via mobile channels.

Its other features include automated mobile check-in – with demographic information auto-populated from the EMR – which patients can update from their mobile phones. The platform allows patients to read, update and sign off on forms such as HIPAA documentation and health information using any device.

While I’d never heard of HealthGrid before, it sounds like it has all the right ideas in place for consumer engagement. Clearly it impressed ColumbiaDoctors, which must be spending a fair amount on its latest addition. I’m sure the group’s leaders feel that if it increases patient alignment with treatment goals and improves the condition of the population it serves, they’ll come out ahead.

But the truth is, I don’t think anyone knows yet whether health organizations can meet big population health goals by interacting more with patients or spending more time in dusty back rooms fussing over big data analytics. To be sure, if you have enough money to spend they can both reach out directly to patients and invest heavily in next-generation big data infrastructure. However, my instinct is that very few institutions can focus on both simultaneously.

Without a doubt, sophisticated health IT leaders know that it pays to take smart chances, and ColumbiaDoctors is probably wise to pick its spot rather than play catch-up. Still, it’s a big risk as well. I’ll be most eager to see whether tools like HealthGrid actually impact patients enough to be worth the expense.

If MACRA Fails, It Will Be a Failure of IT, Not Doctors or Regulators

Posted on August 8, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog by Steve Daniels, president of Able Health.

There has been a whole lot of mudslinging over the last month between regulators and healthcare providers over MACRA, which shifts Medicare payments further toward pay-for-performance starting January 1. On the one hand, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt is clear that CMS is ready for change. “We need to get out of the mode of paying physicians just to run tests and prescribe medicines,” he told a Senate Finance Committee hearing. Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas Eppes of the American Medical Association has called MACRA a “quantum shift” and pushed for a delay.

Yes, the Medicare Quality Payment Program instituted by MACRA should—and will—evolve based on comments made on the proposed rule. But the reality is the program provides enormous opportunity for providers to increase bonus payments, while streamlining reporting requirements across a patchwork of outdated and duplicative programs. And it’s worth noting that the potential penalties under the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) over the next four years are actually lower than the sum of the penalties of the programs it is replacing.

To meet MACRA goals, it will take a well-prepared team of providers and administrators—empowered by data and well-designed tools. Doctors can’t be solely responsible for achieving patient outcomes, reducing costs and documenting it all for CMS as they go. Unfortunately, the history of health IT has not been kind—or affordable—to doctors. And today, the health IT stack has a new challenge—keeping pace with the proliferation of value-based programs, from accessing data all the way through enabling new clinical practice.

We must move from a mindset of meeting Meaningful Use checkboxes toward supporting a more effective way of operating. And in the modern world of software-as-as-service, there’s no good reason left that IT needs to cost providers millions of dollars. We can do better. As things stand, if MACRA fails, it will be a failure of IT, not doctors or regulators.

Gathering all the data

For value-based care to work, patient data needs to be made available for providers to coordinate with each other, as well as to payers, to properly evaluate performance based on all known information. Those still blocking or jacking up prices for data access are complicit in obstructing the vision of a learning value-based system.

It is time to remove technical barriers through modern and open data standards like FHIR, as well as rules and unreasonable fees that prevent parties from accessing data when they need it. Thankfully, the Advancing Care Information performance category will reflect the emphasis on information exchange set forth in Meaningful Use Stage 3.

Calculating performance flexibly

The new era of performance-based pay requires continuous monitoring of quality and cost, with the ability to track progress across multiple programs on an ongoing basis. To measure quality today, we often use static algorithms hard-coded by EHRs vendors and health system IT departments, conforming to standards set by NCQA or CMS.

But providers need tools that are tailored not just to one or two programs like Meaningful Use and PQRS, but across the organization’s full range of value-based programs as these program continue to expand, evolve, and proliferate. With efforts to standardize IT for quality measures stalling, vendors need to focus less on one-size-fits-all quality measure calculations and more on flexible systems that enable measures to be rapidly constructed and customized to move with the trends. Expect change to be the norm.

Informing new behaviors

With so many health IT professionals focused on gathering and reporting data, it is not surprising that design has taken a back seat so far. But this year, not a single population health vendor earned an “A” rating from Chilmark, due to poor user engagement and clinical workflow. This is no longer acceptable. The challenge of enabling the new clinical and administrative behaviors associated with value-based care is too vast. User experience must be top of mind for any IT implementation, with representative users involved from the start. We have seen the impact of poor user experience in the fee-for-service system, from frustrated clinicians to alarming patient safety issues.

Design is even more important when the challenge is not just documenting billing codes but also achieving health outcomes for patients across a care team. Don’t bombard clinicians with notifications and force clumsy form-filling. Instead, employ best practices from cognitive psychology to inform professionals with lightweight and intelligent touchpoints. Automate documentation and interpretation of data wherever possible.

A new era of health IT

Whether or not it’s delayed, the Quality Payment Program is coming. And the healthcare industry is moving inexorably toward value-based care. Will health IT step up to the challenge of building toward a value-based future that is accessible to all providers? Or will we sit back and wait for the next list of requirements?

About Steve Daniels
Steve Daniels is the President of Able Health, which helps providers succeed under MACRA and value-based programs. Formerly the design lead for IBM Watson for healthcare and a lifelong patient advocate, he is passionate about the role of open data exchange and intuitive experience design in fostering a continuously improving healthcare system. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Vendors Bring Heart And Lung Sounds To EHR

Posted on June 3, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In what they say is a first, a group of technology vendors has teamed up to add heart and lung sounds to an EMR. The current effort extends only to the drchrono EHR, but if this rollout works, it seems likely that other vendors will follow, as adding multimedia content to patient medical records is a very logical step.

Urgent care provider Direct Urgent Care, a Berkeley, CA-based urgent care provider with 30,000 patients, is rolling out the Eko Core Digital Stethoscope for use by physicians. The heart and lung sounds will be recorded by the digital stethoscope, then transmitted wirelessly to a phone- or tablet-based mobile app. The app, in turn, uploads the audio files to the drchrono HR.

Ordinarily, I’d see this as an early experiment in managing multimedia health data and leave it at that. But two things make it more interesting.

One is that the Eko Core sells for a relatively modest $299, which is not bad for an FDA-cleared device. (Eko also sells an attachment for $199 which digitizes and records sounds captured by traditional analog stethoscopes, as well as streaming those files to the Eko app.) The other is that the recorded sounds can be shared with remote specialists such as cardiologists and pulmonologists, which seems valuable on its face even if the data doesn’t get stored within an EMR.

Not only that, this rollout underscores a problem just been given too little attention. At present, what I’ve seen, few EMRs incorporated anything beyond text. Even radiology images, which have been digital for ages (and managed by sophisticated PACS platforms) typically aren’t accessible to the EMR interface. In fact, my understanding is that PACS data is another silo that needs to be broken down.

Meanwhile, medical practices and hospitals are increasingly generating data that doesn’t fit into the existing EMR template, from sources such as wearables, health apps and video consults. Neither EMR developers nor standards organizations seem to have kept up with the influx of emerging non-text data, so virtually none of it is being integrated into patient records yet.

In other words, not only is it interesting to note that an EMR vendor is incorporating audio into medical records, at a modest cost, it’s worth taking stock of what it can teach us about enriching digital patient records overall.

Eventually, after all, patients will be able to capture — with some degree of accuracy — multimedia content that includes not only audio, but also ultrasound recordings, EKG charts and more. Of course, these self-administered tests and will never replace a consult by a skilled clinician, but there certainly are situations in which this data will be relevant.

When you also bear in mind that the number of telemedicine consults being conducted is growing dramatically, and that these, too, offer insights that could become part of a patient’s chart, the need to go beyond text-based EMRs becomes even more evident.

So maybe the Eko/drchrono partnership will work out, and maybe it won’t. But what they’re doing matters nonetheless.

E-Patient Update: Using Digital Health For Collaborative Medication Management

Posted on June 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Recently, I had a medical visit which brought home the gap between how doctors and patients approach to medications. While the physician and his staff seemed focused on updating a checklist of meds, I wanted med education and a chance to ask in-depth self-management questions. And though digital health tools and services could help me achieve these goals, they didn’t seem to be on the medical group’s radar.

At this visit, as I waited to see the doctor, a nurse entered with a laptop on a cart. Consulting her screen, she read off my medication list and item by item, asked me to confirm whether I took the given medication. Then, she asked me to supply the name and dosage of any drugs that weren’t included on the list. Given that I have a few chronic conditions, and take as many as a dozen meds a day, this was an awkward exercise. But I complied as best I could. When a physician saw me later, we discussed only the medication he planned to add to the mix.

While I felt quite comfortable with both the nurse and doctor, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the medication list update was handled. At best, the process was clumsy, and at worst, it might have passed over important information on drug history, interactions and compliance. Also, at least for me, discussing medications was difficult without being able to see the list.

But at least in theory, digital health technology could go a long way toward addressing these issues. For example:

  • If one is available, the practice could use a medication management app which syncs with the EMR it uses. That way, clinicians could see my updates and ask questions as appropriate.
  • Alternatively, the patient should have the opportunity to review their medication list while waiting to be seen, perhaps by using a specialized patient login for an EMR portal. This could be done using a laptop or tablet on a cart similar to what clinicians use.
  • When reviewing their medication list, patients could select medications about which they have questions, delete medications they no longer take and enter meds they’ve started since their last visit.
  • At least for complex cases, patients should have an opportunity to do a telehealth consult with a pharmacist if requested. This would be especially helpful prior to adding new drugs to a patient’s regimen. (I don’t know if such services exist but my interest in them stands.)

To me, using digital health options to help patients manage their meds makes tremendous sense. Now that such tools are available, physicians can loop patients into the med management discussion without having to spend a lot of extra time or money. What’s more, collaboration helps patients manage their own care more effectively over the long term, which will be critical under value-based care. But it may not be easy to convince them that this is a good idea.

Unfortunately, many physicians see sharing any form of patient data as a loss of control. After all, in the past a chart was for doctors, not patients, and in my experience, that dynamic has carried over into the digital world. I have struggled against this — in part by simply asking to look at the EMR screen — but my sense is that many clinicians are afraid I’ll see something untoward, misinterpret a data point or engage in some other form of mischief.

Still, I have vowed to take better control of my medications, and I’m going to ask every physician that treats me to consider digital med management tools. I need them to know that this is what I need. Let’s see if I get anywhere!

Healthcare Execs Want To Collect More From Patients

Posted on May 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Every healthcare provider wants to get paid, of course. However, collecting the ever-growing portion of revenue that patients owe is tough, and getting tougher. That being said, the majority of providers recognize that they have a big problem and are working to boost the volume and speed of patient payments, a new study finds.

The study, which is sponsored by claims management and patient payments vendor Navicure in affiliation with Porter Research, connected with 300 of professionals, including practice administrators (36%), C-suite executives (25%) and billing managers (35%). Forty-one percent of organizations had 1 to 10 providers, 31% had 11 to 50 providers, 12% had 51 to 100 providers and 17% had more than 100 providers.

In responding to the survey, 63% of survey respondents said that patient payment processes were a high priority for their leadership teams. Their challenges in collecting from patients included patients’ inability to pay (31%), difficulty educating patients about the financial responsibility (26%) and slow-paying patients (25%).

It’s not surprising that collecting patient payments is a priority for many organizations. The study found that patient payment revenue made up 11% to 20% of total revenue for almost a third of organizations that responded. Twenty percent of organizations said patient payments accounted for 21% to 30% of total revenue, and for 23%, patient payments accounted for more than 31% of total revenue.

More than half (57%) of respondents said they educate patients about their financial responsibility, but only 42% said they always estimate the patient’s cost at the time of service. What’s more, few have implemented steps that might streamline payment. Sixty-two percent do not offer credit card on file programs, 52% don’t have automated payment plans in place, and 57% don’t send electronic statements to patients.

To address these issues, Navicure recommends that providers make several changes in their patient payment processes. These include viewing patients’ eligibility information prior to or at the time of service, collecting copays and outstanding balances, creating care estimates and enrolling patients in any available payment plans.

While the survey doesn’t address this issue directly, it also doesn’t hurt to make bills more readable. I’ve read accounts of some hospital billing departments and medical office staffers spending hours on the phone with patients going over charges. Not only does this frustrate the patients, and undermine their relationship with your organization, it wastes a lot of time. Cleaning up bill formats can go a long way toward smoothing out routine payment issues.

On that note, it probably makes sense to roll out patient-friendly billing technologies. More than 70% of respondents who have replaced paper statements with online bill payment and e-statements would recommend this technology to a peer, and 42% of respondents using automated payment plans were very or completely satisfied.

Ultimately, however, collecting more from patients probably calls for changes in policy, the research suggests. While 35% ask for a partial deposit before service, and 26% collect all of what a patient owes before service, 18% of respondents said they didn’t collect anything before prior to service, and 21% said they didn’t charge until claims were processed.