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Are We Chasing the Carrot or Afraid of the Stick?

Posted on May 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.

The other day SGC asked in my hospital EHR adoption chart post: “If there were no penalties for non-EHR adoption, what would that chart look like?”

For those that are too lazy to click over to that post to see the chart, it basically shows hospital EHR adoption being massively accelerated thanks to the government EHR incentive program. In fact, we’re approaching full adoption of EHR in the hospital space (worth noting is that the ambulatory provider space is lagging far behind that adoption). SGC asks the question about whether that adoption would have occurred without the penalties.

My personal experience is that most organizations appreciate the EHR incentive money and plan that in as part of their budgeting for an EHR, but that they were really much more motivated by the EHR penalties that would accrue if they didn’t adopt an EHR. So, I’d say that people are more afraid of the stick than they are motivated by the carrot.

This is probably more so the case because the penalties are going to exist in perpetuity. I think most hospital organizations believe (and I think rightly so) that the EHR penalties for not using an EHR are not going to stop. In fact, they could get much worse. Not to mention, other payers might start implementing similar penalties for non-EHR use as well.

What’s been your experience? Are the carrot or the stick more motivating to healthcare organizations?

Another related question would be, “If there had been no EHR incentive or penalties, what would the EHR adoption chart look like today?” That’s a topic for another blog post.

Hospital EHR Adoption Chart

Posted on May 15, 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 always love a good chart and this one illustrates what those of us in the industry have know for a while. EHR incentive money absolutely increased EHR adoption in hospitals. I think it also did in ambulatory environments as well, but not quite to the extent of hospitals.

Can we just put the discussion of whether HITECH helped EHR adoption to rest? It increased EHR adoption.

To me that’s not the question that really matters. What really matters is whether the EHR incentive money has incented adoption of the right EHR software. It’s great that we’ve adopted EHR software, but have we just locked ourselves in to the wrong software for the next 5+ years? Or have we implemented a great EHR foundation that will prove to be extremely beneficial to healthcare for decades to come?

I look forward to a deep discussion in the comments.

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.

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.

Breaking News: Meaningful Use is Not Covering Costs

Posted on April 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.

In one of my recent interviews with a healthcare IT consulting company, they revealed some breaking news for those of us in the EHR world. They told me point blank that:

Meaningful Use is Not Covering Costs

Ok, so that’s not really breaking news. Although, it seems that very few people want to actually articulate this point. It almost feels like heresy that someone would “complain” about the fact that the government is spending $36 billion on EHR incentives and that the money isn’t enough to cover the implementation of these EHR systems.

Actually, I should clarify that last point. The EHR incentive money is covering the costs to purchase the systems. It’s not covering the costs of implementing those EHR systems and then poking, prodding and otherwise cajoling end users to show meaningful use of that system (not to be confused with meaningfully using the system).

Let me also be clear that I’m not complaining about the EHR incentive money. I’ve done enough of that previously. What I’m just trying to acknowledge is something that everyone who deals with the EHR budget already realizes, but no one seems to want to say it. Organizations are spending more money on EHR and meaningful use than they’re getting from the government.

I think this is important for a couple reasons. First, many organizations didn’t budget any EHR money beyond what the EHR incentive money. You can certainly argue this was a mistake on their part, but that’s going to leave a bunch of organizations in a lurch. We’re already seeing the fall out of this as news reports keep coming out about hospitals systems in financial trouble due to the costs of their EHR system. Plus, in each of these cases, it seems their costs continue to balloon out of control with no end in sight. It makes me wonder if the compressed meaningful use timeline is partially to blame for a rushed implementation and poor EHR implementation and cost planning.

Second, there is still a swash of providers and organizations that haven’t yet implemented their EHR. If you can’t support the cost of EHR with government money, how does that bode for those who won’t be getting any EHR incentive money? One could make the argument that they’ll actually be in a better position since they won’t have to worry about meaningful use and can just focus on getting value out of their EHR. Hopefully that’s the case, but many of the meaningful use functions are now hardcoded into the EHR systems. Even if an organization isn’t planning on attesting to meaningful use, that doesn’t mean they won’t be forced by their EHR software to do a bunch of things they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

What are you seeing from your perspective? Is the EHR incentive money covering the costs of an EHR implementation? What are the impacts if it doesn’t?

Hospital Must Pay Back $31 Million in Meaningful Use Money

Posted on November 7, 2013 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 just came out that Health Management Associates, Inc. (“HMA”) did not meet the meaningful use requirements necessary to receive the EHR incentive money and so they’ll have to pay back all of the money they’ve been paid by CMS. Here’s a portion of the article that details the amount they have to pay back:

The Company estimates that, between July 1, 2011 and September 30, 2013, it recognized as income HCIT incentive payments totaling approximately $31.0 million for the hospitals that did not meet the “meaningful use” criteria. Of these payments, the Company recognized as income approximately $8.3 million in 2011, approximately $17.3 million in 2012 and approximately $5.4 million in the first six months of 2013. On October 30, 2013, the Company withdrew the 11 hospitals from the HCIT programs and has repaid the majority of the funds to CMS. The Company is in the process of repaying the balance of the funds to the relevant state programs. The Company expects to re-enroll the hospitals in the HCIT programs and may be able to recoup some portion of the amounts repaid.

$31 million is a lot of meaningful use money to pay back. I’m still waiting for the details of why they failed their meaningful use attestation to come out. Although, I believe I read that the top management at HMA are gone from the company as well. So, it’s hard to say if this was a simple meaningful use mistake or if it was an intentional effort to game the EHR incentive and meaningful use system. In meaningful use stage 1 this is particularly easy to game since it was self-attestation.

I’m sad to say that I wrote about the potential of having to payback EHR incentive money previously. Plus, as I mention in that article, HMA will now be subject to the EHR penalties as well if they don’t get things corrected before those go in place. Of course, in my post I discuss organizations that make a good faith effort to attest to meaningful use. We’ll see if HMA made a good faith effort or not. Either way, this is an important warning for those organizations that aren’t doing everything they can do meet the meaningful use guidelines.

One EHR expert I spoke with about this situation said, “It’s not the last of such announcements I expect to come out in the next few months.” I’d only modify that to say “in the next few years.” If organizations had problems with meaningful use stage 1, you can be sure the problems will be multiplied with MU stage 2 and 3.

The problem is that if too many more stories like this come out it’s going to take a program that was suppose to incentivize EHR and make it into a weight around the neck of EHR implementations.

4 Things You Should Do to Make Sure You’re Compliant with Meaningful Use

Posted on September 26, 2013 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 Beth Houck, Vice President of Client Services at SA Ignite.

As we near the last quarter of 2013, many providers will have earned over half of their Meaningful Use (MU) incentive dollars and will be adept at following the workflows required to meet the Stage 1 measures.  With two years (or more) of following MU under their belts, it’s really just old hat, right?  Maybe, but not so fast.

For small practices with no turnover and no upgrades to their EHR, practice managers can follow many of the same checklists that got them through the first year:  verification that all non-percentage based measures have been met (e.g., a completed security risk audit, evidence of enabled features in the EHR such as Clinical Decision Support and Formulary Checks, completion of an immunization test) and a secure copy of the report that was generated from the EHR that supports percentage-based measure compliance and CQM submission.  Practice managers may find themselves nudging providers to stay on track, but a small, stable practice has far less moving parts from year-to-year.

This is in significant contrast to large practices and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) that experience significant turnover.  It’s September 2013 and a new provider started with your organization.  Do you know what payment year he is in?  Are you allowed to attest for him or did his previous practice lay claim on these dollars?  It’s July 2013, and a new provider brings her report from the certified EHR she was using in the first part of the year.  What do you do with this information?  How does this impact this provider’s attestation?

As larger provider organizations advance beyond the earliest stages of MU reporting, they realize that a once manageable process quickly becomes complicated, and the risk that incentive dollars will be lost drastically increases. Ensuring compliance means knowing what rules apply to these providers. Through our work monitoring more than 5,000 providers, we’ve worked to automate the attestation process. Here’s our list of four key best practices to ensure you’re on track to MU compliance.

  1. The first step is to determine the provider’s Payment Year and under which program(s) they’ve received incentive dollars. You can look this up using the same login to attest for providers.
  2. Then if they are in payment year 2 for Medicare, never having switched from Medicaid, they will need to meet MU for the entire 365 days. This means that MU data from any previous practices’ EHRs will need to be added to their current MU data. CMS has published a list of frequently asked questions on how to calculate these numbers. On a positive note, you will not be required to have your Clinical Quality Measures (CQMs) align with the previous practice’s EHR. If they don’t match, you can just use the CQMs from the system where you had more visits.
  3. The next step is to determine which of the non-percentage based measures need to be repeated for this provider. For example, if you don’t have any record of an immunization test being completed at the previous practice, one will need to be completed.
  4. Finally don’t forget that the EHR Certification ID that you used when you originally attested for your providers won’t necessarily apply to subsequently hired providers. If the new hire is bringing data from their old practice that needs to be merged with their new practice, you will need to obtain a new Certification ID from the Certified Health IT Product list. Following the sites instructions, you will need to add both the provider’s previous EHR and your EHR to the “basket” to obtain a new, unique Certification ID produced for this combination of EHRs.

It’s clear that there is so much more to MU compliance than double checking if you printed Visit Summaries for more than 50 percent of your patients.  As we move into 2014, there are multiple payment years, programs and stages to track, so you will need to be certain that you have a system in place to ensure that you can manage the cases mentioned above to maximize the EHR incentive dollars for your organization.

EMR Market is Growing, But It’s Not What It Was

Posted on September 11, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

The EMR market is likely to grow at more than 7 percent per year through 2016, according to a new report.

The estimate comes from London-based research and advisory firm TechNavio. The company wrote in its analysis, “Global Hospital-based EMR Market 2012-2016,” that “demand for advanced health monitoring systems” and for cloud-computing services were major contributors to demand.

On the other hand, according to the company, implementation costs could be a limiting factor.

The TechNavio figure is actually a compound annual growth rate of 7.46 percent. That means substantial opportunity for the many companies referenced in the report, including Cerner Corp., Epic Systems Corp., AmazingCharts Inc. and NextGen Healthcare, to name a few.

Another research firm, Kalorama Information, in April reported that the EMR market reached nearly $21 billion in 2012, up 15 percent from the year before, driven by hospital upgrades and government incentives.

About 44 percent of U.S. hospitals had at least a basic EHR in 2012, up from 12 percent in 2009, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

In the United States, at least, future growth might require more resources and creativity to achieve. You might remember the recent post “The Golden Era of EHR Adoption is Over,” by Healthcare Scene’s John Lynn, positing that the low-hanging fruit for EMR vendors, the market of early adopters and the “early majority,” is gone, leaving a pool of harder-to-convince customers.

But the TechNavio report is broader, considering not only the Americas but also Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. That’s truly a mixed bag, as while health IT is at a preliminary stage in many developing markets, it’s highly advanced in countries such as Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom, where, according to the Commonwealth Fund, EMR adoption by primary-care physicians exceeds 90 percent.

When EMR initiatives get a firmer foothold in countries such as China, where cloud-based solutions could well prevail, growth rates for those areas might exceed — several times over — the overall figure predicted by TechNavio.

And in the United States, certain pockets, such as the rural hospital market, still present huge opportunity. Fewer than 35 percent of rural hospitals had at least a basic EMR in 2012, but the enthusiasm is clearly there, as that number was up from only 10 percent in 2010, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It looks like it’s still a great time to be an EMR vendor. But it’s not the same market that it was even a couple of years ago, and success in the new era might require looking at new markets and approaches.

Should We Hit the Pause Button on Meaningful Use?

Posted on August 8, 2013 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 saw this question hit my email this morning: Should We Hit the Pause Button on Meaningful Use?

It’s a controversial question without a really solid answer. A number of organizations have already called for a delay on meaningful use stage 3. They have some reasonable points to be made for why MU stage 3 should be delayed. I won’t be surprised if we see a delay in future stages of meaningful use. ONC won’t want to do it, but I think they’ll be pressured to the point that they see no other option. The government approval process just can’t work fast enough.

However, the idea of pausing meaningful use is a bit different. A delay isn’t necessarily a pause. If you delay MU stage 3, then people are still required to attest to MU stage 2. Some people (including some in congress) are asking if we should pause MU completely. The idea being that we should do an analysis of the impact of MU stage 1 and how we can make MU stage 2 and 3 more effective. The problem with this idea is that many have committed a large investment to their EHR and so pulling out promised EHR incentive money won’t likely happen.

There’s actually a growing voice to stop meaningful use completely. Certainly this will upset plenty of organizations, but I find the discussion of stopping meaningful use incredibly intriguing. Would stopping meaningful use and not paying out any more government money for EHR software have a negative impact on EHR adoption?

That’s a hard question to answer. I imagine there are a few hospitals that have started down the road of EHR adoption that would definitely step on the brakes. I don’t think the same is true in the ambulatory space. Those who’ve started down the path to EHR are already on their way and likely won’t turn back.

I’m sure stopping the meaningful use EHR incentive money would cause quite an uproar. I can’t imagine them doing it, but I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t at least have the conversation. Last I checked we’d spent about $8 billion in EHR incentive money. If the estimated $36 billion is still accurate, that leaves $28 billion of EHR incentive money left. Don’t you think we should at least consider whether we should spend that $28 billion the way we’re doing it?

EHR Penalties after Meaningful Use Failure

Posted on March 15, 2013 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 HIMSS I had a discussion with the consulting firm Stoltenberg Consulting. I was really intrigued by their approach to EHR consulting and will likely write more about it later. Plus, the started what in many ways became a theme of my HIMSS experience around rural healthcare EHR. You can be sure I’ll be writing about rural EHR here on this site and on Hospital EMR and EHR much more in the future.

In our casual introductory conversation we had a good discussion about how many of the smaller hospitals look at meaningful use and the EHR incentive money. Needless to say, many of these smaller institutions are faced with a huge challenge when it comes to adopting an EHR and showing meaningful use. Many of these rural hospitals barely have an IT staff and the CFO usually takes care of the IT environment. I heard one story at HIMSS where the IT person at a rural hospital started out as the janitor and his home IT skill made him the most qualified person to help.

Needless to say, rural and smaller hospitals have some real challenges facing them when it comes to EHR adoption and showing meaningful use of that EHR. Although, an even worse thought struck me in my discussions about these smaller hospitals.

Imagine many of these smaller hospitals making a good faith effort to adopt EHR and show meaningful use. It’s not that hard to see many of these hospitals falling short of the meaningful use standard. What will this mean to that organization? They’ve spent millions on an EHR. They won’t get the EHR incentive money they likely used as a justification for the EHR spending. To add insult to injury, now they’re going to get penalized for not being meaningful users of an EHR.

This scenario honestly makes me sick to even consider. Something similar could easily happen in small ambulatory practices as well. The scale of the damage will just be different. I expect in meaningful use stage 1 this won’t likely be a problem since it’s self attestation. However, this could become a much bigger issue in meaningful use stage 2.

Although, consider an organization who fails a meaningful use stage 1 audit. In most cases you can’t go back and fix whatever you failed in the audit. You’d be in a very similar situation where you have to return the EHR incentive money and would be open to the meaningful use penalties. At least that’s my understanding of how the EHR penalties will be implemented. If you know otherwise, I’d love to hear it.

While I think the above scenarios are brutal, hopefully this will also serve as a warning for those hospitals pursuing EHR and the EHR incentive money. Be sure you are able to show meaningful use or you’ll not only lose out on the incentive money, but you’ll also be open to the EHR penalties. Not to mention, are you ready for a meaningful use audit?