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EMRs and Patient Satisfaction

Posted on August 7, 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.

When it comes to keeping patients happy, EMRs matter, a new study suggests.

More patients are logging on to access their own records – and they tend to like it, according to data from research firms Aeffect and 88 Brand Partners. About 24 percent of patients have used EMRs for tasks such as checking test results, ordering medication refills and making appointments. And 78 percent of those patients reported being satisfied with their doctors, compared with 68 percent of those who hadn’t used EMRs.

“EMR users are telling us that they are more confident in the coordination of care they’re being provided, and think more highly of their doctors, simply because of the information technology in use,” Michael McGuire, director of strategy for Chicago-based 88 Brand Partners, said in a press release.

Patient satisfaction is fast becoming a top priority in health care as it determines a growing portion of providers’ reimbursement. So far, it’s mainly been an issue for hospitals. Their patient satisfaction survey results make up 30 percent of  their quality score in Medicare’s “value-based purchasing” program, part of the Affordable Care Act. In fiscal 2013, hospitals saw 1 percent of their Medicare reimbursement put at risk based on the overall score, which also considers performance on clinical measures. The figure will increase to 2 percent by fiscal 2017. Private insurers are also starting to link payments with quality scores.

The trend is now taking hold outpatient clinics, as well. About 2 percent of primary-care doctors’ compensation is tied to patient satisfaction measures, and the figure is likely to grow in coming years, according to a recent report from the Medical Group Management Association. Specialist physicians reported, on average, that 1 percent of their salary hinged on patient satisfaction.

Patients cited several reasons for preferring that their doctors use EMRs, according to the EMR Patient Impact Study from Aeffect and 88 Brand Partners. Among them were ease of access to information and the perceived clarity and thoroughness of communication that the records systems provide. And adoption rates could be set to go higher: 52 percent of survey respondents said they aren’t using an EMR yet, but would be interested in trying one. Only 18 percent said they had no interest.

A host of other factors, such as level of attention and ease of making appointments, also factored into patient satisfaction, according to the survey of 1,000 consumers. But for doctors who have implemented EMRs, getting their patients to log on might be a simple way to create a more loyal following. In many cases, according to the survey, EMR-using patients had adopted the technology after being encouraged by a physician.

The Coming Physician EHR Revolt

Posted on February 5, 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.

From my blogging viewpoint I’m sensing a growing discontent among doctors that is starting to really heat up. I can’t quite predict when this discontent will reach a boiling point that will start to boil over, but the fireworks are coming. As I’ve watched the past couple years, doctors were first overwhelmed with all the government regulations. They were confused by everything was coming out and really just didn’t know where healthcare IT and EHR was headed. That overwhelmed confusion is slowly turning into a reality that many doctors are realizing is changing how they practice medicine. If you’re not seeing this, then you might want to get out and spend some more time with your casual every day doctors.

One doctor emailed me today suggesting that doctors were being literally “eaten alive” as they are working harder to provide patient centered care. It would be a disservice to doctors if we don’t take the time to acknowledge and understand the enormous pressures that many doctors are feeling right now.

Here’s a quick look at what I believe is the perspective of many doctors I connect with on a daily basis.

Regulations
Everywhere doctors look they’re getting hammered by new regulations. I recently heard Shahid Shah say, “We’re experts in the industry that spend all day thinking about the market and regulations and even we have a challenge understanding what’s going on. Now think about the doctors and adminstrators which have challenging day jobs and only a small amount of time to understand the regulations. They don’t really understand the details of what’s being regulated.”

This is a reality for many doctors and practices. Is it any wonder that many are happy to sell off their practices to major hospitals? I’m sure that many do so just because they’re tired of trying to understand all the changing regulations they’re required to know.

If we look at just the healthcare IT and EHR related regulations you have: meaningful use, ACOs, ICD-10, 5010, and Obamacare/Healthcare Reform. Any one of those is a challenge to understand and implement. Yet doctors and hospitals are dealing with all five of them simultaneously. Not to mention doctors being asked to participate in HIEs, being graded and rated online, engaging with empowered patients through social media, and embracing a new technology savvy culture while reimbursement lags behind.

Is it any wonder that doctors feel overwhelmed, overworked, and unsure whether they want to continue being doctors. Is this going to lead to a real shortage of medical professionals?

EHR Discontent
Since this is an EHR blog, we should spend some time on the growing discontent with EHR software. I hate to dwell on this, because EHR is going to be the future of clinical documentation. It’s hear to stay and no amount of belly aching and moaning is going to stop EHR software from becoming the de facto standard for clinical documentation. However, just because this is the case doesn’t mean we should ignore the realities that so many doctors are facing when it comes to EHR software today.

Many doctors see EHR as a major time suck. Their EHR software requires them to work longer hours and/or see fewer patients. Overtime this usually improves, but we have to acknowledge the initial productivity hit that pretty much every EHR implementation sees. Some clinics never get back to their previous productivity. We’ve discussed the reasons for this over and over again on this blog. We’ll save the list of reasons and ways to avoid those issues for another blog post. However, until all 300+ EHR vendors solve the EHR productivity issue, we’re going to hear more and more stories of how much of a time suck an EHR is to many doctors.

Not all doctors see it this way. Many doctors can’t imagine their practice without an EHR. As we’ve been covering in our EHR Benefits Series, there are a lot of benefits to having an EHR. Many of the benefits we’ve already covered in that series are ways that a clinic can save time thanks to an EHR. However, it can take time for a new EHR user to get up to speed where they can speak the EMR language well. It’s not easy learning a new language, and so this adds to the growing discontent that many doctors feel towards EHR.

Template EHR and Copy Paste
Many EHR vendors have implemented a complex set of templates that doctors can use to be more efficient. It’s a thing of beauty to see a full template pulled into a patient’s chart with a single click. A full patient physical documented with a single click sounds like it should save the doctors a lot of time and make them more efficient. In fact, many have argued that template based EHR documentation is a great way for doctors to achieve higher reimbursement levels since they are better able to document the actual care they’re providing. In the paper world they would have passed on the higher reimbursement because they didn’t have the time or desire to document all of the items they examined and so they just accept a lower reimbursement level. EMR templates made it possible for doctors to finally be reimbursed for all of the care they provided a patient since the templates made it easy to document.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it did until the government realized that EHR software often drove up their costs. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone in the EHR world. I’ve been writing about the ability to increase your reimbursement rates from EHR for over 7 years. However, instead of the government choosing to acknowledge something that was apparent to many in the industry, they decided to blame the increased costs on, you guessed it, dishonest doctors.

Think about the message that we’re sending doctors. First the government tells doctors to start using EHR. Then, the government calls those doctors dishonest for using the tools that the government told them to use. A doctor recently described their perspective is like being stuck in a pit with sly hyenas all around ready to take their bite out of them.

Add in all the recent discussions about copy and paste in EMR’s, and it shouldn’t be any wonder that doctors are gun shy. When they implement technologies to try and make things more efficient they get their hands slapped or even worse.

Reduced Reimbursement and Penalties
In the midst of all the things mentioned above, doctors are also getting hit with reduced reimbursement rates. This is particularly true for those in the general medicine area. They’re being asked to do more to improve patient care, reduce hospital re-admissions, treat the whole patient, etc and they’re getting less reimbursement.

Plus, now the EHR penalties are hanging over their head if they choose to not show meaningful use of a certified EHR. I still have my doubts that the EHR penalties will be enforced. I expect there will be a whole series of exceptions offered up which make it so pretty much all of the doctors avoid the penalties. However, that’s still unknown and many doctors see those EHR penalties as just another slap into the face.

Data Data Data
Most doctors see the push for EHR as a way for someone to get at the data in healthcare. In many ways, they’re right. EHR’s were first created as big billing machines to get at the financial data. Now with meaningful use, EHR’s are repositories of other healthcare data. The data is being used to optimize reimbursement (rarely a good thing for doctors). The data is wanted for population health analysis. The data is wanted for public health needs. The data is wanted to be able to facilitate ACOs. Everyone wants a piece of the healthcare data it seems.

The problem from a physician perspective is that everyone wants that data, but it’s not often clear how that data is going to facilitate that doctor being a better doctor. In many cases it won’t and there’s the rub. Almost every doctor I know wants to improve healthcare. So, they don’t have any problems supporting initiatives that improve healthcare, but I think that most of them also sit back and wonder at what cost.

Audits
I don’t know anyone that likes audits. Yet, most doctors are surrounded by a wide variety of audits. RAC Audits are on the way. HIPAA audits are possible and HIPAA is always lingering in the back of most doctors minds. Especially when you start talking about technology and HIPAA. There are so many unknowns that there’s no place of comfort for those doctors who want to be compliant. Most make a best effort and then push it out of their minds as they try to provide great patient care. Next up our meaningful use audits. You can be sure they’re coming.

Solutions
I wish I could say that I have a bunch of really good solutions available. What does seem clear to me is that most of the challenges that doctors face revolve around the current reimbursement models that we have today. I’m not sure we can fundamentally change those. One interesting option that’s emerging is concierge medicine.

Every doctor I know loves the idea of concierge medicine. When you tell them they don’t have to worry about reimbursement, insurance companies, etc, you see this huge weight lifted off of their shoulders as they wonder what life would be like for them if all they did was provide the best patient care to those who came to their office. The problem with concierge medicine was highlighted in a tweet I saw recently that said, “Concierge Medicine – Does it really work?”

The answer to that question is: it’s still too early to know for sure. Although, my prediction is that concierge medicine will work in certain situations and communities, but won’t be able to provide the widespread change of reimbursement that we need for healthcare to alleviate doctors concerns.

When it comes to EHR, concierge medicine is quite interesting. None of the mainstream EHR vendors really work for concierge medicine since they’re all focused around reimbursement and concierge throws that out the window. Plus, think about how few of the meaningful use requirements a concierge medicine clinic cares about. In fact, implementing many of the meaningful use and EHR certification requirements gets in the way of the concierge doctor’s workflow. I expect many doctors would love a concierge focused EHR software.

The other solution is likely going to be EHR vendors yielding to the idea that they’re the database of healthcare. Once they make this decision, EHR vendors can really open up the proverbial EHR kimono and let outside developers really make their EHR useful for doctors across all specialties, all regions, all sizes, and every unique workflow. One company can’t satisfy every doctor the way a community of empowered developers can.

No One Feels Bad for Doctors
I’ve written about this idea before, but almost no one feels bad for what most people think of as “well paid doctors.” Far too many doctors are still driving around Mercedes and BMW’s for most people to feel too bad for them. Compared to many people who don’t have a job at all, I don’t feel bad for them either.

While we don’t have to feel sorry for them, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the pressures that doctors are facing. Plus, I see this only getting worse before it gets better. As an entrepreneur, I see this as a tremendous opportunity. Plus, I see a number of companies that are working to capture this opportunity. However, far too many companies are blind to this physician discontent. I’m not sure if it’s purposefully blind, ignorantly blind, or arrogantly blind, but many are ignoring it. As I predicted in the beginning of this post, I see this reaching a boiling point soon which leads to some fireworks.

Let me highlight what I’m talking about using the words of a doctor’s message I literally received in my email as I was writing this post:

EMR’s are making it more and more difficult to practice medicine. They used to be fun and helped my daily work. Now, they are getting so complex that is takes much more time to do them. MU is becoming a nightmare for physicians.

Expanding the Healthy Patient – Doctor Relationship

Posted on August 9, 2011 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.

Patient Doctor Relationship
It seems like this topic keeps coming up in my online and social media reading. Basically, the discussion usually centers around the role the patient plays in healthcare. Many people like to discuss what has been called the ePatient. I instead want to talk about the motivations of patients and their ability to influence the healthcare system.

Patients in healthcare are unlike “customers” in many other industries. I can’t think of a single patient that wants to go and see a doctor. Ok, maybe they like the doctor and they want to get whatever’s ailing them fixed, but to a person I’m sure we’d say that going to the doctor is the last place we want to be. It’s not like going shopping for a new pair of shoes. There’s nothing you get to take home from the doctor. Well, at least nothing that you really want to take home.

Plus, healthcare is an interesting thing, because often it’s not clear if you should go to the doctor or not. If my A/C is broken, then it’s quite clear that I need to call an A/C repairman. Seeing a doctor is quite different since it’s a fine line between when you need to go and see the doctor versus when your body will heal on its own. I think we’ve all hated the doctor visit where they check you out and basically say there’s nothing they can do for you. Well, other than send you the bill for your visit. I guess that’s the cost of the peace of mind that you get from the visit (I know I’ve done that with my kids a few times).

Please don’t take this as me knocking doctors or the healthcare profession. They provide an absolutely essential and critical role in our lives. Without great doctors many of us wouldn’t be here today. My point in this post is that the patient doctor relationship is quite different than the customer business relationship that we’re use to seeing.

Online Patient Portals
Take for example the online patient portal. Many people love to go on Amazon.com (or insert your preferred shopping site) and browse through all the various things they could buy. We all know people who spend hours shopping. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say that they wanted to spend hours browsing through their patient portal. You know, someone who just couldn’t wait to see what great healthcare services their doctor could provide them.

The only partial exception to the above reasoning is possibly the chronic patient. If I’m a diabetic patient, then I am going to have an ongoing dialogue with my care provider and the services they provide. I’m going to be interested in monitoring and tracking my care in collaboration with the treatments that my doctor provides.

Is there a reason why we don’t want this kind of interaction for our general healthcare?

Regular Online Interaction with Doctors
Why shouldn’t I go online on a regular basis so that my doctor can assist me in total wellness even when I’m a healthy patient? The difference here of course lies in doctors treating symptoms and illness as opposed to a very different form of care: wellness. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve seen any doctors who treat healthy patients. Sure, some doctors do provide some pro-active wellness information during a sick visit to the doctor. Regular physicals are the closest we come to doctors treating healthy patients, but how many health people get those? It feels counter intuitive that we would go and see a doctor when we’re healthy or appear to be healthy. However, maybe that’s the shift our healthcare system needs.

Reimbursement Model Challenge
One real challenge with what I just described is the reimbursement model we have in healthcare. We’ve incentivized treatment of sickness and illness. We haven’t (yet?) incentivized treatment of healthy patients and promotion of wellness. This sounds a bit like the ACO discussion that’s become so popular these days. I’ll be interested to see how these incentives play out. Word on the street is the train has left the building and reimbursement is going to be tied to healthcare outcomes in the future.

Healthy Patient Motivation
Unfortunately, another major challenge I see is that healthy patients aren’t really motivated by wellness initiatives. I’m sure that there are people that understand this phenomenon a lot better than I. Although, I think it’s abundantly illustrated when you talk to someone who’s getting older and starting to lose their health.

It seems particularly poignant for highly successful people that start to get older. How many times have we heard during Oprah or a Barbara Walters interview someone talk about being willing to give up all their riches and fame to just have their health (and they often throw family in there too)? All the time! The problem is that it takes old age or some other health incident for people to make healthy living and wellness an important part of their life. Which begs the question of whether even a change in the reimbursement model for healthcare will get unmotivated people to visit their doctors and be “treated” even when they’re a healthy patient.

Gamification of Healthcare
One idea that I find incredibly intriguing is the idea of gamification of healthcare and wellness. The basic concept behind gamification is to create incentives for people to do the behaviors you want them to do. I believe Foursquare was one of the first applications to do this. They would give you electronic badges and crown you as mayor as you did certain things on their mobile app. It was (and still is) amazing to see what people will do for a little electronic badge and the electronic title of mayor (Turns out this works in the offline world as well. There’s a reason boy scouts give out badges, beads and pins.). The question is how can we apply rewards systems to incentivize healthy behavior and wellness?

To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone crack the gamification code in healthcare. Although, I think the concept is just beginning. I predict in the next couple years that we’re going to see some amazing mobile and web applications that really drastically impact our motivation to healthy living.

The closest I’ve seen so far has been something like the Nike+ device and website. It’s a simple device that tracks your running habits either in a watch, iPod or even in your shoe. Then, that device uploads your running data to a website where you can create and track your running progress. It also provides a social experience, but that’s a topic for another day.

I actually find these tracking device/website combinations (see the FitBit and DigiFit as other examples) to be some of the most interesting things happening when it comes to pro active treating of healthy patients. A while back I predicted a whole plethora of medical tracking devices are going to hit the market. This is happening and will continue for many years to come. I heard one guy interviewed who talked about one day (many years from now) having little mini processors attached to every nerve or blood cell in our body. Ok, that’s kind of creepy to think about, but personal monitoring of our body is a burgeoning field in healthcare.

Crunching All the Personal Healthcare Device Data
The question once we’re monitoring all of these various vital signs and health information is what are we going to do with that information. Is it reasonable to think that we’ll be able to use computers to crunch through all the data and provide a self service analysis of all the data collected? Yes, Watson did some amazing things on Jeopardy, but I think we’re far away from the day when this type of self service crunching of all the medical data we collect will be possible.

Yes, that means we’re still going to need doctors and other healthcare professionals who help us analyze the data that we’re collecting and dealing with the health issues that are related to that data. In fact, I predict a whole new breed of doctor will come together that will be specialized at analyzing this data and treating even the healthy patients.

Future Healthy Patient Doctor Relationship
This all comes full circle when you go back to the start of this discussion: the doctor patient relationship. How are doctors going to see all this health information we’re collecting? Where are we going to have these healthy patient interactions with doctors? I predict that it will be through patient portals that are connected to a physician’s EHR.

I and every blogger I’ve ever known has been a stats junkie. We’re addicted to checking our stats. There’s no reason we wouldn’t be just as addicted to checking our health stats on a patient portal. The problem is that the patient portals I’ve seen aren’t there yet. Plus, most doctors aren’t yet ready for this type of healthy patient interaction around such a large set of data. Although, I predict we’ll get there and it will change the doctor patient relationship forever.

Paying Doctors for Quality

Posted on October 25, 2010 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 was listening to a doctor about the reimbursement movement that’s happening in healthcare towards paying for quality instead of procedures (pay for performance or other names). He said, “It’s the right direction, but we need more research on how to measure the quality of a doctor.” Then another doctor colleague said, “In fact, in many cases the outcome that you want is that NOTHING happens. It’s harder to measure and pay nothing.”

I must admit that I’m far from an expert on pay for performance and other possible changes to physician reimbursement, but I found these two comments really insightful. I think they do a good job of describing the challenge of paying doctors based on performance is going to have in the future.

One of the major challenges is with the time needed to measure the performance before you pay the doctor. Often you can’t judge the performance until months later and reimbursement months later isn’t a good motivational model.

One thing seems clear to me about pay for performance. We’ll never even be able to really consider going to a pay for performance model without broad EMR adoption. The data we’ll need to change the reimbursement model will require the data that an EMR software can produce.

I’d love to hear what other challenges people see with the pay for performance model of reimbursement.

Making the Switch to Web-based Medical Practice Management

Posted on January 22, 2009 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 invited the President and Owner of Great Acclaim LLC to do a guest post for this blog talking about the benefits of switching to a web based medical practice management. The hope was to illustrate the increased reimbursement that can be achieved by using a well managed practice management software (or SAAS – Software as a Service).

This blog has focused a lot on EMR and EHR, but hasn’t focused enough on the benefits of an electronic practice management service. The following guest post from Dan Williams will hopefully shed some more light on the benefits of a web based medical practice management implementation.

Guest Post by Dan Williams
Physicians face an array of options linked with the decision to switch to Web-based practice management solutions. Like EMR implementation, some doctors are reluctant to make the switch, citing reasons such as fear of change, fear of commitment to a provider, or fear of investment (“it’s just too costly”). However, once practice managers understand the value of a Web-based solution, and how that solution can easily and immediately lower claim rejection percentages, the fears will be seen as unwarranted.

With an industry average of nearly 30% in third party claims rejection, a client-server model cannot keep up with the constant process and coding changes the insurance companies are introducing into the reimbursement system. There are millions of coding combinations and they change regularly. Many doctors hire out to manage the business aspects of their practices, and may not even realize how much money they are losing through poor management, security threats, or simple ignorance of the solutions available. Medical professionals are accustomed to trusting in the newest proven advances to solve medical problems for their patients. It’s time they trust proven technological advances to solve business problems as well.

After firing their previous outsourced billing providers, several Seattle-area physicians’ practices recently hired Great Acclaim, a specialized outsourced medical billing firm, to handle billing functions. The firm had selected AdvancedMD practice management software based on its Web-based model and customer average of fewer than 5% rejected reimbursement claims. Using this Web-based practice management software, client monthly deposits and reimbursements increased by 50%, as fewer claims were denied and electronic financial transfers (EFTs) now account for 75% of insurance company payments.

Practice management software simplifies staff workflow by combining billing, scheduling and EMR functions. With no need to purchase additional hardware, install server-based software or perform manual data back-ups, initial investment is low, while ROI is maximized. Many practices and billing services find that the need for human review of claims and therefore, the number of man hours required to perform office functions is reduced, leading to greater efficiency and higher profits.

After initial setup and training all of its clients’ staff with the same software, Great Acclaim has eliminated integration obstacles. Nothing gets lost in paper transfers. From a new patient’s first appointment, physicians and their staff have access to the same information as Great Acclaim does through the Web-based model – anytime and anywhere.

Not only have client practices’ workflows improved since making the switch, but they no longer face a high financial security risk, as those receiving payments aren’t the same individuals who manage the billing. The software is designed to inhibit fraud. All of this equals less risk and more rewards for physicians. Or, as Great Acclaim’s clients have concluded: 50% higher returns for the same effort on the part of doctors—a great deal.

Dan Williams, a former software industry expert, is the President and Owner of Seattle-area outsourced medical billing firm Great Acclaim LLC.