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CMS Redefines Telemedicine by Bringing Better Care to 15 Million Patients and Huge Profitability to Medical Facilities

Posted on September 17, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Donald Voltz, MD.
Donald Voltz - Zoeticx
Telemedicine is about reaching out to patients in remote locations, but limited to videoconferencing between patients and health providers. It is similar to a face-to-face service with the exception that the patient and primary care provider are not physically together. Such efficiency is limited in term of scope and only addresses the geographical challenge and scarcity of physician availability, a far cry from what CMS wanted for its Chronic Care Management Services (CCM) which would fundamentally change telemedicine as it is practiced.

CCM services bring the telemedicine definition to the next level – a quiet continuous monitoring and collaboration from all care services to the patient, given the ability to anticipate and engage in care issues. Such ability not only curbs care costs, it would also increase care provider bandwidth, giving them the ability to cover more patients with better efficiency. The challenge is not on the requirements part of CCM services, but the lack of an IT solution to really address all CMS guidelines, including its intent to enforce the concepts through the healthcare industry.

The New England Journal of Medicine has covered the major challenges from the new CCM guidelines, touching on all the major shortcomings in today healthcare IT offerings.  Healthcare providers recognized that the fee-for-service system, which restricts payments for primary care to office-based visits, is poorly designed to support the core activities of primary care, which involve substantial time outside office visits for tasks such as care coordination, patient communication, medication refills, and care provided electronically or by telephone.

The time has come for a paradigm shift to reengineer how we deliver care and manage our patients. To arrive at a new plateau requires rethinking the needs of our patients and how to meet these needs in an already resource constrained system. Unless we develop solutions that both integrate with and enhance the technologies currently available and those yet to be realized, we will not realize a return on health IT investment.  This needs to be an area of focus for hospital CEOs, CIOs and CMOs.

Huge Market Opportunity

According to the 2010 Census, the number of people older than 65 years was 40 million with increasing trends to 56 million in 2020 and not reaching a plateau until 2050 at 83.7 million.  With two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries having two or more chronic conditions while one-third has more than three chronic conditions according to CMS data, putting the number of patients who qualify for CCM services at 15 million. This number is predicted to continue on an upward trend until 2050.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the growing burden this trend in chronic disease places on the healthcare system and addressed the need for innovative solutions in their 2002 report. While the potential market is huge, in the billions of dollars yearly, healthcare organizations have been struggling to address the CMS guidelines with key requirements from CMS. We can no longer afford not to address the needs of patient with chronic medical conditions along with engaging them in their healthcare decisions.

CMS’ CCM guidelines are as follows:

  • 24×7 access to clinical staff
  • Patient care continuum
  • Collaboration, coordination between primary care providers and other care services
  • Electronic management of care transition among care providers
  • Coordination between home and community care services
  • Patient engagement

Here is how these guidelines are now being addressed:

The Patient-Centric Model

While each patient has a primary care provider who is responsible for CCM service, they are not confined to receiving care in a single practice or institution. The primary care provider assumes the role of care coordinator, but care is likely to be distributed between multiple care providers, often across different care locations. In a patient-centric care model, care services can come from any care providers – geographically and organizationally diverse, necessitating an accountable provider to coordinate and orchestrate high-quality care across multiple chronic conditions.

Secure Electronic Care Transition

CMS clearly states these CCM care plans must be electronically available at all times to all care providers who will be delivering care to these patients, not available by faxing, or scanning as patient data is currently shared. The chronic care management plan must be available to all healthcare providers who might take care of these patients 24×7. In addition, the primary care provider who assumes the care coordinator responsibility for a patient is expected to follow-up on the care delivered, additional needs of the patient and changes in chronic condition that may have been addressed by a healthcare professional remote to the patients’ primary practice.

CMS neither authorizes how such a CCM system is designed nor enforces how efficient the implemented care service is. The monthly reimbursement limits the time and additional resources physicians are able to allocate for the development, implementation and daily operations of a CCM program in their practice. The manual implementation of a system that meets all of the requirements defined by the CMS will far exceed the reimbursement recovered. It is also likely to be inferior to one with some degree of automation coupled with messaging when a patient’s condition changes or their chronic care management plan is accessed by other providers. Efficiency along with automated logging of time spent on care coordination are critical requirements for a service to be effective.

A CCM service solution must meet the requirements defined by CMS while integrating into the current operational structure of primary care practice and integrate with current health IT systems and manage the secure documentation flow.  It must also offer a built-in notification system to alert physicians to changes in patient status and/or access to the care plan while maintaining an efficient operation in clinics with a lower overhead and no need for additional infrastructure.

While CMS does not enforce the efficiency of a CCM care service, the monthly payment must represent an increase of revenue to care providers. Care providers cannot implement a new potential code while increasing its cost due to manual labor increase. So, efficiency must be part of the solution requirements.

The answer to CCM service would be a new healthcare application offering secure documentation flow, built-in notification and collaboration services to support a low cost, efficient operation for clinics.

The CCM application must address the following requirements:

  • No disruption of existing services. The application must operate and integrate seamlessly with any existing EHR so to not change provider workflow or disrupt current processes; defining a very stringent requirement to keep the existing EHR systems untouched and unchanged while allowing for this new service to co-exist.
  • Secure electronic care transition with CCM care plan sharing. Patients can engage with this new care service even when the service may not be contained within the same network as the primary care provider. Patients ultimately maintain control of what information and with whom this information is shared. The primary care provider is responsible for maintaining the CCM care plan, as well as the patient, and should expect any information shared will be used for a single care session and not beyond it. Although the CCM care plan is expected to contain the most up-to-date medication information, primary care providers are not interested in opening up their entire system to others, but instead need to maintain control and secure access while allowing for access to these protected documents.
  • Automation, automation and automation. Efficiency of the whole CCM service must be at the core so that primary care providers can enhance patient care without adding expense and resources to implement it. Consider a patient with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) where continuous monitoring of weight is critical for early intervention and the avoidance of hospitalizations. To engage patient’s in their care, they must be given a mechanism to report daily weight to their primary care provider. The primary care provider must have a solution where attention is given if the patient’s condition so it not has exceeded a certain threshold. Automation is required so that primary care providers can be efficient and only given attention when attention is required. Automation must be in place so that no activities such as follow-up would be omitted.
  • An EHR-agnostics solution. Implementation of a CCM service must address the constraints of a non-homogeneous environment. Healthcare organizations and physician practices are not able to control the EHR environments when patients receive care outside of their primary practice. The requirement for electronic document exchange along with the expectation of the latest patient health data being contained in the CCM care plan goes beyond a static solution offered by a data duplicated HIE (Health Information Exchange) infrastructure.
  • Visible value to a patient. A critical requirement for CMS reimbursement is a patient’s opting into a CCM management program that includes out-of-pocket monthly co-pay for the service of 8 dollars per month. A patient must see the value for CCM services which can be demonstrated through enhanced engagement, access to providers and the assurance that their condition is being overseen each month by their chronic care coordinator. Anticipation of an early intervention for potential problems along with the ability to inquire and receive feedback on their condition(s) brings added value to patients and their loved ones. This value can only be delivered if such a service can be developed in an efficient manner with a low cost of operating and a limited expansion of personal to bring it about.
  • Documentation of discontinuous time spent on care coordination. CMS requires at least 20 minutes are spent on care coordination activities each month in order to bill for this for patients enrolled in the program. Without a seamless component to log such activity, the efficiency of the overall process comes into question. A comprehensive CCM application must address the practice management side to account for and generate monthly reports of the CCM activities completed.

Future of Healthcare Impacted by Integration, Patient Data and New Modes of Delivery

The future of healthcare will be impacted by the integration of technology, patient collected data, and enhancement of healthcare professionals’ ability to deliver care in modes not yet imaged. With respect to management of chronic medical conditions, leveraging technology to coordinate the care delivered so these patients can lead productive lives at a reduced cost with less time in the hospital for exacerbations of their disease is a goal that is now possible.

Development of tools to coordinate care without additional health IT expense, in either time spent learning a new workflow or cost of such an application, is now available. Finding such an innovate model that works for patients, healthcare professionals and health systems for chronic care management will likely spread into other areas of healthcare. CCM services and care coordination allow remote, discontinuous, non-face-to-face management of patients with complex health conditions when it meets stringent requirements – a quiet, continuous monitor of health status and interventions, collaboration of all care delivered to the patient, an ability to anticipate, engage and alert patients and care professionals of impending issues, along with the administrative side of billing and logging such activity.

This ability not only changes the direction of the chronic care cost curve, it also increases care provider bandwidth, giving them the ability to successfully manage more patient, with better efficiency while delivering high quality, valuable care.

About Donald Voltz, MD
Donald Voltz, MD, Aultman Hospital, Department of Anesthesiology, Medical Director of the Main Operating Room, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Case Western Reserve University and Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Board-certified in anesthesiology and clinical informatics, Dr. Voltz is a researcher, medical educator, and entrepreneur. With more than 15 years of experience in healthcare, Dr. Voltz has been involved with many facets of medicine. He has performed basic science and clinical research and has experience in the translation of ideas into viable medical systems and devices.

Thanh Tran, CEO of Zoeticx, also contributed.

Top Ten Reasons for EHR’s to Use Middleware for Connectivity

Posted on March 10, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx, Inc.
Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx
Where should CIOs and IT professionals look to address EHR interoperability?  Middleware!

A middleware architecture has been shown to be the best technological solution for addressing the problem of EHR interoperability. The middleware platform facilitates the transparent, yet secure, access of patient health data, directly from the various databases where it is stored. A server-based middleware framework supporting access to the various patient health data stores allows for a scalable, unified and standardized platform for applications to be developed upon. The middleware architectural design has been successfully used to link data from multiple databases, irrespective to the database platform or where the database is located.

Don’t take my word for it.  Here are ten good reasons to consider middleware.

  • Application Developers Can Focus on Healthcare Apps—Enables medical record app developers to focus on their healthcare solution by freeing them from dealing with a diverse, complex EHR infrastructure.
  • Inspires the Next Generation of Healthcare Innovative Solutions—These solutions are inspired by expanding the market for the next generation of healthcare applications rather than being tied down to a stack approach, depending on the particular EHR vendor.
  • Improves Patient Care OutcomesPatients will receive better healthcare outcomes when application developers can inspire more Patients will also benefit from the next generation of applications as they will address providers’ specific needs in diverse operational care environments.
  • Saves Healthcare IT Dollars—Focuses the healthcare IT budget on addressing providers’ needs instead of building and re-building the patient record infrastructure.
  • Proven Technology—A proven technology used for decades in many industries such as financial, retail, manufacturing and other markets.
  • Easy Integration—Enables healthcare integration with diverse, deployed legacy systems, including EHR systems. It addresses EHR interoperability as part of overall integration challenges.
  • Passive to Active Healthcare IT Environment—It turns passive healthcare IT environments into active ones to enhance communication and collaboration among care providers.
  • Avoids Data Duplication—Cost efficient, simplified administration. Offers a better privacy protection solution than HIEs by addressing EHR interoperability while fulfilling the demand to support the patient care continuum in an operational care environment.
  • Eliminates Wastefulness—Addressing healthcare IT integration is much more cost efficient than the “Rip-and-Replace” approach.
  • Extends EHR Usefulness—Protects and extends healthcare IT investments in EHR and EMR systems.

About Thanh Tran
Thanh Tran is CEO of Zoeticx, Inc., a medical software company located in San Jose, CA. He is a 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley’s IT industry and has held executive positions at many leading software companies.

The Many Faces and Facets of EHR Interoperability

Posted on December 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx, Inc.
Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx
Interoperability is the ability to make sub-systems and organizations work together (inter-operate) for attainment of a common goal. In healthcare, implementation and connection of EHR systems and the data they collect allows for us to impact patient care to become a value-driven one for all patients.

The opposite of interoperability is not the lack of connecting EHR systems, but instead the failure of healthcare systems and organizations to collaborate in an efficient, effective, safe and consistent way to support patient care. To better understand the ecosystem of healthcare, we need to look at this redefined concept of interoperability in greater depth while also considering the needs of various stakeholders and their views of the system.

Care Providers Want Care Continuum

Care Providers are not a single entity whose needs can be fulfilled with a single solution. The focus of all providers is on the patient care continuum and their role in it. The lack of EHR interoperability is fundamentally defined as the inability to share patient medical records across this continuum.

Each provider brings a unique view and delivers specialized, customized care to the patient over different time periods. The care delivered by each provider is interdependent on other providers taking care of the patient for a current encounter. To deliver care, healthcare providers must have the ability to access not only summary information about a patient, or the outcome of a prior intervention, but also be able to drill down into the specific data where they can provide meaning and insight for the patient and the rest of the care team.

Collaborative healthcare, care delivered by specialized and focus teams of providers, has become standard in medicine. Access to the information and meaning provided by various providers is essential. It must be delivered in near time, to the proper provider on the team.

For care providers it is about the ability to see the whole care spectrum; to drill into details with on-demand and near time access.

IT Pros Need Information Flow

With healthcare IT pros, interoperability begins with patient medical information flow.  As the patient transits through healthcare facilities, they are treated by different care providers using different systems. Care providers depend on the above medical flow to ensure effective and quality care delivery. Proprietary patient medical records from diverse EHR systems prohibit that flow, leaving healthcare IT crippled, along with care providers, in enabling a seamless workflow across the system.

Healthcare IT organizations impacted by merger and acquisition face the lack of EHR interoperability under another major challenge, IT integration of disparate EHR systems. Rip and replace is a costly solution to achieving integration and overcoming EHR interoperability among diverse EHR systems.

Furthermore, healthcare IT faces the continued demand for solutions to patient care effectiveness, efficiency and improving patient care quality. However, healthcare IT application developers have been bogged down by the lack of EHR interoperability as well. The EHR agnostic environment is required to seal off applications from the EHR infrastructure. Without this layer, the development would be focused on addressing infrastructure challenges instead of innovative solutions for care providers.

As any other IT organization, healthcare IT faces the challenge of doing more with less. EHR systems share a number of characteristics as its siblings, enterprise applications from other IT industries. EHR systems form the backbone of healthcare systems, but they are also complex, slow to react to care providers’ requirements and costly to maintain. That cost is already in place, leaving healthcare IT with a smaller budget to address the lack of interoperability. Any solutions to EHR interoperability must be low total cost of ownership, lightweight to deploy and portable to a variety of healthcare IT applications.

Administrators Require Compliance and Data Protection

Healthcare administration is charged with complying with patient privacy requirements (HIPAA). Solutions for EHR interoperability with additional copies of patient medical records are not optimal since they represent additional compliance activities and agreements (such as Data Service Agreement) between the data source and destination. These additional compliance activities represent complexity, cost and risk of non-compliance that would result in potential penalties, legal and IT maintenance costs. For healthcare administration, simplicity and practicability of the solution are critical.

Patients Suffer Most

The greatest impact to all stakeholders in EHR interoperability is on the patient. Being at the center of the healthcare delivery model, patients must be brought into the interoperability equation. A vital component for gaining control of increasing healthcare expenditures is engagement of patients.

Not only do we need patient engagement, but patients are demanding security and control over who accesses their medical data. These two are not independent, but are intimately connected. Without control and understanding of who accesses the data, patients will lose trust in the system leading to disengagement and disempowerment.

Patient control over medical record access must be dynamic, secure and able to occur in near time. Above all, patients have full control of who has the full access of their medical records. Current concepts of Opt-In or Opt-Out choice for medical data duplication does not address these dynamic and secure requirements and give patients the control of who has access.

The Optimal EHR Interoperability Solution

EHR systems are database oriented. To address EHR interoperability by creating an additional centralized database layer is not an optimal approach, let alone the failure to satisfy the stakeholders impacted.

The next wave of healthcare challenges needs to be addressed by innovative applications aimed at supporting care providers. The best approach is a middleware infrastructure, supporting open architecture for healthcare, capable of performing data switching and value added data redistribution capabilities from various EHR systems. The middleware solution must be lightweight, embedded as part of healthcare applications supporting on-demand, near time access to diverse EHR systems. It is where interoperability must be implemented.

Thanh Tran is CEO of Zoeticx, Inc., a medical software company located in San Jose, CA. He is a 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley’s IT industry and has held executive positions at many leading software companies. Zoeticx offers a middleware infrastructure supporting on-demand, near time access to diverse EHR systems.

One Platform to Connect to All EHR Software

Posted on February 6, 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 talked for years with people who want to solve the problem of connecting their non-EHR software to all the EHR vendors out there. Entrepreneur after entrepeneur has asked me how they can connect their product to ALL the EHR vendors. It usually ends up being a question like, “Isn’t there just one company we could connect to that will connect us to all the EHR vendors out there?”

I’ve dreamed about this as well. In fact, I recently wrote a post on Hospital EMR and EHR titled “Meaningful Use Drove the Data Gathering” where I suggest things like “EHR data is a treasure trove of opportunity.” and “In the future, EHR vendors will be differentiated more on the marketplace of third party applications they support than on their own in house developed apps.”

The problem is that even if every EHR vendor were to open up their application to third party applications, a startup company doesn’t want to have to integrate with all 300+ EHR vendors out there. Instead, they’d much rather integrate with one company who can connect them to all the other EHR vendors.

While a simple solution to connect to every EHR isn’t available yet, In a recent chat with Thanh Tran, Founder of Zoeticx, he showed me the closest thing to this vision that I’ve seen.

This slide shows what Zoeticx has built so far and a little bit of their vision for the future. When I saw this slide, it looked very much like what I described above.
Zoeticx Data Platform

As the slide shows, it only connects to 4 EHR vendors (5 EHR software) right now. So, they still have a lot of work to do to make this model work across all 300+ EHR vendors. However, it displays a vision of what’s possible if a company like Zoeticx builds the right middleware to connect EHR software to third party software.

After talking with Thanh Tran, you could tell that he lived, breathed, and loved the middleware space. He understood what it took to build a great middleware. For example, Zoeticx has a number of applications that leverage the middleware that they’re building. Some might argue that this makes Zoeticx a product company and not a middleware company. However, those that say this don’t understand what it takes to make great middleware.

By Zoeticx having some applications which leverage their middleware, they accomplish a couple very important things. First, they are essentially “eating their own dog food” and get to see first hand the challenges of building an application that uses their middleware. This will improve the middleware product better than any other technique. Second, Zoeticx applications will serve as essentially a set of demo applications which can be used to demonstrate what’s possible. Without these essentially demo applications, it’s often hard for people to understand how an API like Zoeticx can be used.

Certainly it’s possible that the Zoeticx application business is so good that they don’t go after the middleware opportunity. However, knowing Thanh’s background makes me think that this is an unlikely possibility. He wants Zoeticx to be a middleware company.

Thanh Tran also said something really intriguing about the latest EHR that they connected to their universal patient clinical data model (Zoeticx Patient Clarity). He said that when they added the new EHR, they didn’t have to change the Zoeticx Patient Clarity side of the equation at all. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out as they connect to more and more EHR vendors.

In fact, I believe that’s the next key step for Zoeticx. They need to connect with the other EHR vendors. Although, my guess is that once they get enough momentum behind what they’re doing, then they can provide an API for EHR vendors and other software vendors to create a gateway to Zoeticx. Then, they’ll have something really powerful.

It’s still early for Zoeticx. We’ll see how they do at attracting third party applications to their platform. We’ll see how their gateways to EHR vendors go and how they’re able to scale up the number of EHR vendors they work with. However, their vision gave me some hope that we could have a simple model for entrepreneurs that want to connect their health IT software with multiple EHR software with one integration.