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HIMSS15: Adoption Still a Problem for Organizations Swapping EHRs – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on May 20, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Todd Stansfield, Instructional Writer from The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Todd Stansfield

Each year the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) annual conference is the Super Bowl of health IT. No other conference boasts more attendees ranging from health IT innovators and collaborators to pioneers. This year 40,000 plus participants descended on Chicago, all eager to learn about the new direction, trends, and solutions of the industry.

As always, buzzwords were aplenty—interoperability, care coordination, patient experience, and value-based care, to mention a few. During her keynote address on April 16, Karen DeSalvo, National Coordinator for the ONC, called the current state of health IT the “tipping point.” In 2011 the ONC released its four-year strategic plan focused on implementing and adopting electronic health records (EHRs). Now, DeSalvo says the industry is changed and ready to move beyond EHRs to technologies that will create “true interoperability.”

Enlightening conversations were happening among the crowded booths, hallways, and meeting rooms between organizations looking to ‘rip and replace’ their current EHR for a new one. While some organizations are struggling to unlock data across disparate systems, others are looking to upgrade their current system for one compatible with ICD-10, Meaningful Use, analytics solutions, or a combination of these. Still others are looking to replace systems they dislike for lack of functionality, vendor relationships, etc. In many cases, replacing an EHR is needed to ensure interoperability is at the very least viable. This buzz at HIMSS is a strong indicator that EHRs are still an important and essential part of health IT, and perhaps some organizations have not reached the tipping point.

In addition to the many challenges these organizations are facing—from data portability, an issue John Lynn wrote about in August 2012, to the cost of replacing the system—leaders are agonizing over the resistance they are facing from clinician end users. How can these organizations force clinicians to give up systems they once resisted, then embraced and worked so hard to adopt? How can leadership inspire the same level of engagement needed for adoption? The challenge is similar to transitioning from paper to an EHR, only more significant. Whereas the reasons for switching from paper were straightforward—patient safety, efficiency, interoperability, etc.—they are not so clear when switching applications.

Clinicians are also making harsher comparisons between applications—from every drop-down list, to icon, to keyboard shortcut. These comparisons are occurring at drastically different phases in the adoption lifecycle. Consider the example of an end user needing to document a progress note. In the old EHR, this user knew how to copy forward previous documentation, but in the new system she doesn’t know if this functionality even exists. Already the end user is viewing the new system as cumbersome and inefficient compared to the old application. Multiply this comparison by each of the various tasks she completes throughout her day, and the end user is strongly questioning her organization’s decision to make the change.

This highlights an important point: Swapping one EHR for another will take more planning, effort, and strategy than a first-ever implementation. The methods for achieving adoption are the same, but the degree to which they are employed is not. Leadership will not only have to re-engage end users and facilitate buy-in, they will have to address the loss of efficiency and optimization by replacing the old application.

Leadership should start by clearly outlining the reasons for change, a long-term strategy, as well frustrations end users can expect. They should establish a strong governance and support structure to ensure end users adhere to policies, procedures, and best practices for using the application. The organizations that will succeed will provide end users with role-based education complete with hands-on experience completing best practice workflows in the application. Education should include competency tests that assess end users’ ability to complete key components of their workflow. Additionally, organizations must capture and track performance measurements to ensure optimized use of the system and identify areas of need. And because adoption recedes after application upgrades and workflow enhancements, all efforts should be sustained and modified as needed.

While HIMSS15 brought to the stage a wealth of new ideas, solutions, and visions for the future of health IT, the struggle to adopt an EHR has not completely gone away. Many organizations are grappling with their current EHR and choosing to replace it in hopes of meeting the triple aim of improving care, costs, and population health. For these organizations to be prepared for true interoperability, they must overcome challenges unseen in paper to electronic implementations. And if done successfully, only then will our industry uniformly reach the tipping point, a point where we can begin to put buzzwords into practice.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.

Great Meaningful Use and Eligible Providers Chat

Posted on April 29, 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 recently received an email from a regular reader, Dr. Mike, who owns a single specialty ortho group. In the email Dr. Mike talks about the challenges that Eligible Providers (EPs) are facing with meaningful use stage 2. He describes the story as falling on “deaf ears” at CMS and ONC. He also offered these stats on meaningful use to illustrate his case that meaningful use is a failure:

Only 38,472 have attested to Stage 2, My guess is that only about half actually did Stage 2 as there was the Stage 1 reprieve. Even so, that is only 18% of EPs have successfully attested which is an complete failure of MU.

Then, he asked me an important question:

Someone ask CMS and ONC the tough questions please…Now what are they going to do?

In response to him, I told him that I’d been talking about the challenge that meaningful use is for doctors for quite a while. However, I also told him that most hospitals are participating in meaningful use, so “we’ll see how that plays out.” What I meant is that in the meaningful use program we now have one group (EPs) that are not doing so well with meaningful use and their hospital counterparts that are relying on the millions in EHR incentive money (not to mention avoiding the penalties).

Then I answered his important question, “I can tell you what ONC and CMS are going to do. Spin It!”

Of course, Dr. Mike is great at engaging in conversation so he offered this reply:

1. Elizabeth Myers and the rest of CMS and ONC really did try to spin every bad number and “we cannot assess the numbers yet” was a constant theme.
2. I totally agree they will continue to try to spin the numbers or ignore them as long as possible. I’m not sure why they cannot face the truth about MU.
3. The 36K that did MU 2 are the cream of the crop. I would even argue that the other 82% are the cream also as they were the early adopters and gung ho about MU. The fact that 82% of the over achieving EPs have skipped out on MU 2 is a travesty. There is NO chance ONC and CMS is going to pull in the lagging EPs.
4. If you don’t know already, I own a single specialty Ortho group and we skipped MU completely after we saw the MU 2 rules. Proposed MU 3 just help us box it up and bury it.

I have no idea why ONC and CMS cannot let go of the program, let EHR vendors actually work with EPs for all the thing we are missing from our IT (usability, safety, security, efficiency). Right now we cannot do anything to customize our workflow or improve our experience as it will potentially decertify the EHR for MU. MU sucks all the air out of the room. EHRs right now are a billing and click box for MU system with a marginal clinical system slapped on…

Its about time ONC lets the market do its thing, instead of this constant objective, measures, menu, core, numerators, denominators, attesting, auditing disaster they created.

Once EPs leave the program, they are not coming back. So this should be a big deal for ONC and CMS.

I haven’t gone in and fact checked his numbers (I’d love to hear if you have different numbers), but the emotion in his comments is something I’ve heard from many providers. In fact, I’ve heard it from many EHR vendors. They’re tired of coding their EHR software to the test and the government regulations as well. They want to do more innovative things, but the government regulations are stifling their ability to do it. Resources only go so far.

I think we’re in the early days of provider discontent with meaningful use. However, it’s starting to boil. I’ll be interested to see what happens when it boils over. I’m predicting that will happen once many of these doctors start seeing the penalties hit their pocketbooks.

Mobile Health to Transform Care: The Case for Adoption Now – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on February 18, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Todd Stansfield from The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Todd Stansfield
Mobile health (mHealth) is here to stay, and you don’t have to look far for proof. Patients now use mHealth to comparison shop basic healthcare services and access test results. Providers use it to increase efficiencies and lower costs. And CIOs use it to get more out of an electronic health record (EHR) while juggling new security challenges from the bring your own device (BYOD) movement.

Perhaps one of mHealth’s greatest areas of impact is providers’ bottom line. A new study finds that baby boomers and millennials prefer providers who incorporate mobile technology into their practices. Seven percent of patients responded that they are willing to leave their current provider for one who offers remote care, a move that could have a significant financial impact on independent physician practices. This is especially clear when considering that an overall 20 percent of patients reported seeing the same doctor for less than 2 years and 14 percent reported not having a doctor. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is now offering providers roughly $42 a month to manage care for Medicare patients with two or more chronic conditions in its Chronic Care Management program. These patients comprise two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries. For practices with 20 eligible patients, that figure translates to over $10,000 per provider per year. Providers must use mHealth to meet some requirements of Chronic Care Management, such as offering 24-7 access to consultation, and companies are now creating technologies to help. Just last month, Qualcomm and Walgreens announced a joint venture to pair medical devices with mobile and web apps to provide remote patient monitoring and transitional care support.

And then there’s efficiency. Another study finds that “the average hospital loses $1.7 million per year due to inefficient care coordination,” according to a HealthIT Analytics article. Providers are finding mobile technology valuable for improving health information exchange and communication, areas underserved by current EHR systems. More providers are text messaging care information rather than communicating face-to-face with colleagues, resulting in more informed care teams and fewer avoidable healthcare errors. Providers are also using mobile devices to enhance real-time patient engagement rather than relying on cumbersome computers to document in the EHR. Often the result is improved patient care, shorter appointments, and more time to see more patients. And besides getting in and out of their provider’s office sooner, patients are also welcoming new efficiencies with real-time access to their medical records via smartphone, a selling point among younger generations pursuing an active role in their care. In a recent survey of Americans, millennials indicated a preference for patient portals that they can access via a smartphone or tablet.

Yet providers should plan carefully when implementing mHealth, as there are major costs for failing to set up robust infrastructures that support safe mobile use. Providers should perform security risk analysis to ensure the safety of protected health information (PHI). This includes evaluating the security of all mobile devices—tablets and smartphones—ensuring that each device stores, sends, and receives PHI securely using encryption and other methods. Providers must perform this analysis routinely to receive payments under Meaningful Use (MU) and to prevent the ever-growing number of data breaches. Data security has remained a chief concern for healthcare providers and leaders and has largely stifled the widespread adoption of mHealth. This may change as the Department of Health & Human Services plans to offer more guidance to mHealth developers and users for adhering to HIPAA rules, as it recently announced.

Providers must adopt mHealth to survive in today’s competitive marketplace. Not only will they reap the short-term benefits of higher revenues through Chronic Care Management and attracting new patients, but they will also build the secure infrastructure and tools needed for long-term success. mHealth will be critical to population health and health information exchange, two eventual destinations for the healthcare industry. Providers who adopt mHealth now will be ready for when our industry makes the complete shift toward a population-focused, value-based care model.

In my experience at The Breakaway Group, A Xerox Company, effective adoption begins when leaders engage their workforce in the vision and mission of the project; when education is focused, accessible, and targeted; when performance is measured, collected, and analyzed; and when adoption is sustained amid changing technologies and process improvements. For providers to make the transition successfully healthcare leaders must find and implement technologies that patients and providers want to use. They must provide education that is convenient, focused, and practical for providers, education that spans not only how to optimize the technology but also how to use it safely and in accordance with government regulations. Healthcare leaders must also track performance in quality and efficiency, and highlight areas for improvement. And lastly, they must ensure all efforts are sustained, reinforced, and tailored to changing needs.

mHealth is poised to transform healthcare. It’s no wonder that mHealth raised $1.2 billion in venture capital last year, or more than triple what it raised in 2013. I’d venture to say that a significant share of new patients, new revenues, and new efficiencies will be earned by providers who are going “mobile.”

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.

CMS Listens to Those Calling for a 90 Day Meaningful Use Reporting Period

Posted on January 29, 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 think that most of us in the industry figured this was just a matter of time, but it’s nice that we were right and CMS is working to modify the requirements and reporting periods for meaningful use. I imagine they heard all the many voices that were calling for a change to meaningful use stage 2 and it’s just taken them this long to work through the government process to make it a reality.

Before I act like this change is already in place, CMS was very specific in the wording of their announcement about their “intent to modify requirements for meaningful use” and their “intent to engage in rulemaking” in order to make these “intended” changes. Basically they’re saying that they can just change the rules. They have to go through the rule making process for these changes to go into effect. That said, I don’t think anyone doubts that this will make it through the rule making process.

Here’s the modifications that they’re proposing:

  1. Shortening the 2015 reporting period to 90 days to address provider concerns about their ability to fully deploy 2014 Edition software
  2. Realigning hospital reporting periods to the calendar year to allow eligible hospitals more time to incorporate 2014 Edition software into their workflows and to better align with other quality programs
  3. Modifying other aspects of the programs to match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers’ reporting burden

They also added this interesting clarification and information about the meaningful use stage 3 proposed rule:

To clarify, we are working on multiple tracks right now to realign the program to reflect the progress toward program goals and be responsive to stakeholder input. Today’s announcement that we intend to pursue the changes to meaningful use beginning in 2015 through rulemaking, is separate from the forthcoming Stage 3 proposed rule that is expected to be released by early March. CMS intends to limit the scope of the Stage 3 proposed rule to the requirements and criteria for meaningful use in 2017 and subsequent years.

I think everyone will welcome a dramatic simplification of the meaningful use program. The above 3 changes will be welcome by everyone I know.

In the email announcement for this, they provided an explanation for why they’re doing these changes:

These proposed changes reflect the Department of Health and Human Services’ commitment to creating a health information technology infrastructure that:

  • Elevates patient-centered care
  • Improves health outcomes
  • Supports the providers who care for patients

Personally, I think they saw the writing on the wall and it wasn’t pretty. Many organizations were going to opt out of meaningful use stage 2. These changes were needed and necessary for many organizations to continue participating in meaningful use. They believe meaningful use will elevate patient-centered care, improve health outcomes, and support the providers who care for patients. I’m glad they finally chose to start the rulemaking process to make the changes. I think many that started meaningful use can still benefit from the rest of the incentive money and will be even happier to avoid the penalties.

CMS’ HIPAA Risk Analysis Myths and Truths

Posted on October 21, 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.

I’ve been writing about the need to do a HIPAA Risk Assessment since it was included as part of meaningful use. Many organizations have been really confused by this requirement and no doubt it will be an issue for many organizations that get a meaningful use audit. It’s a little ironic since this really isn’t anything that wasn’t already part of the HIPAA security rule. Although, that illustrates how well we’re doing at complying with the HIPAA security rule.

It seems that CMS has taken note of this confusion around the HIPAA risk assessment as well. Today, they sent out some more guidance, tools and resources to hopefully help organizations better understand the Security Risk Analysis requirement. Here’s a portion of that email that provides some important clarification:

A security risk analysis needs to be conducted or reviewed during each program year for Stage 1 and Stage 2. These steps may be completed outside OR during the EHR reporting period timeframe, but must take place no earlier than the start of the reporting year and no later than the end of the reporting year.

For example, an eligible professional who is reporting for a 90-day EHR reporting period in 2014 may complete the appropriate security risk analysis requirements outside of this 90-day period as long as it is completed between January 1st and December 31st in 2014. Fore more information, read this FAQ.

Please note:
*Conducting a security risk analysis is required when certified EHR technology is adopted in the first reporting year.
*In subsequent reporting years, or when changes to the practice or electronic systems occur, a review must be conducted.

CMS also created this Security Risk Analysis Tipsheet that has a lot of good information including these myths and facts which address many of the issues I’ve seen and heard:
CMS HIPAA Security Risk Analysis Myths and Facts

Finally, it’s worth reminding people that the HIPAA Security Risk Analysis is not just for your tech systems. Check out this overview of security areas and example measures to secure them to see what I mean:
CMS HIPAA Security Risk Analysis Overview

Have you done your HIPAA Risk Assessment for your organization?

Meaningful Use Hardship Exceptions Reopened

Posted on October 8, 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.

CMS has announced its intent to reopen the Meaningful Use Hardship Exceptions filing period and set the new deadline for MU hardship exceptions to November 30, 2014. With the new hardship exception extension, providers can now choose from a number of reasons why they were unable to attest in time. Here’s the details from the CMS announcement:

This reopened hardship exception application submission period is for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals that:
* Have been unable to fully implement 2014 Edition CEHRT due to delays in 2014 Edition
CEHRT availability; AND
* Eligible professionals who were unable to attest by October 1, 2014 and eligible hospitals that were unable to attest by July 1, 2014 using the flexibility options provided in the CMS 2014 CEHRT Flexibility Rule.

These are the only circumstances that will be considered for this reopened hardship exception
application submission period.

This is a big move since the meaningful use hardship exceptions deadline for hospitals was April 1, 2014 and July 1, 2014 for eligible professionals. I imagine there are many organizations that will benefit from this extension. Although, there are probably quite a few organizations that wish they’d known about this exception before now or that think the exceptions are too narrow (ie. they can’t benefit from them).

What are your thoughts on this extension?

What Healthcare Must Plan for in Q4

Posted on September 19, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Ben Quirk, CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions.
Ben Quirk
In some ways, 2014 turned out to be not quite as cataclysmic. The early announcement of delaying the adoption of ICD-10 and the more recent announcement to allow hospitals/CAHs and Eligible Professionals participating in CMS’ Meaningful Use programs to attest using their existing Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT) took the pressure off healthcare providers scrambling to upgrade their CEHRT to a version that was both ICD-10 and MU-compliant. However, this is only a temporary reprieve through the end of 2014 and there are other priorities that must be addressed before the year ends.

Navigating the ever-evolving healthcare environment will seem much less daunting if you focus on these four areas:

  • Meaningful Use
  • Value-Based Payment Modifiers
  • Transparency
  • Open Enrollment for ACA

Meaningful Use (MU)

If you were not able to upgrade to the 2014 Edition EHR, you will still be able to attest for MU using 2013 criteria. This provides reprieve from the 2014 criteria that requires the implementation of and patient enrollment in a patient portal.

In order to be MU-ready, your organization must proactively:

  • Determine your strategy based on the final rule. Gather data and be prepared to attest for MU by the deadline for the MU program you participate in..
  • Create an audit binder which should include screenshots of required EHR configuration during the reporting period. Should you get an audit 2 years from now, you can refer to this binder for accurate information.
  • Prepare a statement citing why you should be allowed to opt out of those MU measures that you think do not pertain to your practice. Auditors will ask for this on any audit preformed.

All organizations should be prepared to start collecting data for MU 2 by January 1, 2015. This includes having a strategy around the implementation of a patient portal and patient enrollment, sharing data amongst community and other healthcare providers, and radiology interfaces.

Value-Based Payment Modifier

The current Value Based Payment Modifier for providers who serve Medicare beneficiaries is a descendent of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). It is a way to keep the ACA cost-neutral, but there are some important things you need to know about this newer system. Value-Based Payment Modifier takes claims, Meaningful Use, and physician quality data and rates the quality of care you provide against your peers. Consequently,

  • When you report your Clinical Quality Measures or any clinical data to CMS, make sure your thresholds demonstrate that your practice is providing high quality care.
  • If your practice suffered from vendor problems with data accuracy in the past, this should be fixed.

Transparency

Transparency is something all providers should be aware of. Although available only in a few markets right now, all patients will soon be able to look up information about physicians before deciding where they would like to have their medical procedures done. For instance, if a patient decides to have an ACL repair, s/he can go online to compare exact costs and quality measures (based on the Patient Quality Reporting System) for ACL repair. Practices need to be aware that their prices and quality are being reported publicly. The implications go beyond losing reimbursement. You can actually be delisted from an insurance network. To ensure that your practice remains a viable option for patients:

  • Market your own practice and post your own prices.
  • Make sure you are reporting good quality data.
  • Use sources such as MGMA or OPTUM to see what providers in your area are charging and how you compare.
  • Determine how your reimbursement ranks vs. your competitors on the Medicare website and ensure data accuracy.

Open Enrollment for the ACA

November 15 marks the beginning of the second Open Enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act and there is no indication that this time around will be any easier than the first. Patients will be choosing plans, dealing with things very unfamiliar, and perhaps unaffordable, to them, like deductibles. This directly impacts clinics and the bottom line, especially with those patients who cannot pay their share of the costs. Last year, patients became the number one payor for many practices, even more than insurance companies, because so much revenue came from deductibles. That all resets January 1, but there are things you can do to avoid a possibly painful Q1 of 2015:

  • Check and confirm all patients’ eligibility, what plan they are on, and what their deductible is prior to their scheduled appointment, preferably through an automatic batch eligibility service. Keep this information in the practice management system.
  • Notify patients about their deductibles before they come into the clinic, and make sure to collect payments upfront, or keep a card on file.

The healthcare industry as we knew it for the past many years has ceased to exist. As we move into a new era of integrated delivery systems and a greater emphasis on value-based rather than volume-based reimbursements, the industry is going to remain in a state of flux before it stabilizes once again. The only way organizations are going to survive in this shifting landscape is by anticipating and planning for the next change so that they can stay ahead of the curve. The more an organization knows, the better it can be prepared to confront any potentially negative impact of the ever-evolving nature of the industry.

About Ben Quirk
Ben Quirk is CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in EHR strategic management, workflow optimization, systems development, and training. The company’s clients have enjoyed remarkable success, including award of the Medicare Advantage 5-star rating. Quirk Healthcare presents a weekly webinar series, Insights, to inform clients and the general public about government programs and industry trends. Mr. Quirk is also Executive Director of the Quirk Healthcare Foundation, a learning institution which fosters innovation in the healthcare industry.

What If Meaningful Use Were Created by Doctors?

Posted on September 17, 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.

It’s safe to say that meaningful use is growing through its challenges right now. My post yesterday about killing meaningful use and the new Flex-IT Act should be illustration enough. While it’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback on meaningful use, I think it’s also valuable to consider what meaningful use could have been and then use that to consider how we can still get there from where we are today.

Many of you might have read my post on The Purpose of the EHR Incentive Program Accordign to CMS. CMS clearly stats that the purpose of the EHR incentive money and meaningful use is to move providers towards advanced use of health IT to:

  • Support Reductions in Cost
  • Increase Access
  • Improve Outcomes for Patients

This has very clearly been CMS’ goal and it’s reflected in what we now know today as meaningful use. Let’s think about those from a physician perspective.

Support Reductions in Cost – So, you’re going to pay me less for doing the same work?

Increase Access – So, you’re going to send me patients who can’t pay their bill? Or does this mean I have to do more work making my records accessible?

Improve Outcomes for Patients – Every doctor can support this. However, many are skeptical (with good reason) that the various elements of meaningful use really do improve outcomes for patients.

If I were to step back and think what a doctor might consider meaningful use of an EHR system, this might be what they’d list (in no particular order):

  • More Efficient
  • Improved Care
  • Increased Revenue

More Efficient – Will the technology help me see patients more efficiently? Will it allow me to spend more time with the patient?

Improved Care – Will the technology help me be a better doctor? Will the technology help me make better use of my time with the patient?

Increased Revenue – Will the technology help me get paid more? Will the technology lower the cost of my malpractice insurance and reduce that risk? Will the technology create new revenue streams beyond just churning patient visits?

I’m sure there are other things that could be listed as well, but I think the list is directionally accurate. When you look at these two lists, there’s very clearly a major disconnect between what end users want and what meaningful use requires. With a lot of the EHR incentive money already paid out, this divide has become a major issue.

EHR Certification Flexibility Final Rule Commentary and Analysis

Posted on September 3, 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 news came out late on Friday that the EHR Certification flexibility was published as a final rule. I covered my initial take on the EHR Certification Flexibility on Hospital EMR and EHR. I’ve now had a chance to dig through the delicious 90 pages of government rule making and comments that make up the final rule. For those following along at home, you can skip to page 10 of the document to start the fun read. Although, I’ll also direct you to specific sections that might be of interest to you below.

In this post, I’ll just cover the EHR certification flexibility. You can see the meaningful use extension and delay timelines here. Here’s the important chart when talking about the EHR Certification flexibility (CMS Calls it CEHRT):
2014 EHR Certification Flexibility - CEHRT

The EHR Certification flexibility has a number of major talking points:

  • What Does “unable to fully implement” and “2014 Edition CEHRT availability delays” mean?
  • Fairness of EHR Certification Flexibility
  • 90 Day Reporting Period in 2015 Instead of 365 Days
  • Future Audits

What Does “unable to fully implement” and “2014 Edition CEHRT availability delays” mean?
On page 62 of the rule is the best description of the rule’s intent. It says that if you want to take advantage of this EHR flexibility, then they (Eligible providers or hospitals) “must attest that they are unable to fully implement 2014 Edition CEHRT because of issues related to 2014 Edition CEHRT availability delays when they attest to the meaningful use objectives and measures.” This basically covers the asterisk in the chart above.

This piece of the rule was so unclear that CMS in the final rule used 12 pages (pg. 36-48) to describe when this rule would apply and when it would not apply. CMS tried to make this apply as broadly as possible, but I think they also wanted to encourage as many organizations as possible to not use the exception.

My short summary of these 12 pages is: If you have the 2014 Certified EHR software and can attest to meaningful use stage 2, then you better go ahead and do it. Trying to find a loophole that allows you to avoid meaningful use stage 2 and just do MU stage 1 puts you at risk during a future meaningful use audit.

Of course, if you’re EHR vendor hasn’t provided you the proper software/updates/training, etc that you require to attest to meaningful use stage 2, then this rule will apply. CMS’ intent seems pretty clear. If you can attest to meaningful use stage 2, then you should. However, if your EHR vendor prevents you from being able to attest, then they don’t want to hold the providers accountable for the EHR vendors failure. Although, CMS notes multiple times in the final rule that they don’t want to point blame at the EHR vendors since it could have been other outside issues (ie. final rule was late, ONC-ACB’s were backlogged, etc) that caused the EHR vendors to not be ready.

I wonder if one of the unintended side effects of this rule will be EHR vendors taking their sweet time releasing and rolling out their 2014 Certified EHR product and updates. It’s too late for this in the hospital setting since hospitals have to do a full year of MU 2 on a 2014 Certified EHR starting October 1, 2014. However, the same might not be true on the ambulatory side where they have until the end of the year to start on meaningful use stage 2.

I’ll be interested to see how many organizations are able to take advantage of this delay. Had this rule been finalized in early 2014, it would be a very different story. However, at this late date, I’m not sure that many providers or hospitals will be able to change course.

I mostly feel bad for those organizations that rushed their EHR implementations onto barely-beta-tested 2014 Certified EHR software and will now have no choice but to go forward with meaningful use stage 2. This change in rule makes many of these organizations wish they’d slowed their implementation to make sure they’d done it right and they’d have also only been required to do MU stage 1.

Fairness of EHR Certification Flexibility
The last paragraph above highlights part of the reason why many providers feel that this EHR certification flexibility is unfair. While it’s not a direct penalty on organizations that were on top of things, the change rewards those organizations that didn’t take the risks, push their EHR vendors, and push their implementation timelines to meet the MU stage 2 requirements. The reward an organization gets for going after MU stage 2 is that they have to do a lot more work (Yes, MU2 is A LOT more work) while their procrastinating competitors get to do the much simpler MU1.

This was such an important complaint that CMS addressed these comments in two different places in the final rule (pg. 21-22 and pg. 48-50). CMS tries to argue that in their research they didn’t see providers that were deliberately trying to delay MU stage 2, but found that providers wanted to do MU stage 2, but their EHR vendors weren’t ready. I’d suggest that CMS may want to dig a little deeper.

However, let’s set providers aside for now and assume that they all want to do MU stage 2, but their EHR vendors just aren’t ready for it. This EHR certification flexibility still lets EHR vendors who procrastinated their 2014 EHR certification off the hook. In fact, it rewards them and their users for not performing well. Once again, CMS doesn’t want to point the finger at EHR vendors, but will blame themselves for not finalizing the rule fast enough and ONC-ACB’s for having a backlog. However, if you’re an EHR vendor who’s been 2014 Certified for a while now, no doubt this rule makes you angry since it rewards your competitors in a big way (intended or otherwise).

Certainly there are a lot of reasons why an EHR vendor isn’t yet ready to be 2014 Certified. However, most of them have little to do with the rule making process and the EHR certification backlog. Some freely admit it, and others hide behind excuses. I think CMS realized this EHR Certification flexibility would benefit these EHR vendors, but they didn’t want to punish the providers who use these EHR software.

I still think the simple solution here was to extend this same flexibility to all providers and all EHR vendors. However, in the final rule CMS argues that doing so would reduced the amount of meaningful use stage 2 data that they’d have available to make the adjustments needed to meaningful use stage 3. I understand how a provider doing MU stage 2 this year might feel like the government’s guinea pig. We need you to do MU stage 2 so we can figure out how to make it right in MU stage 3. CMS also argues that they need more people on meaningful use stage 2 in order to push their agenda and the intent of the HITECH act forward. What doesn’t seem aligned to me is the goals of meaningful use and providers’ goals. I think that’s why we see such a disconnect.

90 Day Reporting Period in 2015 Instead of 365 Days
This seems to be one of the most heated discussion points with the final rule. CHIME President and CEO, Russell P. Branzell, even suggested that “Now, the very future of Meaningful Use is in question.”

CMS’ comments about this (pg. 34-36) basically say that a change to the EHR reporting periods was not part of this proposed rule. Then, they offered this reason for why they’re not considering changes to the reporting periods:

We are not considering changes to the EHR reporting periods for 2015 or subsequent years in this final rule for the same reasons we are not considering changing the edition of CEHRT required for 2015 or subsequent years. Changes to the EHR reporting period would put the forward progress of the program at risk, and cause further delay in implementing effective health IT infrastructure. In addition, further changes to the reporting period would create further misalignment with the CMS quality reporting programs like PQRS and IQR, which would increase the reporting burden on providers and negatively impact quality reporting data integrity.

What this comment doesn’t seem to consider is what will happen if almost no organizations choose to attest to meaningful use because of the 365 day reporting period. Talk about killing the “forward progress” of the program. From a financial perspective, maybe that’s great for the MU program. CMS will pay out less incentive money and they’ll make back a bunch more money in the eventual penalties. However, it seems counter to the goal of increasing participation in the program. Personally, I’m not sure that the end of organization’s participation in meaningful use would be such a bad thing for healthcare. It would lead back to a more rationale EHR marketplace.

Future Audits
On page 55-56, the final rule addresses the concerns over audits. We can be sure that some organizations will be audited on whether they were “unable to fully implement 2014 Edition CEHRT because of issues related to 2014 Edition CEHRT availability delays.” Sadly, the final rule doesn’t give any details on what documentation you should keep to illustrate that you meet these requirements for which you will have to attest. The final rule just says that they’ll provide guidance to the auditors on this final rule and that audit determinations are finalized on a case by case basis that will cover the varied circumstances that will exist.

This wouldn’t give me much comfort if I was going through an audit. Not to mention comfort that the auditors wouldn’t interpret something differently. I’ll defer other audit advice to my auditor friends, since I’m not an audit expert. However, in this case you likely know how far you’re stretching the rule or not. That will likely determine how comfortable you’ll be if an audit comes your way. Now you can see why my advice is still, “If you have the 2014 Certified EHR software and can attest to meaningful use stage 2, then you better go ahead and do it.

Conclusion
I really see the meaningful use program on extremely shaky ground. I don’t think this final rule does much to relieve any of that pressure. In fact, in some ways it will solidify people’s bad feelings towards the program. We’ll see for sure how this plays out once we see the final numbers on how many organizations attest to meaningful use stage 2. I don’t think those numbers are going to be pretty and 2015 could even be worse.

Note: For those following along at home (or work), here’s the final rule that I reference above.

What Would Make Us Not Delay ICD-10 in 2015?

Posted on July 3, 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.

While at the HFMA ANI conference in Las Vegas, I talked to a lot of people about the future of healthcare reimbursement. Talk of ICD-10 and the ICD-10 delay came up regularly with most of us rolling our eyes that ICD-10 was delayed again. Some argued that we still need to be prepared, but from what I’m seeing the majority of the market just pushed their plans out a year and will pick them up again later this year or early next year.

With that said, we all agreed that every organization will be much more hesitant preparing for ICD-10 next year since they’re afraid that ICD-10 will just be delayed again.

As I had these discussions, I started thinking about what will be different in 2015 when it comes to ICD-10? As I asked people this question, all of the same arguments that we made in 2014 are what we’re going to have in 2015. Some of them include: the rest of the world adopted this years ago, we’re falling behind on the data we’re capturing, we need more specificity in the way we code so we can improve healthcare, etc etc etc.

Considering these arguments, what will be different next year?

All of the above arguments for not delaying ICD-10 were valid in 2014 and we’ll be just as valid in 2015. Can you think of any reasons that we should not delay ICD-10 in 2015 that weren’t reasons in 2014? I can’t think of any. The closest I’ve come is that with the extra year, we’re better prepared for ICD-10. Although, given people’s propensity to delay, does anyone think we’ll be much better prepared for ICD-10 in 2015 than we were in 2014? In some ways I think we’ll be less prepared because many will likely think the delay will happen again.

Given that the environment will be mostly the same, why wouldn’t we think that ICD-10 will be delayed again in 2015?

Personally, I’ll be watching CMS and HHS closely and see what they say. I think this year they looked really bad when they very publicly proclaimed that ICD-10 was coming at HIMSS just to be hit from the side by the ICD-10 delay. I’d hope that this time CMS will work with Congress to know what they’re planning or thinking before they make such strong assertions. Of course, this would mean that they’d have to understand what Congress is thinking (not an easy task).

What’s unfortunate is that many of the things you need to do to prepare for ICD-10 can also benefit you under ICD-9. The smart organizations understand this and are focusing on clinical documentation improvement (CDI) as the best way to prepare for ICD-10, but still benefit from the program today.