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Social Media Platforms and Techniques for Medical Practices

Posted on December 18, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
In my previous post I talked about the benefits of using social media in a medical practice and I said that the next post in the series would take a look at the tools, techniques, and social media platforms you should use to help you realize the benefits of social media. This will not be an exhaustive look at social media platforms or the way to get the most out of them. However, it will be a good place for you to start and will offer some techniques that those who’ve started might not have heard about.

First, a word of warning. When starting to work with social media, be sure to pace yourself appropriately. As you start working with a specific social media platform, you might want to start “sprinting” and dive really deep into the product. That’s a great way to develop a deep understanding of the platform, but it’s not sustainable. After doing a deep dive into a social media platform, find a sustainable rhythm that your practice can sustain long term.

Social media is a marathon, not a sprint.

Facebook – With nearly 800 million active users, it’s hard to ignore the power of Facebook. Given these numbers, the majority of patients are on Facebook and they’re likely talking with their friends about their doctors. Unlike many other social media platforms, most people are connected to their real life friends on Facebook. That means the focus of your work on Facebook should be to help your most satisfied patients be able to remember to share this with their friends as the need arises.

On Facebook this usually takes the form of a practice Facebook page that your patients can “like.” Invite your patients to like your Facebook page when they’re in your office or through your patient portal. You can even test some Facebook advertising using your internal email list to get your patients to like your page. However, the most important thing you can do is to make sure you regularly update your Facebook page with quality content. That way, they will want to like your page when they find it.

When it comes to content, put yourself in the shoes of your patients and think about what content you would find useful as a patient. Don’t be afraid to post things that represent the values of your practice, but may not be specific to your practice. In most cases, what you’re sharing on Facebook is more about helping that patient remember your practice as opposed to trying to sell them something. For example, it’s more effective to post something entertaining that your patients will like and comment on than it is to post some dry sales piece that they’ll ignore.

Twitter – Similar to Facebook, you want to create a two step process with Twitter. First, think about content you can post to your Twitter feed that would be useful to your patients and prospective patients. No matter what marketing methods you employ to increase Twitter followers, if your Twitter account isn’t posting interesting, useful, funny, entertaining, or informative content, then no one will follow you.

Second, find and engage with people in your area that could be interested in the services you offer. Finding them is pretty easy thanks to the advanced Twitter search. When you first start on Twitter you’re going to want to spend a bit of time on that search page as you figure out what search terms (including location) are going to be most valuable to your clinic. Sometimes you’ll have to be creative. For example, if you’re an ortho doctor, you might want to check out search terms and followers of a local youth rec league.

Once you find potential patients on Twitter, follow them from your account and engage with those you find interesting. Just to be clear, a tweet saying “Come visit our office: [LINK]” is not engagement. Offering them answers to their questions or links to appropriate resources (possibly on your website, blog, or Facebook page) is a great form of engagement. You’ll be amazed how consistently following and engaging with potential patients over time will build your Twitter profile. Once they’ve followed your account, you have created a long term connection with that person.

As I suggested in my previous post, Twitter can be a great way to find patients, but it can also be a great way for your practice to connect and learn from peers and colleagues. I’d suggest using different accounts for each effort. The tweets you create for each will likely be quite different so don’t mix the two. However, the same search and engagement suggestions apply whether you’re connecting with patients or colleagues. The search terms will just be quite different.

Physician Review/Rating Websites
There are dozens of physician rating and review websites out there today. Some of the top ones include: Health Grades, Angie’s List, ZocDoc, Yelp, Google Local, and many more. Which of these websites you should engage with usually depends on where you live. In most cases one or two of these websites are dominant in a region. For example, Yelp is extremely popular in San Francisco while Angie’s List is very popular in the south.

Discovering which one is most popular in your region is pretty easy. Many of your patients will have told you that they found your practice through these sites. However, you can also do a search on each of these services and see which ones are most active. A Google search for your specialty and city is another way for you to know which services are likely popular in your area.

Many of these sites will let you claim your profile and be able to respond to any reviews. Do it (although, don’t pay for it). Responding to reviews is a powerful way to engage your patients. If they post a bad review, keep calm and show compassion, understanding, and a willingness to help and that bad review will become good. Plus, that negative review could be an opportunity for you to improve your practice. If they post a good review, show gratitude for them trusting you as their doctor.

Once you’ve discovered which website is most valuable in your region, encourage your satisfied patients to go on that site and post a review of your practice. In some cases that might be handing the patient a reminder to rate you as they leave. In other cases, you might send them an email after their visit asking for them to review you on one of these sites. With mobile phones being nearly ubiquitous, a sign in the office can encourage a review as well.

Summary
There are hundreds of social media platforms out there today. However, if you focus on the platforms and techniques I mention above, you’ll be off to a great start. Mastering these techniques will make sure you get the most value out of your social media efforts.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

What Are The Benefits of a Medical Practice Participating in Social Media?

Posted on November 17, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
No doubt social media has become an integral part of many of our lives. We use it in our personal lives and if we don’t use it personally, our children are using it all the time. With nearly 800 million daily active users on Facebook and nearly 300 million monthly active users on Twitter, most medical practices are asking how they could benefit from having their practice participate in social media.

Before I begin with the specific benefits of social media use, I should define how I’m using the term social media. In this case, I’ll be talking about social media in the broadest context. Certainly this would include platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+. However, I also include healthcare focused websites like Health Grades, Angie’s List, ZocDoc, Yelp, and many more in this list. Each of these websites or mobile apps has a social aspect to them which allows the practice to engage with patients online.

Now let’s take a look at some of the benefits your practice can receive from your participation in social media.

Be Part of the Discussion – The reality of the internet is that your practice is being discussed online whether you participate or not. Many of the social media sites listed above have already created your profile and patients are talking about their experience at your practice. While you may wish that this wasn’t the case, it’s something that you can’t stop.

Given that you can’t stop patients from posting information about their visit to your office, it really benefits your practice to keep an eye on what’s being said about your practice on these social media sites. If someone posts something nice, that’s an opportunity for your practice to show some gratitude for their kindness. If someone posts something negative, that’s an opportunity for you to show some compassion even when difficult situations arise.

When a negative physician review is shown compassion, understanding, and a willingness to help, it turns a negative into a positive for your practice. Now instead of driving patients away from your practice, a sincere interest in helping the disgruntled patient will drive new patients to your practice who realize that you care about your patients. Of course, if you’re not taking part in social media, that negative comment will remain and discourage patients from ever visiting your office.

First Impressions – One of the first impressions many patients get about your practice is on your website and your social media presence. While it’s not the end all be all for how patients select a doctor, being an active participant in social media shows potential new patients that you’re a progressive organization that stays on top of the latest trends. If you’re not on social media and/or your website looks like it came out of the 90’s, many patients will wonder how well your practice keeps up with more important areas like clinical skills. Right or wrong, we draw these connections between a practice’s online presence and their ability to stay up with the latest medicine.

Engage Current Patients – Social media is a great way for your organization to engage with your current patients. One of the largest sources of new patient referrals comes from existing patients. A simple follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook creates a powerful connection between your practice and your patients. That connection then serves as a reminder to your patients of the services you provide. You’ll be surprised at the serendipity of social media. Your social media post on back pain can often arrive in the same stream as one of your patient’s friend’s complaint of back pain. Now you just gave your previous patient a simple way to refer their friend to you.

Promote High Margin Services – This doesn’t apply to all specialties, but many specialties have high margin services they can offer patients on a repeat basis. Other specialties can remind their patients of annual visits. Social media is a simple, scalable way to inform and remind patients of these high margin services. With the right set of followers, a simple tweet that says “Women, take care of yourself! Don’t forget to get your annual pap smear.” can be a really effective way to drive more patients to your practice.

Local Social Media – One challenge medical practices face is that the majority of their patient population is local. Social media and the internet by its very nature is a national and international tool. However, with the integration of GPS into every phone and location enabled web browsers, the websites and tools to target local people are amazing. Do a simple Twitter search for “back pain” and add your location and you’ll find a captive audience of people with back pain near you. Here’s a simple example I found in NYC. Once you find these potential patients, you can easily follow or engage with their tweet.

Learn from Others – While much of this list has been about driving more high quality patients to your practice, social media can also be an excellent way for doctors, practice managers, billing staff, etc to learn from their peers. You can find a community of peers on social media that are focused on pretty much any element of a medical practice. Many of them are posting amazing content which can help you learn how to do your job better. Plus, as you engage with your peers on social media, you create relationships which can be leveraged to get answers to difficult questions. Not to mention, you’ll receive the satisfaction of helping other people and developing deep friendships with amazing people. Social media is a font of knowledge just waiting for you to tap into it.

In the next post in our series, I’ll look at the tools, techniques, and social media platforms you should use to help you realize the benefits mentioned above. Are there other social media benefits I missed on my list? I’d love to hear how you’re using social media in your practice and the benefits you’ve received from it.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

A Meaningful Use Update

Posted on November 6, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
We’re deep in the heart of meaningful use. Every organization has likely evaluated their participation in meaningful use and knows their path forward. While the meaningful use program is quite mature, the regulations are still shifting as various organization push forward their agendas. It’s important to keep an eye on these shifts so you can plan appropriately for your organization. Here are three meaningful use items you should keep an eye on since they could have a significant impact on your clinic:

Flex-IT Act – For those not familiar with this act, it would change the attestation period for meaningful use stage 2 from 365 days to only 90 days. This act is being backed by some very strong healthcare organizations including a call from the AMA, CHIME, HIMSS, and MGMA to make this change. As is noted by these organizations, very few hospitals have attested to meaningful use stage 2 and only 2 percent of eligible providers have attested to meaningful use stage 2 so far (they do have until the end of February).

If the meaningful use stage 2 numbers continue on this trend, CMS will need to do something or risk having the program be labeled a failure. It’s hard to predict what will happen (or not happen) in Washington, but the pressure to change the meaningful use stage 2 reporting periods to 90 days is growing. Poor meaningful use stage 2 attestation numbers could very well push this issue over the edge.

EHR Penalty Hardship Exemption – In case you missed it, CMS reopened the meaningful use hardship exception period. Originally you had to file for a meaningful use hardship exception by July 1, 2014, but you now have until November 30, 2014 to apply for an exception. This is a big deal for those who likely didn’t know they’d need an exception for meaningful use.

While this exception is related to the EHR certification flexibility (ie. your EHR vendor software isn’t ready for you to implement and attest), many have wondered if we won’t see more ways for organizations to avoid the coming meaningful use penalties. These prognosticators suggest that if meaningful use stage 2 numbers continue to be as awful as what’s described above, it’s possible that the government will provide some relief from the meaningful use penalties. As of now, the meaningful use penalties are coming, so you better be prepared.

AMA’s Meaningful Use Letter – The AMA has a strong political voice in Washington and they’ve recently decided to tackle meaningful use head on. They’ve put their efforts into a Meaningful Use Blueprint that calls for more flexibility in the meaningful use program. Without going into all the line by line details, the AMA is asking CMS to:

  • Adopt a More Flexible Approach to Meaningful Use and move away from the current All or Nothing approach to Meaningful Use
  • Align the quality measures, reporting burden and overlapping penalties that exist across programs (Meaningful Use, PQRS, Value Based Reimbursement, etc)
  • Focus Meaningful Use and EHR certification on key areas like Interoperability

None of these issues have been put into action by CMS or ONC yet, but I believe this blueprint provides the framework for the AMA’s lobbying efforts. Therefore, it’s a strong indicator of where the meaningful use program might be going. I expect the majority of these suggestions would be welcome by doctors unless they’ve already gone off the meaningful use deep end and given up on meaningful use altogether. However, you don’t want to be caught flat footed if and when changes to the meaningful use program occur.

Security Risk Assessment
This is not really a change to meaningful use, but a reminder that many organizations have not paid appropriate attention to the HIPAA security risk assessment which is required as part of meaningful use. Far too many organizations check this check box during their meaningful use attestation without actually doing a proper security risk assessment. This is coming back to haunt many organizations during their meaningful use audit.

In case you missed it, you might want to start with the Security Risk Analysis Myths and Facts that EMR and HIPAA posted previously. It covers such topics as security risk analysis’ being optional (they’re not) and your installed certified EHR takes care of your risk analysis (more is required). This CMS FAQ offers more details on what needs to be done to meet this meaningful use requirement. For example, you need to do a security risk analysis ever year you attest to meaningful use. Make sure you take the time to do an appropriate risk assessment of your organization.

What other meaningful use trends and changes do you see on the horizon? What other things should we be considering as we plan our meaningful use future?

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

5 Ways Patient Engagement Can Benefit Your Bottom Line

Posted on October 7, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff

Patient engagement is a popular topic with policy makers and patient advocates. They see the obvious benefits of an involved patient helping to improve their own health and eventually lower costs. Unfortunately, most doctors just see patient engagement as unreimbursed work. The majority of them can see the healthcare benefit of engaging the patient, but they have a much harder time seeing the financial benefits to them for doing so.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways engaging your patient can benefit your bottom line:

Meaningful Use Requirements – This was the easy one. Meaningful Use stage 2 requires an organization to engage with at least 5% of their patient population. This is how serious the government is about patient engagement. The 5% requirement means that the $44k-$65k in EHR incentive money is tied to your ability to engage with patients. For those who aren’t interested in the EHR incentive money, you’ll still be subject to the 1-5% EHR Medicare penalties that are quickly approaching (start in 2015).

Get Paid – I’m sure that many doctors don’t think of this as patient engagement, but it’s a very important part of your engagement with the patient. There’s a growing trend towards high deductible plans where the patient is shouldering more of the financial burden for their care. Finding multiple ways where you can engage with the patient and collect their portion of the bill is going to become increasingly important. Many new patients don’t even check their snail mail regularly. This means you’re going to have to find new electronic methods for collecting payments (ie. engaging the patient electronically). We’ve seen significant success with the implementation of automated calls (IVR) and patient payment portals.

Drive New Patient Referrals – In some areas of the country this isn’t an issue, but many doctors live in an area where attracting patients is highly competitive. Since the start of medicine, one of the best ways to get new patients is through patient referrals. Providing great customer service is a fantastic way to increase the number of patient referrals you receive. (yes, patients are a type of customer). Superior patient engagement is one way to demonstrate great customer service. In fact, I believe many patients will start choosing their doctor based on the quality of engagement they get as patients.

Engage Pre-patients – How do you convert a visitor to your website into a patient? The simple answer is that you engage with them on your website (Side Note: your phone number on your website is not engagement). Many practices are afraid of engaging with patients on their website because they think that patients are trying to get a free consult without having to come into the practice. From my experience, this is a minor issue and is far surpassed by the number of new patients you can find on your website. When you engage the visitors to your website, you turn those who were on the fence about scheduling an appointment into actual appointments. Plus, much of this engagement can be done by your office staff. Think of it like a virtual telephone and answering machine for your office.

Increase Adherence – Many of you might be asking how increased patient adherence can benefit a practice’s bottom line. Let’s go back to the patient referral comments above. The best way to ensure someone provides your name as a referral to their friend is for you to help a patient get better. Ensuring adherence and health improvement is the ultimate customer service and a great way to create a true patient ambassador for your office.

ACOs and Value Based Reimbursement – While we’re still currently living in the fee for service world of healthcare, the powers that be are pushing towards value based reimbursement and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). As part of this shift, your reimbursement will be tied to how effectively and efficiently you care for your patient population. Engaging the patient in ways that are efficient and improve the quality of care you provide are going to be the bedrock of these initiatives. If you do not engage the patient in a thoughtful way, your future reimbursement will be dramatically less than you’re receiving today.

These are a few examples of why it pays to spend some time and effort engaging with the patient. I’m sure that many of you could add to the list in the comments. What value have you seen in your office from increasing your engagement with patients?

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

Revisiting the ROI of an EHR Investment

Posted on August 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
Now that we’re well on the road to being meaningful users of an EHR, I thought it would be interesting to take a step back and look at the ROI of an EHR investment. Hopefully this will be a valuable resource for those still considering an EHR investment and those who’ve already adopted an EHR in their practice. Some of the items listed below are benefits you receive automatically just by using an EHR. Other benefits require some thought and effort on your part. Hopefully this list will remind you of EHR benefits you might have forgotten and ones you can still work to achieve.

Repurpose Space – One of the big advantages of EHR software is that you can store your entire chart room on a relatively small server. Plus, if you’re using a hosted EHR solution, you don’t even need space in your office for a server. Once your paper charts get scanned into your EHR, you can often repurpose your chart room into a revenue generating exam room. I’ve seen some cases where an extra exam room made it possible to bring on another doctor or mid-level provider. In other cases, the extra exam room was able to make existing doctors more efficient. Either way, I don’t know very many practices who say, “We have too much space.”

Eliminate or Repurpose Staff – Nobody likes the idea of eliminating staff as part of an EHR implementation. However, there are two ways I’ve seen organizations reduce staff after implementing an EHR. First, some organizations reduce their staff through natural employee attrition. When a member of your staff chooses to leave your organization, some organizations decide not to replace that staff member since many of their duties are no longer needed in an EHR world. Second, some organizations take their existing staff and repurpose them to perform other tasks. For example, I’ve seen HIM (medical records) staff who are also medical assistants switch to more of a clinical role in the organization after implementing an EHR.

Avoid Penalties – One of the best reasons to make an early investment in an EHR is to avoid the government penalties. I’ve written about the meaningful use and PQRS penalties before, but this is likely just the start of the penalties the government and private payers will implement on those who don’t use an EHR. The long term ROI of these penalties is very large for most practices.

Quality Measures and Value Based Reimbursement – Meaningful Use together with the Value Based Reimbursement Modifier (VM) are the start of a shift towards reporting and getting paid based on clinical quality measures and outcomes. EHR software is at the center of this shift and will be essential to easily document and report these measures and outcomes. While we can put a hard number on the EHR incentive payments that are tied to these measures and the VM, you can be certain that this number will only continue to grow as the government and payers require more data.

Improved Charge Capture – Eight years ago, improved charge capture was the main ROI mechanism that EMR vendors used to sell software. The idea being that the EMR could help you more fully document the patient visit and thus allow you to bill at a higher level than you were doing previously. As in most things involving money, some doctors took this too far and started using the EMR to over code visits. These EHR over code abusers aside, the majority of doctors I know are chronic under coders. Many of these doctors under code because they don’t want to spend time documenting the normal findings that would let them code at a higher level. A well implemented EHR can help doctors fully document even the normal findings in a visit and therefore allow them to bill at a higher level.

Cancel Transcription – Depending on how you use (or don’t use) transcription, this may or may not be a part of your EHR ROI calculation. While transcription can still be used with an EHR, the majority of EHR users stop transcribing as part of the EHR implementation process. Once you make the switch to documenting directly in the EHR or using voice recognition, it’s easy to forget how much money you were spending on transcription.

Improved Workflows – A well implemented EHR software can improve your clinic’s workflows. The lab result workflow is a great example of how an EHR can improve the workflow in your office. The amount of time saved ordering labs and retrieving lab results in an EHR world is significant. Sure, lab interfaces aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than the paper model. You can see similar workflow benefits from X-rays and even a well implemented patient portal. Of course, your workflow can be negatively impacted if you’re not careful and thoughtful in how you implement your EHR. However, EHR technology can do a lot to improve a clinic’s workflow when you replace time intensive paper processes.

Streamlined Internal Communication – Related to improved workflows is improved communication. When it comes to internal office communication, most EHR software comes with a secure internal messaging service or task system. This replaces all those sticky notes, stacks of charts, or notes in boxes that would occur previously. Now messages aren’t lost and can be more easily tracked in the internal EHR messaging. Plus, you can also often report on how fast tasks are being completed.

Streamlined External Communication – We’re still early in EHR’s ability to facilitate secure communication with external providers. While some EHR software offers a provider portal for this communication, I’m more interested in the progress of Direct Project which allows the secure transfer of patient records between doctors. As these technologies mature, the time saved at the fax machine and sorting data records will be tremendous.

Eliminate Paper – Once you implement an EHR, you quickly forget how much money you were spending on paper and paper charts. Don’t forget to think about this cost savings when looking at the value of EHR. While some paper just disappears post EHR implementation, you’ll likely find that there’s still plenty of paper lingering around your office. You’ll never eliminate all of the paper from your practice, but you should ask yourself if you really need the paper you’re using or if it’s just part of an old practice that’s no longer needed. Furthermore, many EHR enabled offices print off insane amounts of paper from their EHR for no reason. This extra cost can be avoided with a little planning and awareness.

Chart Search Time – This is another one of the EHR benefits that quickly gets taken for granted. In the EHR world, it is extremely simple to find the right chart. I don’t need to outline the challenges that existed in the paper world with finding the paper charts. Medical records staff were amazing at organizing and finding paper charts, but this all required a lot of time organizing and locating the right chart. This is all but eliminated in the EMR world.

Along with the financial and efficiency benefits mentioned above, there are lots of other benefits to using an EHR like: legible notes, drug to drug interaction checking, and ePrescribing to name a few. However, even more important than all of the benefits mentioned above is how important an EHR will be to future reimbursement and care. As was mentioned, Medicare’s started penalizing non-EHR users and we’ll likely see other payers in some form or fashion follow their lead. Along with current and future EHR related penalties, there’s a real risk that you won’t be able to practice the highest quality medicine without an EHR and the future technologies it facilitates. The medical standard of care will likely require an EHR.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

Meaningful Use Audits, RAC Audits, and HIPAA Audits

Posted on July 14, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
Healthcare has always been a deeply regulated industry, so in many ways healthcare organizations are already used to dealing with government scrutiny. However, we’ve recently seen a number of new audit programs hit the healthcare world that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Here’s a look at a few of them you should be prepared for.

Meaningful Use Audits
This is one of the newest audit programs to hit healthcare. Depending on your attestation history, it could have a tremendous impact on your organization’s financial health. These EHR incentive audits have been happening across every size organization and are conducted by the CMS hired auditing firm, Figliozzi and Company of Garden City, N.Y. If you get a letter or email from Figliozzi you’ll know what it is right away. An EHR incentive audit is a big deal since the meaningful use program is all or nothing. If they find even one thing wrong with your meaningful use attestation, you could lose ALL of your EHR incentive money.

CMS recently released an informative guidance document outlining the supporting documentation needed for an EHR incentive audit. Pages 4 and 5 of the document go through the self-attestation objectives and others detailing the audit validation and suggested documentation needed for each. If you’ve attested to meaningful use, then you’ll want to take some time to go through the document to make sure you can provide the necessary documentation if needed. In many cases this simply includes dated screenshots to prove measure completion. While many EHR vendors can be helpful in the meaningful use audit process, you should not totally rely on them.

In a recent blog post, Jim Tate makes a compelling case for why you might want to consider doing a mock EHR incentive audit and how to make sure that the audit is effective. Although smaller organizations won’t likely be able to afford an outside audit, having it done by someone in your organization that wasn’t involved in the attestation is beneficial. The CMS guidance document could be used as a guide. A mock audit could help discover any potential issues and help you put mitigation strategies in place before you have a real audit and your hands are tied.

Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) Audits
RAC audits are currently on hold as CMS works to improve the program and deal with the enormous audit backlog. We still haven’t heard from CMS about when the RAC audits will resume, but we should hear something later this summer. While no RAC audits are occurring right now, that doesn’t mean that once the RAC audits resume, the claims you’re filing today can’t and won’t be audited.

The best thing you can do to be prepared for RAC audits is to make sure that your documentation and billing ducks are in a row. A great place to start is to look at your most common denials and look at how you can improve your clinical documentation, coding and billing for each of these denials. Also, make sure that your process for responding to audits is standardized and effective. The RAC audit is just one example of an audit performed by payers. Don’t be surprised if you’re subjected to audits from other agencies or commercial payers.

RAC audits recovered billions of dollars in overpayments in recent years. You can be sure that they will continue and that other similar initiatives are coming our way. There’s just too much incentive for the government not to do it.

HIPAA Audits
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR) first started doing HIPAA audits as part of a 2011 pilot program. It’s fair to say that HHS OCR’s audit program was one of discovery as much as it was of compliance. However, the HITECH Act and Omnibus Rule have started to up the ante when it comes to enforcement of HIPAA. HHS OCR announced that they’d be surveying 800 covered entities and 400 business associations to select the next round of audit subjects. An OCR Spokesperson said, “We hope to audit 350 covered entities and 50 BAs in this first go around.”

Unlike previous audits that were done by KPMG, these HIPAA audits will be done by OCR staff. One area that these audits will likely focus on is the HIPAA Security Risk Assessment. The importance of doing this cannot be understated and is illustrated by the fact that it’s a requirement for meaningful use. I will be surprised if these audits don’t also focus on the new HIPAA Omnibus Rule requirements. I’m sure many of the HIPAA audits will catch organizations that never updated their HIPAA policies to comply with HIPAA Omnibus.

Summary
No one enjoys an audit of any sort. However, being well prepared for an audit will provide some level of comfort to yourself and your organization. Now is your opportunity to make sure you’re well prepared for these audits that could be coming your way. These audit programs likely aren’t going anywhere, so take the time to make sure you’re prepared.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

3 Macro Health Payment Trends to Watch

Posted on June 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
It’s not a stretch to say that the healthcare payment system has hit some tumultuous waters. Medical billing hasn’t been easy for a long time, but with things like the Affordable Care Act, Value Based Reimbursement, and the shifting world of data driven healthcare there is a lot you need to watch out for when it comes to getting paid. What does seem clear is that medical billing is not going to get any easier.

Let’s take a look at three broad health payment trends worth keeping your eye on:

Increased Patient Pay
One of the major trends in the health insurance industry is the move towards high deductible plans. Some of this change is coming from employers changing their plans and the ACA insurance exchanges are driving this trend as well. I see this shift continuing as healthcare and employers work to make the patient more accountable for their healthcare.

There are two main things you need to do to prepare for these high deductible plans. First, make sure you have a solid method in place to know how much the patient owes before or immediately after the visit. There is no better way to reduce patient collections than to collect the payment while the patient is in the office. Many are ready and willing to pay, but some practices don’t have the systems that allow them to know how much to charge the patient before they leave. Second, look at your processes for collecting patient payments once they’ve left the building. Do you have a good strategy in place to make sure the patient knows how much they owe? Do you have a variety of simple ways for the patient to make the payment? The use of an online payment portal for patients is the most obvious way to make submitting payment to physicians simple for patients. If you solve these two problems you’ll go a long way to improving your patient collections.

Higher deductible plans are here to stay and so an investment in systems that address the patient responsibility portion of the visit are incredibly important.

Data Driven Reimbursement
With the increased adoption of EHR software, you can be sure that insurance plans are going to want more and more data to justify your reimbursement. This is not a new trend for insurance companies. They’ve been requiring more and more documentation to justify payments forever. However, we’re at the point where what they’ll require will be so complex that you better have your documentation ducks in a row.

Certainly this means that if you don’t have an EHR or other technology infrastructure you will likely have issues. This will become particularly poignant as payers start to pay based on population health and value as opposed to the current fee for service model. I literally can’t see how insurance companies could switch to value based payments in a non healthcare IT world. The data in these systems is going to drive future reimbursement.

Newly Insured
Offices around the country are starting to see a set of newly insured patients thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare if you prefer). Are your office staff prepared for these new patients? While millions of uninsured patients are getting insurance and visiting your clinic, offices are also seeing many of their existing patients switching from a previous insurance to an ACA plan. Does your staff have the time required to update records? Not to mention, are you accounting for the extra time spent doing eligibility checks for these new insurance plans?

A MGMA survey of mostly independent physician practices recently found that 62 percent of practices are struggling to identify patients whose insurance came from the ACA exchange and to verify their eligibility or obtain plan details. Most practices also say that patients who got their insurance via an ACA exchange are more likely to have high deductibles and don’t understand that fact. Half of the practices say they can’t provide services to ACA exchange patients because their practice is out of network.

Can you see the potential problems to your practice? What will this new patient population act like when it comes to paying you for your services? Certainly a shift by existing patients to new high deductible plans will cause issues like increased patient responsibility that we talked about above. However, the newly insured population is being shifted from the ER to your offices. If you consider the history of ER payments by patients, there’s reason to be concerned about how well this new patient population will do at paying their portion of the bill.

Plus, we’ve seen many practices that are finding it really difficult to determine their participation status with the payer. It seems that payers have cherry picked providers for their new narrow exchange networks and haven’t informed providers of whether they’re in or out. Once you finally do determine you par status, be sure your staff can recognize the new insurance cards so they can flag them or potentially turn them away if the provider isn’t par.

These are just a few of the major healthcare payment trends I see happening in the industry. I’d love to hear in the comments what trends you see happening in your offices. What other things should we be aware of in this constantly shifting healthcare payment world?

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

ACO’s and the Tech Needed to Be Ready

Posted on April 22, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
For those not familiar with ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations), I want to provide some insight into ACOs and how a medical practice can better prepare themselves for the coming shift in reimbursement, which is epitomized by the ACO. This is a challenging subject since the ACO is a somewhat nebulous idea that’s rapidly changing, but hopefully I can provide you some strategies that will help you be prepared for the coming changes.

You may remember when we talked in a previous post about the Value Based Payment Modifier and its impact on healthcare reimbursement. As we talked about in that post, healthcare reimbursement is changing and CMS is looking to only pay those providers who are providing quality care. As part of this movement, an ACO is an organization that works on behalf of a community of patients to ensure quality care.

The metrics of how they’ll measure what they reimburse and what they consider quality care are likely to rapidly change over the next few years while CMS figures out how to measure this. However, one key to being ready for this shift is that you’ll need to be part of an organization or group of providers that will take accountability for a patient population.

In some areas of the country, the hospitals are leading these organizations, but in other areas groups of physicians are coming together to form an ACO of just physicians. Either way can work. The key is that the members of these groups are going to each share in the reimbursement the group receives for improving the quality of healthcare patients in the community receive.

Also worth noting is that membership in an ACO isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for value based reimbursement. Whether you choose to be a member of an ACO or not, you’re going to be impacted by value based reimbursement and will need to be ready for the change. Not being ready could lead to lower reimbursement for the services you provide.

While it’s great that organizations of doctors are coming together to meet the need for ACOs, much more is going to be needed to do well in an ACO reimbursement world. The reality is that an ACO can’t exist without technology. Don’t even think about trying to meet the ACO requirements without the use of technology. ACOs will base their reimbursement on trackable data that can be aggregated across a community of providers that are likely on hundreds of different systems. Try doing that on paper. It just won’t happen.

In fact, many people probably think that their EHR software will be enough to meet the needs of the ACO as well. I believe this to be a myth. Without a doubt, the EHR will play a major role in the gathering and distribution of the EHR data. However, unless you’re a homogeneous ACO with providers that are all on the same single instance of an EHR, you’re going to need a whole suite of services that connect, aggregate, and interpret the EHR data for the community of patients. Add on top of that the communication needs of an ACO and the care manager style tracking that will need to occur and it’s unlike your EHR is going to be up to the task of an ACO. They’ll be too busy dealing with meaningful use and EHR certification.

Let me highlight three places where an ACO will need technology:

Communication
One of the key needs in an ACO is quality communication. This communication will happen provider to provider, provider to care manager, provider to patient, and care manager to patient and vice versa. You can expect that this communication will be a mix of secure text messaging and secure emails. In some cases it will be facilitated by a patient portal, but most of the secure messaging platforms for healthcare are much slicker and more effective than a patient portal that so far patients have rarely used.

Are you using a next generation secure messaging system to communicate with other providers, your staff, and the patient? You’ll likely need to use one in an ACO.

Provider Data Aggregation
Much like paper charts won’t be enough in an ACO world, faxed documents won’t be enough either. Providers in an ACO will need to have patient data from across the entire community of ACO providers. At a minimum providers in an ACO will need to have their EHRs connected with Direct, but most will need to have some sort of outside HIE that helps transfer, aggregate and track all the data that’s available for a patient in the ACO.

The ACO and doctor will really benefit from all the patient data being available at the click of the button. Without it, I’m not sure that ACOs will be able to meet the required quality measures.

Patient Data Aggregation
While all of the providers will need to be sharing their patient data, I think most ACOs will benefit from aggregating patient data as well. At first the ACO won’t be aggregating all of the patient generated data that’s available. Instead, they’ll find a slice of their patient community where they can have the most impact. Then, they’ll work with those patients to improve the care they receive. This is going to require ACOs to receive and track patient generated data. Without it, the ACO won’t have any idea how it’s doing. With so many patients on mobile devices or with access to the internet, what an amazing opportunity we have to really engage with patients.

Those are just a few of the ways technology is going to be needed for the coming changes in healthcare reimbursement and the shift towards value based care in things we call ACOs. Far too many providers are sitting on the sidelines while they let ACOs settle into place. What a missed opportunity. The fact that the ACOs are rapidly changing means that if you participate and make your voice heard, you can help to shape the direction of them going forward. We definitely need more doctors involved in these conversations.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

ICD-10 – Is Everyone Ready? – ICD-10 Tuesdays

Posted on March 25, 2014 I Written By

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

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
One of the biggest challenges to revenue a practice will face in 2014 is the move to ICD-10 on October 1, 2014. One of the biggest challenges with ICD-10 is that it impacts the entire healthcare ecosystem. This means that revenue flow could be impacted if any one part of the healthcare billing continuum isn’t ready.

The first key step every organization can take to prepare for the switch to ICD-10 is to do an audit of which systems, people, and processes will be impacted by the change. Second, you should evaluate the ICD-10 readiness of each system, people and process. Finally, you should make a plan for how you’ll ensure that each piece of the puzzle is ready for ICD-10.

Here’s a quick look at some of the places you’ll want to look when doing an audit of your ICD-10 readiness:
EHR Software
This is an obvious one. We all know that the EHR vendor needs to be ready for ICD-10. However, as John posted previously, Is Your EHR Ready for ICD-10, Not Just Say They’re Ready? it’s really easy for an EHR vendor to say they’ll be ready for ICD-10. At the core of being ready for ICD-10 is just being able to use a new code. Every EHR vendor will be able to enter the new code. Instead of asking if they are ready for ICD-10, you should ask your EHR vendor what interface they’ve created for you to be able to find the ICD-10 codes. You’ll want to get in and test this new interface for finding codes well before the ICD-10 deadline so they can make any changes to the software.

Providers
Every doctor I know understands they they’re going to have to be ready for ICD-10. They’ve heard about the expanded set of codes and how finding the right code is likely going to take extra time. What many doctors haven’t realized yet is that with increased coding specificity, the doctor’s documentation is going to have to change as well. Coding 101 is that the coding has to match the documentation. This will require every doctor to change the way they document their visit even if it’s only a small change.

Billing Software
This is another obvious one and many of the lessons mentioned above about EHR software apply to billing software. However, you’ll definitely want to make sure that your billing software is ready for ICD-10. Can you imagine the impact to your organization if they’re not ready? You might not think this is possible, but I’ve heard some billing software already announce that they’re not planning to revise their software for ICD-10.

Billers and Coders
This is the group that seems most prepared for ICD-10. Most people realize that the coders or billers in their organization need to be ready for ICD-10. Unfortunately for many organizations, that’s where they think all the ICD-10 preparation needs to happen. As this list shows, they are so wrong. However, if you haven’t invested in getting your billers and coders ready for ICD-10, then you better start doing so now. In some cases you may have an older coder that chooses to retire instead of learning ICD-10. Make sure you learn if this is the case now instead of October 1st.

Billing Company
It’s really hard to imagine a billing company not being ready for ICD-10. It’s a basic fundamental of them being a business. If they can’t do ICD-10 they’ll be out of business. However, it makes sense for you to check with them to see what they’ve done to prepare for ICD-10. You’re their customer and it never hurts to hold them accountable. If they don’t thank you up front, they’ll thank you on October 1st when they’re ready for the change.

Labs and Radiology
You’d think that these wouldn’t be that big of an issue since we’re just talking about a new code that gets sent to the lab or radiology. However, if they’re not expecting ICD-10 codes, your patients could run into issues. Plus, many of you have interfaces which send this information automatically. You’ll want to make sure that these interfaces can handle the new codes as well.

Payors
This is probably the most important one and also one of the most challenging. It is the most important, because if they’re not ready for ICD-10 that could mean that you stop getting paid. In many organizations, a hit to their cash flow could have serious ramifications. My guess is that some of you don’t think that this could ever really happen. I assure you that it could happen. Certainly they’ll eventually fix whatever issues they have and they’ll get rolling with ICD-10. Although, will it take them a week, a month, a couple months, to fix whatever issues they may be experiencing? Can you handle not getting paid for a week, month, or multiple months? The challenge is that there’s no simple way for you to know if the payors are indeed ready for ICD-10. The best advice I can offer is a famous statement, “The squeaky wheel gets greased.” Don’t be afraid to make some noise to make sure they’re ready.

Hospitals and HIE
Many vendors are starting to build interfaces with their hospital or an outside HIE (Health Information Exchange). If you have one of these interfaces, you’ll want to make sure that it can support the new ICD-10 codes. Don’t forget to check and test both sides of the interface for their ICD-10 readiness.

Other ICD-10 Readiness Advice
When assessing the readiness of the various entities listed above (and you will likely have others), it’s important that you ask the right questions to make sure you get the right answers. Much like when you’re evaluating between EHR vendors, you want to avoid asking Yes/No questions. For example, if you ask your EHR vendor, “Are you ready for ICD-10?” then you will quickly get a response of Yes. If instead you ask, “What have you done to get ready for ICD-10?” you will get a much more informative answer that helps you understand their true ICD-10 readiness.

Also, when doing your assessment of their readiness, don’t forget to also verify that they can handle ICD-9 for those situations where an organization still hasn’t moved to ICD-10. Yes, it’s crazy that some government organizations aren’t moving to ICD-10. However, it’s the stark reality, so make sure that when needed to you can still support ICD-9 as well.

In all of this, there’s a challenging balance between doing your training too early or too late. If you train your doctors on ICD-10 too early, then they’re likely to forget it by the time October 1st rolls around. However, if you wait until the ICD-10 deadline approaches, the resources for ICD-10 won’t be available. Can you imagine what it will be like to try and hire an ICD-10 coder or ICD-10 trainer in September?

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

PQRS Incentives, Penalties and the Coming Value Based Payment Modifier

Posted on February 20, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
Much of the focus of healthcare has been on meaningful use and the EHR incentive money. Considering we just reached $19 billion of payouts, it’s definitely a topic worthy of attention. However, a topic which hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention, but is nearly or possibly more important than meaningful use is PQRS and the Value Based Payment Modifier.

Before I dig into some of the details and timelines for PQRS and the Value Based Payment Modifier, it’s really important to note that both of these programs are really just a preview of what’s happening with Medicare reimbursement. These programs are the core of the shift towards paying physicians differentially based on the quality and cost of the care they provide and away from the traditional fee for service model. We’ve seen similar value based payment arrangements with the advent of ACOs, CINs and other clinical networks establishing innovative payment models with payers. Understanding where these programs are going will give you a preview of what’s happening with healthcare reimbursement.

PQRS
When it comes to PQRS, much like meaningful use, there is both a PQRS incentive and PQRS penalty (carrot and stick if you prefer). 2014 is the final year to receive the PQRS incentive money (0.5% of Medicare Part B claims) and participants must submit 12 months of 2013 CQM data by February 28, 2014 if reporting by claims data, March 21, 2014 if reporting by GPRO web interface, and March 31, 2014 if reporting by registry data. (Note: The 2013 MU reporting deadline was moved to March 31, 2014, but the PQRS deadlines have not changed.). However, more important is that providers who don’t report PQRS 2013 data will be penalized 1.5% in 2015. Those who don’t participate in PQRS in 2014 will be penalized 2% in 2016.

Value Based Payment Modifier
While most people have heard about PQRS and are hopefully participating to avoid the penalties, many people haven’t heard about the Value Based Payment Modifier that is built on the PQRS foundation. While you could look at the Value Based Payment Modifier final rule, this Value-Based Payment Modifier summary is a much better overview of the program.

Essentially, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required that CMS implement a value based payment modifier that would apply to Medicare fee for service payments. This program will start with physicians in groups of 100 or more eligible professionals under the same TIN beginning January 1, 2015, and apply to all physicians and groups by January 1, 2017. CMS also recently announced that this applies to both par and non-par Medicare providers with 100 or more eligible professionals.

Here’s a look at how this new Value Modifier will work for groups of physicians with 100 or more eligible professionals and will likely be a preview of what’s to come for all Medicare physicians:
CMS Value Modifier

While the program starts with relatively small 1% adjustments, this quote from CMS also provides a clear indication of where they want to take this program:

We also anticipate that we would propose to increase the amount of payment at risk for the Value Modifier as we gain additional experience with the methodologies used to assess the quality of care, and the cost of care, furnished by physicians and groups of physicians.

What should you do to be prepared for this new Value Based Payment Modifier?
1. Participate in the PQRS program since it’s the foundation of what’s to come.
2. Keep an eye on changes to the PQRS and Value Based Modifier programs. They are changing regularly and it’s worth knowing what’s changing with these programs.
3. Work with your professional organization to provide feedback on these programs. No doubt they’re keeping an eye on them and providing feedback as part of the government rule making process. Make sure your voice is heard.

CMS looks at this new value based modifier as a budget neutral program. That means that there are going to be winners and losers. By understanding how these programs work, you can better assess if you want to work to avoid the payment adjustments or if you’re ok taking them on.

Like it or not, PQRS is the start of the movement towards quality based reimbursement and likely a small preview of coming attractions. Of course, if the SGR Fix gets funded by congress, then PQRS, Meaningful Use and the Value Based Modifier will be sunset at the end of 2017 and rolled into a new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) that will start in 2018. More on MIPS in the future, but I think we can safely say that MIPS will be an amalgamation of all these incentive programs.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.