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Study: Health IT Costs $32K Per Doctor Each Year

Posted on September 9, 2016 I Written By

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

A new study by the Medical Group Management Association has concluded that that physician-owned multispecialty practices spent roughly $32,500 on health IT last year for each full-time doctor. This number has climbed dramatically over the past seven years, the group’s research finds.

To conduct the study, the MGMA surveyed more than 3,100 physician practices across the U.S. The expense number they generated includes equipment, staff, maintenance and other related costs, according to a press release issued by the group.

The cost of supporting physicians with IT services has climbed, in part, due to rising IT staffing expenses, which shot up 47% between 2009 and 2015. The current cost per physician for health IT support went up 40% during the same interval. The biggest jump in HIT costs for supporting physicians took place between 2010 and 2011, the period during which the HITECH Act was implemented.

Practices are also seeing lower levels of financial incentives to adopt EHRs as Meaningful Use is phased out. While changes under MACRA/MIPS could benefit practices, they aren’t likely to reward physicians directly for investments in health IT.

As MGMA sees it, this is bad news, particularly given that practices still have to keep investing in such infrastructure: “We remain concerned that far too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing patient care,” the group said in a prepared statement. “Unless we see significant changes in the final rule, practice IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in the care delivery process.”

But the MGMA’s own analysis offers at least a glimmer of hope that these investments weren’t in vain. For example, while it argues that growing investments in technologies haven’t resulted in greater administrative efficiencies (or better care) for practices, it also notes that more than 50% of responders to a recent MGMA Stat poll reported that their patients could request or make appointments via their practice’s patient portal.

While there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast evidence that portals improve patient care across the board, studies have emerged to suggest that portals support better outcomes, in areas such as medication adherence. (A Kaiser Permanente study from a couple of years ago, comparing statin adherence for those who chose online refills as their only method of getting the med with those who didn’t, found that those getting refills online saw nonadherence drop 6%.)

Just as importantly – in my view at least – I frequently hear accounts of individual practices which saw the volume of incoming calls drop dramatically. While that may not correlate directly to better patient care, it can’t hurt when patients are engaged enough to manage the petty details of their care on their own. Also, if the volume of phone requests for administrative support falls enough, a practice may be able to cut back on clerical staff and put the money towards say, a nurse case manager for coordination.

I’m not suggesting that every health IT investment practices have made will turn to fulfill its promise. EHRs, in particular, are difficult to look at as a whole and classify as a success across the board. I am, however, arguing that the MGMA has more reason for optimism than its leaders would publicly admit.

Has MU Been Useful? A Review of MU and Merit-Based Incentives – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on March 16, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lori Balstad, Learning and Development Specialist at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Lori Balstad
Is it really the end of Meaningful Use? According to Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), it’s time for a change in incentive programs and 2016 may be the year for it. Alternative Payment Models and Merit-based Incentive Payments (MIPS) as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) may be replacing the complicated layers of requirements in Stage 1, 2, and 3 of Meaningful Use.

While CMS works on rolling out a new set of regulations, you may be wondering if this will ease the lingering pain of the past years. Will the program be easier to understand, navigate, and comply with?

First, let’s do a quick review:

CMS’s Meaningful Use Incentive program was rolled out in 2011 to incentivize eligible professionals and hospitals to adopt electronic health records (EHRs).

The goal was three-fold:

  • Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities
  • Increase patient engagement and satisfaction
  • Improve care coordination, and population and public health

Stage 1 dealt with data capture and sharing, Stage 2 focused on advance clinical processes, and Stage 3 was to bring us to improving healthcare outcomes.

Achieving these goals is not an easy or quick process, but there have been many noteworthy accomplishments. As of 2015, 95 percent of all eligible and critical access hospitals have demonstrated meaningful use of certified health IT through participation in the CMS EHR Incentive Programs. Ninety-eight percent of all hospitals have demonstrated meaningful use and/or adopted, implemented or upgraded any EHR. As of January 2016, more than 484,000 health care providers received payment for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, according to the CMS.

There have also been bumps along the way. Clinical quality reporting is controversial due to unrefined standards and a lack of a comprehensive strategy around the measures. Providers struggle to balance healthcare reform efforts with patient engagement and education under Stage 2. Eligibility determination issues in the CMS website threatened some physicians and other eligible professionals with Medicare payment penalties in 2015. Physicians are at the point where the regulations are so difficult that they feel like they are unable to focus on patient care.

So what’s next?

CMS has been working closely with physicians and healthcare organizations to address their needs and concerns, and plans to share the new regulations this spring under MACRA. They will work towards keeping the original ideologies while establishing new critical principles. The most important improvement will be moving away from incentivizing providers for the mere use of the technology towards the actual outcomes achieved with their patients. Other goals include allowing for flexibility to customize health IT to ensure physicians are supported instead of distracted.

Meaningful Use is not going away, just the way it’s measured and incentivized. Moving toward quality outcomes instead of measuring technology adoption levels will hopefully move us closer to the original goals of Meaningful Use. It all comes back to what physicians and healthcare organizations do on a daily basis – strive to provide the best possible care for patients.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts. The Breakaway Group is a leader in EHR and Health IT training.