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New Service Brings RCM Process To Blockchain

Posted on October 6, 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.

Much of the discussion around blockchain (that I’ve seen, at least) focuses on blockchain’s potential as a platform for secure sharing of clinical data. For example, some HIT experts see blockchain as a near-ideal scalable platform for protecting the privacy of EHR-based patient data.

That being said, blockchain offers an even more logical platform for financial transactions, given its origins as the foundation for bitcoin transactions and its track record of supporting those transactions efficiently.

Apparently, that hasn’t been lost on the team at Change Healthcare. The Nashville-based health IT company is planning to launch what it says is the first blockchain solution for enterprise-scale use in healthcare. According to a release announcing the launch, the new technology platform should be online by the end of this year.

Change Healthcare already processes 12 billion transactions a year, worth more than $2 trillion in claims annually.  Not surprisingly, the new platform will extend its new blockchain platform to its existing payer and provider partners. Here’s an infographic explaining how Change expects processes will shift when it deploys blockchain:

Change_Healthcare_Intelligent_Healthcare_Network_Workflow_Infographic

To build out blockchain for use in RCM, Change is working with customers, as well as organizations like The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project.

Hyperledger encompasses a range of tools set to offer new, more-standardized approaches to deploying blockchain, including Hyperledger Cello, which will offer access to on-demand “as-a-service” blockchain technology and Hyperledger Composer, a tool for building blockchain business networks and boosting the development and deployment of smart contracts.

It’s hard to tell how much impact Change’s blockchain deployment will have. Certainly, there are countless ways in which RCM can be improved, given the extent to which dollars still leak out of the system. Also, given its existing RCM network, Change has as good a chance as anyone of building out blockchain-based RCM.

Still, I’m wondering whether the new service will prove to be a long-term product deployment or an experiment (though Change would doubtless argue for the former). Not only that, given its relatively immature status and the lack of broadly-accepted standards, is it really safe for providers to rely on blockchain for something as mission-critical as cash flow?

Of course, when it comes to new technologies, somebody has to be first, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Change doesn’t know what it’s doing. I’d just like more evidence that blockchain is ready for prime time.

Hospitals Aren’t Getting Much ROI From RCM Technology

Posted on July 24, 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.

If your IT investments aren’t paying off, your revenue cycle management process is clunky and consumers are defaulting on their bills, you’re in a pretty rocky situation financially. Unfortunately, that’s just the position hospitals find themselves in lately, according to a new study.

The study, which was conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association and Navigant, surveyed 125 hospital health system chief financial officers and revenue cycle executives.

When they looked at the data, researchers saw that hospitals are being hit with a double whammy. On the one hand, the RCM systems hospitals have in place don’t seem to be cutting it, and on the other, the hospitals are struggling to collect from patients.

Nearly three out of four respondents said that their RCM technology budgets were increasing, with 32% reporting that they were increasing spending by 5% or more. Seventy-seven percent of hospitals with less than 100 beds and 78% of hospitals with 100 to 500 beds plan to increase such spending, the survey found.

The hospital leaders expect that technology investments will improve their RCM capabilities, with 79% considering business intelligence analytics, EHR-enabled workflow or reporting, revenue integrity, coding and physician/clinician documentation options.

Unfortunately, the software infrastructure underneath these apps isn’t performing as well as they’d like. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that their organizations had trouble keeping up with EHR upgrades, or weren’t getting the most out of functional, workflow and reporting improvements. Given these obstacles, which limit hospitals’ overall tech capabilities, these execs have little chance of seeing much ROI from RCM investments.

Not only that, CFOs and RCM leaders weren’t sure how much impact existing technology was having on their organizations. In fact, 41% said they didn’t have methods in place to track how effective their technology enhancements have been.

To address RCM issues, hospital leaders are looking beyond technology. Some said they were tightening up their revenue integrity process, which is designed to ensure that coding and charge capture processes work well and pricing for services is reasonable. Such programs are designed to support reliable financial reporting and efficient operations.

Forty-four percent of respondents said their organizations had established revenue integrity programs, and 22% said revenue integrity was a top RCM focus area for the coming year. Meanwhile, execs whose organizations already had revenue integrity programs in place said that the programs offered significant benefits, including increased net collections (68%), greater charge capture (61%) and reduced compliance risks (61%).

Still, even if a hospital has its RCM house in order, that’s far from the only revenue drain it’s likely to face. More than 90% of respondents think the steady increase in consumer responsibility for care will have an impact on their organizations, particularly rural hospital executives, the study found.

In effort to turn the tide, hospital financial execs are making it easier for consumers to pay their bills, with 93% of respondents offering an online payment portal and 63% rolling out cost-of-care estimation tools. But few hospitals are conducting sophisticated collections initiatives. Only 14% of respondents said they were using advanced modeling tools for predicting propensity to pay, researchers said.

Providers Work To Increase Patient Payments By Improving RCM Operations

Posted on June 29, 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 growing body of research on healthcare payment trends is underscoring a painful fact: that consumers are footing a steadily growing share of their medical bills, and sometimes failing to pay. In response, providers are upgrading their revenue cycle management systems and tightening up their collections processes.

A new analysis by payment services vendor InstaMed has concluded that consumer spending on healthcare services should grow to $608 billion by 2019. This is a fairly substantial number even given the high volume of U.S. healthcare spending, which hit $3.4 trillion in 2016.

The growth in patient spending has been fueled by the emergence of high-deductible health plans, which are saddling consumers with increasingly large financial obligations. According to CMS figures cited in the report, the average deductible for covered workers with single coverage has doubled over the past several years, from $735 in 2010 to $1.487 in 2016.

But despite the increasing importance of consumers as healthcare payers, providers don’t seem to be doing enough to inform them about costs. More than 90% of consumers would like to know what the payment responsibility is prior to a provider visit, but they often don’t find out what they owe until they get a bill. What makes things worse is that very few consumers (7%) even know what a deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum are, so they’re ill-prepared to understand bills when they receive them, studies have found.

Providers are waiting longer to collect what they are owed by patients, with three-quarters waiting a month or longer to collect outstanding balances from patients. And problems with collecting patient accounts are getting worse over time.  In fact, a new study from TransUnion Healthcare found that about 68% of patients with bills of $500 or less didn’t pay off the full balance during 2016, up from 49% in 2014.

Meanwhile, patient financial responsibility for care has risen from 10% to 30% of costs over the last few years, with more increases likely. This has led to expanding levels of consumer bad debt for medical expenses.

In attempt to cope with these issues, providers are buying new revenue cycle management systems. A survey released last year by Black Book Research, which included 5,000 management and user-level RCM clients, found that many healthcare organizations are rethinking RCM technology and demanding better performance.

Forty-eight percent of responding CFOs told Black Book that they weren’t sure they had the budget they needed to upgrade to an end-to-end RCM system this year.  Nonetheless, 93% of CFOs said they planned to eliminate RCM vendors, financial and coding technology firms, that are not producing a return on investment, up from 79% with similar plans in Q4 2015.

In addition to investing in newer RCM technology, providers are making it easier for patients to pay via whatever medium they choose. Not only are providers issuing bill reminders via text, and accepting payments online and by phone, they’re also adding new channels like PayPal payments, bank transfers and mobile payments.

Healthcare CIOs Focus On Optimizing EMRs

Posted on March 30, 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.

Few technical managers struggle with more competing priorities than healthcare CIOs. But according to a recent survey, they’re pretty clear what they have to accomplish over the next few years, and optimizing EMRs has leapt to the top of the to-do list.

The survey, which was conducted by consulting firm KPMG in collaboration with CHIME, found that 38 percent of CHIME members surveyed saw EMR optimization as their #1 priority for capital investment over the next three years.  To gather results, KPMG surveyed 122 CHIME members about their IT investment plans.

In addition to EMR optimization, top investment priorities identified by the respondents included accountable care/population health technology (21 percent), consumer/clinical and operational analytics (16 percent), virtual/telehealth technology enhancements (13 percent), revenue cycle systems/replacement (7 percent) and ERP systems/replacement (6 percent).

Meanwhile, respondents said that improving business and clinical processes was their biggest challenge, followed by improving operating efficiency and providing business intelligence and analytics.

It looks like at least some of the CIOs might have the money to invest, as well. Thirty-six percent said they expected to see an increase in their operating budget over the next two years, and 18 percent of respondents reported that they expect higher spending over the next 12 months. On the other hand, 63 percent of respondents said that spending was likely to be flat over the next 12 months and 44 percent over the next two years. So we have to assume that they’ll have a harder time meeting their goals.

When it came to infrastructure, about one-quarter of respondents said that their organizations were implementing or investing in cloud computing-related technology, including servers, storage and data centers, while 18 percent were spending on ERP solutions. In addition, 10 percent of respondents planned to implement cloud-based EMRs, 10 percent enterprise systems, and 8 percent disaster recovery.

The respondents cited data loss/privacy, poorly-optimized applications and integration with existing architecture as their biggest challenges and concerns when it came to leveraging the cloud.

What’s interesting about this data is that none of the respondents mentioned improved security as a priority for their organization, despite the many vulnerabilities healthcare organizations have faced in recent times.  Their responses are especially curious given that a survey published only a few months ago put security at the top of CIOs’ list of business goals for near future.

The study, which was sponsored by clinical communications vendor Spok, surveyed more than 100 CIOs who were CHIME members  — in other words, the same population the KPMG research tapped. The survey found that 81 percent of respondents named strengthening data security as their top business goal for the next 18 months.

Of course, people tend to respond to surveys in the manner prescribed by the questions, and the Spok questions were presumably worded differently than the KPMG questions. Nonetheless, it’s surprising to me that data security concerns didn’t emerge in the KPMG research. Bottom line, if CIOs aren’t thinking about security alongside their other priorities, it could be a problem.

HIMSS17: Health IT Staff, Budgets Growing

Posted on March 1, 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 announced last week at the HIMSS17 event concludes that demand for health IT staff continues to grow as employers expand their budgets. Not surprisingly, given this growth, the healthcare employers are having trouble recruiting enough IT staffers to meet their growing needs.

Results from the HIMSS Leadership and Workforce Survey reflect responses from 368 U.S. health IT leaders made between November 2016 and early January 2017. Fifty-six of respondents from vendors and consulting firms were in executive management, as compared with 41% of providers.

The survey concluded that the majority of health IT respondents have positions they’d like to fill, including 61% of health IT vendors/consultants and 43% of providers who responded. Only 32% of vendor/consultant organizations and 38% or providers said they were fully staffed, HIMSS said. We’ve seen this challenge from many of the healthcare IT companies which post their jobs on Healthcare IT Central.

Demand for IT recruits grew last year, as well. Researchers found that 61% of vendors/consultants responding and 42% of providers responding saw IT staffing increases over the past year, and that the majority of respondents in both groups expect to increase their IT staffing levels or at least hold them steady next year.

Of course, someone has to pay for these new team members. HIMSS researchers found that IT budgets were continuing to rise over time. Roughly nine out of ten vendors/consultants and 56% of providers said they expected to see increases in their IT budgets this year.

As often happens, however, vendors and consultants and providers seem to have different HIT priorities. While vendors seem to be addressing new technology issues, providers are still focused on how to manage their existing EMR infrastructure investments, HIMSS said.

That being said, the survey found, health IT stakeholders have many overlapping concerns, including privacy and security, population health, care coordination and improving the culture of care.

One of the key insights from this study – that vendors/consultants and providers have different views on the importance of enhancing existing EMRs – is borne out by another study released at the HIMSS event.

The study, which was backed by voice recognition software vendor Nuance Communications, found that providers are broadly interested in implementing new technologies that enhance their EMR, especially computer-assisted physician documentation, mobility and speech recognition tools.

However, when asked to be specific about which tools interested them, they were less enthusiastic, with 44% showing an interest in mobility tools, 38% computer-assisted physician documentation and 25% speech recognition. Documentation tools that enhanced existing functions were especially popular, with 54% of respondents expecting to see them support a reduction in denied claims, 52% improved performance under bundled payments, 38% reduced readmissions and 38% better physician time management which improves patient flow.

This survey also found that the most popular strategy for enhancing physician satisfaction with health IT tools was providing clinician training and education (chosen by 82%). Since their EMR is probably their biggest IT investment, my guess is that the training will focus there. And that suggests that EMRs are still the center of their universe, doesn’t it?

Value Based Reimbursement Research Results in Time for #AHIPInstitute

Posted on June 15, 2016 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.

McKesson Health Solutions has commissioned a new National Research study on Value Based Reimbursement. Here’s a quick summary of some of the findings:

The rapid pace of change in healthcare payment continues unabated, with payers reporting they are 58% along the continuum towards full value-based reimbursement, a 10% leap since 2014. Hospitals aren’t far behind, reporting they’re now 50% along the value continuum, up 4% in the past two years.

Those numbers were a bit shocking to me. It doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten that far in the shift to value based reimbursement. Does it feel like it to you? I knew we were headed that direction, but definitely thought we had just begun. These numbers paint a much different story.

This week I’m excited to attend my first AHIP Institute. I’ll be exploring this shift in all its gory details.

Along with this study and with AHIP starting tomorrow, McKesson has been sharing a number of cartoons about the healthcare industry. Here are a few of them they tweeted out:

Healthcare Costs

Healthcare Payment Pathway

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.

Time To Leverage EHR Data Analytics

Posted on May 5, 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.

For many healthcare organizations, implementing an EHR has been one of the largest IT projects they’ve ever undertaken. And during that implementation, most have decided to focus on meeting Meaningful Use requirements, while keeping their projects on time and on budget.

But it’s not good to stay in emergency mode forever. So at least for providers that have finished the bulk of their initial implementation, it may be time to pay attention to issues that were left behind in the rush to complete the EHR rollout.

According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Advanced Risk & Compliance Analytics practice, it’s time for healthcare organizations to focus on a new set of EHR data analytics approaches. PwC argues that there is significant opportunity to boost the value of EHR implementations by using advanced analytics for pre-live testing and post-live monitoring. Steps it suggests include the following:

  • Go beyond sample testing: While typical EHR implementation testing strategies look at the underlying systems build and all records, that may not be enough, as build efforts may remain incomplete. Also, end-user workflow specific testing may be occurring simultaneously. Consider using new data mining, visualization analytics tools to conduct more thorough tests and spot trends.
  • Conduct real-time surveillance: Use data analytics programs to review upstream and downstream EHR workflows to find gaps, inefficiencies and other issues. This allows providers to design analytic programs using existing technology architecture.
  • Find RCM inefficiencies: Rather than relying on static EHR revenue cycle reports, which make it hard to identify root causes of trends and concerns, conduct interactive assessment of RCM issues. By creating dashboards with drill-down capabilities, providers can increase collections by scoring patients invoices, prioritizing patient invoices with the highest scores and calculating the bottom-line impact of missing payments.
  • Build a continuously-monitored compliance program: Use a risk-based approach to data sampling and drill-down testing. Analytics tools can allow providers to review multiple data sources under one dashboard identify high-risk patterns in critical areas such as billing.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that while these goals seem worthy, only a small percentage of providers have the resources to create and manage such programs. Sure, vendors will probably tell you that they can pop a solution in place that will get all the work done, but that’s seldom the case in reality. Not only that, a surprising number of providers are still unhappy with their existing EHR, and are now living in replacing those systems despite the cost. So we’re hardly at the “stop and take a breath” stage in most cases.

That being said, it’s certainly time for providers to get out of whatever defensive crouch they’ve been in and get proactive. For example, it certainly would be great to leverage EHRs as tools for revenue cycle enhancement, rather than the absolute revenue drain they’ve been in the past. PwC’s suggestions certainly offer a useful look on where to go from here. That is, if providers’ efforts don’t get hijacked by MACRA.

The Shifting Health Care IT Markets

Posted on November 5, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’m at the end of my Fall Healthcare IT Conference season (although I’m still considering attending RSNA for my first time) and besides being thankful to be done with all the travel, I’m also taking a second to think about what I’ve learned over the past couple months as I’ve traveled to a wide variety of conferences.

While the EHR market has been hot for so many years, I’m seeing a big shift in purchasing to three areas: Analytics/Population Health, Revenue Cycle Management, and Privacy/Security. This isn’t a big surprise, but the EHR market has basically matured and now even EHR vendors are looking at new ways to market their products. These are the three main areas where I see the market evolving.

Analytics and Population Health
I could have easily added the other buzzword “patient engagement” to this category as well. There’s a whole mixture of technologies and approaches for this category of healthcare IT. In fact, it’s where I see some of the most exciting innovations in healthcare. Most of it is driven by some form of value based reimbursement or organizations efforts to prepare for the shift to value based reimbursement. However, there’s also a great interest by many organizations to try and extract value from their EHR investment. Many are betting on these tools being able to help them realize value from their EHR data.

Revenue Cycle Management
We’re seeing a whole suite of revenue cycle solutions. For many years we’ve seen solutions that optimized an organization’s relationships with payers. Those are still popular since it seems like most organizations never really fix the problem so their need for revenue cycle management is cyclical. Along with these payer solutions, we’re seeing a whole suite of products and companies that are focused on patient payment solutions. This shift has been riding the wave of high deductible plans in healthcare. As an organization’s patient pay increases, they’re looking for better ways to collect the patient portion of the bill.

Privacy and Security
There have been so many health care breaches, it’s hard to even keep up. Are we becoming numb to them? Maybe, but I still see many organizations investing in various privacy and security programs and tools whenever they hear about another breach. Plus, the meaningful use requirement to do a HIPAA Risk Assessment has built an entire industry focused on those risk assessments. You can be sure the coming HIPAA audits will accelerate those businesses even more.

What other areas are you seeing become popular in health care IT?

7 Strategies for Revenue Cycle Management Success

Posted on August 17, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I came across a whitepaper called 7 Strategies for Revenue Cycle Management Success. I continue to be amazed by how many practices can benefit from better revenue cycle management. So much so that hundreds of companies thrive on the back of a practice’s revenue. This is true for a number of EHR companies as well.

For those who don’t want to download the full whitepaper with all the details on the 7 strategies, here’s the list:

Strategy #1: Monitor Payments
Strategy #2: Perform Financial Clearance
Strategy #3: Collect from Patients
Strategy #4: Manage Denials
Strategy #5: Establish Employee Expectations
Strategy #6: Avoid the Snowball Effect
Strategy #7: Report on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

As I look through this list and read through the whitepaper, all of it just points to quality management of processes. There’s nothing on the list that’s rocket science. It’s just taking the time and effort to make sure that all of your practice’s processes are well organized and thorough. As you can imagine, that’s a problem for many organizations. That’s why so many practices outsource this work to another company.

When I consider where revenue cycle management is headed, I wonder how these new value based reimbursement models will impact revenue cycle management companies. My guess is that many of them will just see it as the same process applied to new clinical values and measures. However, I think that value based reimbursement is going to require companies to go much deeper with a practice. If the practice is now responsible for a population of users and not just the ones they’ve seen in their office, that’s going to take a very different skill set.

What is clear to me is that many practices are going to need some help from an outside company even in a value based reimbursement environment. I’m just not sure which companies will be providing those services.