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Optimization Dominates CHIME17 Discussions

Posted on November 8, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

“Our EHR Implementation is done”

“We completed our EHR roll-out last year”

“The last EHR module has gone live”

With these words, CIO presenters at the recent CHIME Fall CIO Forum (CHIME17) ushered in a new era in Healthcare IT. Instead of EHR implementations dominating the discussion, optimization was the hot topic of discussion at the event.

“It’s clear to us that CIOs are dedicating more time and energy towards optimizing their systems rather than just implementing them”, says Ed Rucinski, Senior Vice President Worldwide Healthcare Sales at Nuance and CHIME17 attendee. “Our clients, for example, are looking for ways to simplify the documentation physicians have to do in their EHRs so that they can focus their attention back on helping patients.”

Finding ways to better utilize the EHR infrastructure was the subject of many CHIME17 sessions. In one, Sallie Arnett, Vice President Information Systems and Chief Information Officer at Licking Memorial Health Systems, presented how her organization is leveraging EHR and patient monitoring data to detect the early signs of sepsis. Over 62 lives were saved through the work of Arnett and the staff at Licking Memorial.

These results would not have been possible without the investments made in EHR implementations and other digitization efforts.

Several sessions at CHIME17 were centered on the changing role of CMIOs. For the past several years CMIOs have been synonymous with EHR implementations. Now with EHRs up and running, CHIME presenters spoke about how CMIOs were morphing into CHIOs – Chief Health Information Officers – charged with extracting clinical value from the data within the hospital’s systems. This shift in focus is further evidence that healthcare is beginning to move beyond implementation and that we are entering a time of EHR optimization.

The new focus on optimization is a welcome development. It signifies that we are finally near the end of the road-building phase of the inudstry’s EHR journey and we are getting to the phase where we start building things to make the roads useful (like gas stations, diners and cars).

Personally I am looking forward to what the next few years will bring. It will be exciting to see how decision support tools, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, personalized medicine applications and population health systems will leverage the data that is accumulating in EHRs. The next few years will be truly interesting for CIOs.

Is It Time To Redefine Interoperability?

Posted on October 26, 2017 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.

Recently, an article appearing in healthcare journal HealthAffairs argued that hospitals’ progress toward interoperability has been modest to date. The article, which looked at the extent to which hospitals found, sent, received and integrated information from outside providers in 2015, found that they’d made few gains across all four categories.

Researchers found that the percent of hospitals engaging in all four activities rose to 29.7% that year, up from 24.5% in 2014. The two activities that grew the most in frequency were sending (growing 8.1%) and receiving (8.4%). Despite this expansion, only 18.7% of hospitals reported that they used this data often. The extent to which hospitals integrated the information they received didn’t change from 2014 to 2015.

Interesting, isn’t it, how these stats fail to align with what we know of hospitals’ priorities?  Not only did the rate hospitals sent and received data increase slowly between those two years, hospitals don’t seem to be making any advances in integrating (and presumably, using) shared data. This doesn’t make sense given hospitals’ intense efforts to make interoperability happen.

The question is, are hospitals still limping along in their efforts, or are we failing to measure their progress effectively? For years now, looking at the extent to which they sent/received/found/integrated data has been the accepted yardstick most quarters. To my knowledge, though, those metrics haven’t been validated by formal research as being the best way to define and capture levels of interoperability.

Yes, hospital health data interoperability may be moving as slowly as the HealthAffairs article suggests. After all, I hardly have to tell readers like you how difficult it has been to foster interoperability in any form, and how challenging it has been to achieve any kind of consensus on data staring standards. If someone tells progress toward health data exchange between hospitals hasn’t reached robust levels yet, it probably won’t surprise you in the least.

Still, before we draw the sweeping conclusions about something as important as interoperability, it probably wouldn’t hurt to double-check that we’re asking the right questions.

For example, is the extent to which providers send data to outside organizations as important as the extent to which they receive such data?  I know, in theory, that health data exchanges would be just that, a back and forth between parties on both sides. Certainly, such arrangements are probably better for the industry as a whole long term. But does that mean we should discount the importance of one side or the other of the process?

Perhaps more importantly, at least in my book, is the degree to which hospitals integrate the data into their own systems a good proxy for measuring who’s making interoperability progress? And should be assumed that if they integrate the data, they’re likely to use it to improve outcomes or streamline care?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that the existing metrics are useless. However, it would be nice to know whether they actually measure what we want them to measure. We need to validate our tools if we want use them to make important judgments about care delivery. Otherwise, why bother with measurements in the first place?

NY-Based HIE Captures One Million Patient Consents

Posted on September 28, 2017 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.

One of the big obstacles to the free exchange of health data is obtaining patient consent to share that data. It’s all well and good if we can bring exchange partners onto a single data sharing format, but if patients don’t consent to that exchange things get ugly. It’s critical that healthcare organizations solve this problem, because without patient consent HIEs are dead in the water.

Given these issues, I was intrigued to read a press release from HEALTHeLINK, an HIE serving Western New York, which announced that it had obtained one million patient consents to share their PHI. HEALTHeLINK connects nearly 4,600 physicians, along with hospitals, health plans and other healthcare providers. It’s part of a larger HIE, the Statewide Health Information Network of New York.

How did HEALTHeLINK obtain the consents? Apparently, there was no magic involved. The HIE made consent forms available at hospitals and doctors’ offices throughout its network, as well as making the forms available for download at whyhealthelink.com. (It may also have helped that they can be downloaded in any of 12 languages.)

I downloaded the consent form myself, and I must say it’s not complicated.

Patients only need to fill out a single page, which gives them the option to a) permit participating providers to access all of their electronic health information via the HIE, b) allow full access to the data except for specific participants, c) permit health data sharing only with specific participants, d) only offer access to their records in an emergency situation, and e) forbid HIE participants to access their health data even in the case of an emergency situation.

About 95% of those who consented chose option a, which seems a bit remarkable to me. Given the current level of data breaches in news, I would’ve predicted that more patients would opt out to some degree.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of patients gave treating providers the ability to view their lab reports, medication history, diagnostic images and several additional categories of health information.

I wish I could tell you what HEALTHeLINK has done to inspire trust, but I don’t know completely. I suspect, however, that provider buy-in played a significant role here. While none of this is mentioned in the HIE’s press release or even on its website, I’m betting that the HIE team did a good job of firing up physicians. After all, if you’re going to pick someone patients would trust, physicians would be your best choice.

On the other hand, it’s also possible patients are beginning to get the importance of having all of the data available during care. While much of health IT is too abstruse for the layman (or woman), the idea that doctors need to know your medical history is clearly beginning to resonate with your average patient.

IT Leaders Question Allscripts Acquisition of McKesson EIS

Posted on August 31, 2017 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.

Not long ago, I shared the results of a poll featured on HISTalk on the potential benefits of the Allscripts acquisition of McKesson EIS. The poll asked readers “Who will benefit most from the proposed acquisition of McKesson EIS by Allscripts?”

Roughly equal numbers of respondents said Allscripts customers would benefit (29%) and McKesson customers (27%). However, a new research report from Reaction Data suggests that many of their peers doubt that things will work out for McKesson customers or even do much to build Allscripts’ market position.

A number of health IT leaders quoted in the report say they’re fearful that McKesson solutions will get short shrift under Allscripts management. Others suggest that both vendors are behind the curve, especially McKesson, and that Allscripts is unlikely to spend enough money on it to catch up to current standards.

Their comments included the following observations:

  • I don’t see Allscripts as a major player in this space anymore and the acquisition will likely further stress the enterprise. Perhaps in combination they can cobble together a suite of tools, but integration will likely be clunky at best for some time.” – CIO
  • I do not see that McKesson brings anything beneficial to Allscripts, other than more users. McKesson’s products are very different from Allscripts’ current products and so will further dilute their efforts to bring quality product forward.” –CFO
  • McKesson is behind. Does not look like a smart choice moving forward.” –Director of IT
  • Just like Cerner buying Siemens, we were told they would support it and yada yada, here we are on Cerner after having to drop much more cash than we should have been required to.”—CIO

it’s worth noting, for the record, that all the feedback on the acquisition wasn’t negative. Positive comments included the following:

  • Combining Paragon, as the only true integrated, Microsoft SQL-based, hospital and ambulatory HIS on the market, with a solid vendor that focuses exclusively on HIT, is a win-win for the healthcare industry.” – CIO
  • “McKesson was losing and continues to lose ground on EHR systems to Epic and Cerner. They are withering on the vine. This acquisition will help them solidify their position in the market.”– Vice President of Finance

Still, most health IT leaders seemed to think the deal wouldn’t help either party that much. In particular, they were skeptical that McKesson’s high-profile Paragon solution was salvageable. “Paragon…is antiquated,” wrote one manager of information technology. “It will take a big bag of money and a lot of time to fix that.”

To summarize, while HIT execs conceded that the merger might buy Allscripts some customers and time, they felt it wasn’t likely to benefit their organizations. In fact, some argued that the deal could actually undercut the future of their McKesson systems: “Allscripts may focus on their own EMR and how those products I have with McKesson will interact with them rather than on McKesson products as a whole,” worried one director of information technology.

On top of everything else, the previous analysis by HISTalk doesn’t inspire much confidence that the acquisition will work on a corporate level. The analysis asserts that EMR vendors should be judged by the number of 250+ bed hospitals they have as customers, and points out that Allscripts controls only 6% of that market. (Epic, in contrast, has 20%, the article notes, citing HIMSS Analytics data.)

If I’m reading this right, it seems that Allscripts will take two mediocre and/or unfashionable solution sets and try to crossbreed them into a more popular set of tools, in the process scaring whatever loyal customers they have left. All sarcasm aside, I’d like to ask: Has this ever worked before?

Nurses Still Unhappy With EHRs

Posted on August 21, 2017 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 research report looking at nurses’ perceptions of EHRs suggests that despite countless iterations, many still don’t meet the needs of one of their key user groups. While the statistics included in the report are of some value, the open text responses nurses shared tell a particularly important story of what they’re facing of late.

The study, which was conducted by Reaction Data, draws on responses from 245 nurses and nurse leaders, 85% of whom work for a hospital and 15% a medical practice. Categories in which the participants fell broke out as follows:

* Nurses                                          49%
* CNOs                                            18%
* Nurse Managers                           14%
* Directors of Nursing                     12%
* Nurse Practitioners                       2%
* Informatics Nurse                         2%
* VP of Nursing                               2%
* Director, Clinical Informatics        1%

As with most other research houses, Reaction gets the party started by offering a list of vendors’ market share. I take all of these assessments with a grain of salt, but for what it’s worth their data ranks Epic and Meditech at the top, with a 20% market share each, followed by Cerner at 18%, Allscripts with 8% and McKesson with 6%.

The report summary I’ve used to write this item doesn’t share its stats on how the nurses’ ranked specific platforms and how likely they were to recommend those platforms. However, it does note that 63% of respondents said their organization wasn’t actively looking at replacing their EHR, while just 17% said that their employer was actively looking. (Twenty percent said they didn’t know.)

Where the rubber really hit the road, though, was in the comments section. When asked what the EHR needed to improve to support them, nurses had some serious complaints to air:

  • “Many aspects, too many to list. Unfortunately we ‘customized’ many programs, so they don’t necessarily speak to each other…” —Nurse Manager
  • “When we purchased this system 4 years ago, we were told that everything would be unified on one platform within 2 years, but this did not happen and will not happen.” –CNO
  • “Horrible and is a patient safety risk!” –RN
  • “Coordination of care. Very fragmented documentation.” –CNO

So let’s see: We’ve got incompatible modules, questionable execution, safety risks and basic patient care support problems. While the vendors aren’t responsible for customers’ integration problems, I’d find this report disheartening if I were on their team. It seems to me that they ought to step up and address issues like these. I wonder if they see these things as their responsibility?

In the meantime, I’d like to offer a quick postscript. The report’s introduction makes a point of noting – rightly, I think – that the inclusion of a high percentage of non-manager nurses makes the study results far more valuable. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

In fact, some of the vendors the firm met with said flat out that they only want to know what executives have to say – and that other users’ views didn’t matter to them.

Wow. I won’t respond any further than to promise that I’ll stomp all over that premise in a separate column. Stay tuned.

Will ACOs Face Tough Antitrust Scrutiny?

Posted on August 2, 2017 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.

For some reason, I’ve always been interested in antitrust regulation, not just in the healthcare industry but across the board.

To me, there’s something fascinating about how federal agencies define markets, figure out what constitutes an unfair level of market dominance and decide which deals are out of bounds. For someone who’s not a lawyer, perhaps that’s a strange sort of geeking out to do, but there you have it.

Obviously, given how complex industry relationships are, healthcare relationships are fraught with antitrust issues to ponder. Lately, I’ve begun thinking about how antitrust regulators will look at large ACOs. And I’ve concluded that ACOs will be on the radar of the FTC and U.S. Department of Justice very soon, if they aren’t already.

On their face, ACOs try to dominate markets, so there’s plenty of potential for them to tip the scales too far in their favor for regulators to ignore. Their business model involves both vertical and horizontal integration, either of which could be seen as giving participants too much power.

Please take the following as a guide from an amateur who follows antitrust issues. Again, IANAL, but my understanding is as follows:

  • Vertical integration in healthcare glues together related entities that serve each other directly, such as health plans, hospitals, physician groups and skilled nursing facilities.
  • Horizontal integration connects mutually interested service providers, including competitors such as rival hospitals.

Even without being a legal whiz, it’s easy to understand why either of these ACO models might lead to (what the feds would see as) a machine that squeezes out uninvolved parties. The fact that these providers may share a single EMR could makes matters worse, as it makes the case that the parties can hoard data which binds patients to their network.

Regardless, it just makes sense that if a health plan builds an ACO network, cherry picking what it sees as the best providers, it’s unlikely that excluded providers will enjoy the same reimbursement health plan partners get. The excluded parties just won’t have as much clout.

Yes, it’s already the case that bigger providers may get either higher reimbursement or higher patient volume from insurers, but ACO business models could intensify the problem.

Meanwhile, if a bunch of competing hospitals or physician practices in a market decide to work together, it seems pretty unlikely that others could enter the market, expand their business or develop new service lines that compete with the ACO. Eventually, many patients would be forced to work with ACO providers. Their health plan will only pay for this market-dominant conglomerate.

Of course, these issues are probably being kicked around in legal circles. I’m equally confident that the ACOs, which can afford high-ticket legal advice, have looked at these concerns as well. But to my knowledge these questions aren’t popping up in the trade press, which suggests to me that they’re not a hot topic in non-legal circles.

Please note that I’m not taking a position here on whether antitrust regulation is fair or appropriate here. I’m just pointing out that if you’re part of an ACO, you may be more vulnerable to antitrust suits than you thought. Any entity which has the power to crush competition and set prices is a potential target.

Hospitals Aren’t Getting Much ROI From RCM Technology

Posted on July 24, 2017 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.

If your IT investments aren’t paying off, your revenue cycle management process is clunky and consumers are defaulting on their bills, you’re in a pretty rocky situation financially. Unfortunately, that’s just the position hospitals find themselves in lately, according to a new study.

The study, which was conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association and Navigant, surveyed 125 hospital health system chief financial officers and revenue cycle executives.

When they looked at the data, researchers saw that hospitals are being hit with a double whammy. On the one hand, the RCM systems hospitals have in place don’t seem to be cutting it, and on the other, the hospitals are struggling to collect from patients.

Nearly three out of four respondents said that their RCM technology budgets were increasing, with 32% reporting that they were increasing spending by 5% or more. Seventy-seven percent of hospitals with less than 100 beds and 78% of hospitals with 100 to 500 beds plan to increase such spending, the survey found.

The hospital leaders expect that technology investments will improve their RCM capabilities, with 79% considering business intelligence analytics, EHR-enabled workflow or reporting, revenue integrity, coding and physician/clinician documentation options.

Unfortunately, the software infrastructure underneath these apps isn’t performing as well as they’d like. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that their organizations had trouble keeping up with EHR upgrades, or weren’t getting the most out of functional, workflow and reporting improvements. Given these obstacles, which limit hospitals’ overall tech capabilities, these execs have little chance of seeing much ROI from RCM investments.

Not only that, CFOs and RCM leaders weren’t sure how much impact existing technology was having on their organizations. In fact, 41% said they didn’t have methods in place to track how effective their technology enhancements have been.

To address RCM issues, hospital leaders are looking beyond technology. Some said they were tightening up their revenue integrity process, which is designed to ensure that coding and charge capture processes work well and pricing for services is reasonable. Such programs are designed to support reliable financial reporting and efficient operations.

Forty-four percent of respondents said their organizations had established revenue integrity programs, and 22% said revenue integrity was a top RCM focus area for the coming year. Meanwhile, execs whose organizations already had revenue integrity programs in place said that the programs offered significant benefits, including increased net collections (68%), greater charge capture (61%) and reduced compliance risks (61%).

Still, even if a hospital has its RCM house in order, that’s far from the only revenue drain it’s likely to face. More than 90% of respondents think the steady increase in consumer responsibility for care will have an impact on their organizations, particularly rural hospital executives, the study found.

In effort to turn the tide, hospital financial execs are making it easier for consumers to pay their bills, with 93% of respondents offering an online payment portal and 63% rolling out cost-of-care estimation tools. But few hospitals are conducting sophisticated collections initiatives. Only 14% of respondents said they were using advanced modeling tools for predicting propensity to pay, researchers said.

The Fight For Patient Health Data Access Is Just Beginning

Posted on July 11, 2017 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.

When some of us fight to give patients more access to their health records, we pitch everyone on the benefits it can offer — and act as though everyone feels the same way.  But as most of us know, in their heart of hearts, many healthcare industry groups aren’t exactly thrilled about sharing their clinical data.

I’ve seen this first hand, far too many times. As I noted in a previous column, some providers all but refuse to provide me with my health data, and others act like they’re doing me a big favor by deigning to share it. Yet others have put daunting processes in place for collecting your records or make you wait weeks or months for your data. Unfortunately, the truth, however inconvenient it may be, is that they have reasons to act this way.

Sure, in public, hospital execs argue for sharing data with both patients and other institutions. They all know that this can increase patient engagement and boost population health. But in private, they worry that sharing such data will encourage patients to go to other hospitals at will, and possibly arm their competitors in their battle for market share.

Medical groups have their own concerns. Physicians understand that putting data in patient’s hands can lead to better patient self-management, which can tangibly improve outcomes. That’s pretty important in an era when government and commercial payers are demanding measurably improved outcomes.

Still, though they might not admit it, doctors don’t want to deluge patients with a flood of data which could cause them to worry about inconsequential issues, or feel that data-equipped patients will challenge their judgment. And can we please admit that some simply don’t like ceding power over their domain?

Given all of this, I wasn’t surprised to read that several groups are working to improve patients’ access to their health data. Nor was it news to me that such groups are struggling (though it was interesting to hear what they’re doing to help).

MedCity News spoke to the cofounder of one such group, Share for Cures, which works to encourage patients to share their health data for medical research. The group also hopes to foster other forms of patient health data sharing.

Cofounder Jennifer King told MCN that patients face a technology barrier to accessing such records. For example, she notes, existing digital health tools may offer limited interoperability with other data sets, and patients may not be sure how to use portals. Her group is working to remove these obstacles, but “it’s still not easy,” King told a reporter.

Meanwhile, she notes, almost every hospital has implemented a customized medical record, which can often block data sharing even if the hospitals buy EMRs from the same vendor. Meanwhile, if patients have multiple doctors, at least a few will have EMRs that don’t play well with others, so sharing records between them may not be possible, King said.

To address such data sharing issues, King’s nonprofit has created a platform called SHARE, an acronym for System for Health and Research Data Exchange. SHARE lets users collect and aggregate health and wellness data from multiple sources, including physician EMRs, drug stores, mobile health apps and almost half the hospitals in the U.S.

Not only does SHARE make it easy for patients to access their own data, it’s also simple to share that data with medical research teams. This approach offers researchers an important set of benefits, notably the ability to be sure patients have consented to having their data used, King notes. “One of the ways around [HIPAA] is that patient are the true owners,” she said. “With direct patient authorization…it’s not a HIPAA issue because it’s not the doctor sharing it with someone else. It’s the patient sharing it.”

Unfortunately (and this is me talking again) the platform faces the same challenges as any other data sharing initiative.

In this case, the problem is that like other interoperability solutions, SHARE can only amass data that providers are actually able to share, and that leaves a lot of them out of the picture. In other words, it can’t do much to solve the underlying problem. Another major issue is that if patients are reluctant to use even something as simplified as a portal, they’re not to likely to use SHARE either.

I’m all in favor of pushing for greater patient data access, for personal as well as professional reasons. And I’m glad to hear that there are groups springing up to address the problem, which is obviously pretty substantial. I suspect, though, that this is just the beginning of the fight for patient data access.

Until someone comes up with a solution that makes it easy and comfortable for providers to share data, while diffusing their competitive concerns, it’s just going to be more of the same old, same old. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Tips on Implementing Text Analytics in Healthcare

Posted on July 6, 2017 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.

Most of us would agree that extracting clinical data from unstructured physician notes would be great. At present, few organizations have deployed such tools, nor have EMR vendors come to the rescue en masse, and the conventional wisdom holds that text analytics would be crazy expensive. I’ve always suspected that digging out and analyzing this data may be worth the trouble, however.

That’s why I really dug a recent article from HealthCatalyst’s Eric Just, which seemed to offer some worthwhile ideas on how to use text analytics effectively. Just, who is senior vice president of product development, made a good case for giving this approach a try. (Note: HealthCatalyst and partner Regenstrief Institute offer solutions in this area.)

The article includes an interesting case study explaining how healthcare text analytics performed head-to-head against traditional research methods.

It tells the story of a team of analysts in Indiana that set out to identify peripheral artery disease (PAD) patients across two health systems. At first gasp, things weren’t going well. When researchers looked at EMR and claims data, they found that failed to identify over 75% of patients with this condition, but text analytics improved their results dramatically.

Using ICD and CPT codes for PAD, and standard EMR data searches, team members had identified less than 10,000 patients with the disorder. However, once they developed a natural language processing tool designed to sift through text-based data, they discovered that there were at least 41,000 PAD patients in the population they were studying.

To get this kind of results, Just says, there are three key features a medical text analytics tool should have:

  • The medical text analytics software should tailor results to a given user’s needs. For example, he notes that if the user doesn’t have permission to view PHI, the analytics tool should display only nonprivate data.
  • Medical text analytics tools should integrate medical terminology to improve the scope of searches. For example, when a user does a search on the term “diabetes” the search tool should automatically be capable of displaying results for “NIDDM,” as this broadens the search to include more relevant content.
  • Text analytics algorithms should do more than just find relevant terms — they should provide context as well as content. For example, a search for patients with “pneumonia,” done with considering context, would also bring up phrases like “no history of pneumonia.” A better tool would be able to rule out phrases like “no history of pneumonia,” or “family history of pneumonia” from a search for patients who have been treated for this illness.

The piece goes into far more detail than I can summarize here, so I recommend you read it in full if you’re interested in leveraging text analytics for your organization.

But for what it’s worth, I came away from the piece with the sense that analyzing your clinical textual information is well worth the trouble — particularly if EMR vendors being to add such tools to their systems. After all, when it comes to improving outcomes, we need all the help we can get.

Providers Work To Increase Patient Payments By Improving RCM Operations

Posted on June 29, 2017 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 growing body of research on healthcare payment trends is underscoring a painful fact: that consumers are footing a steadily growing share of their medical bills, and sometimes failing to pay. In response, providers are upgrading their revenue cycle management systems and tightening up their collections processes.

A new analysis by payment services vendor InstaMed has concluded that consumer spending on healthcare services should grow to $608 billion by 2019. This is a fairly substantial number even given the high volume of U.S. healthcare spending, which hit $3.4 trillion in 2016.

The growth in patient spending has been fueled by the emergence of high-deductible health plans, which are saddling consumers with increasingly large financial obligations. According to CMS figures cited in the report, the average deductible for covered workers with single coverage has doubled over the past several years, from $735 in 2010 to $1.487 in 2016.

But despite the increasing importance of consumers as healthcare payers, providers don’t seem to be doing enough to inform them about costs. More than 90% of consumers would like to know what the payment responsibility is prior to a provider visit, but they often don’t find out what they owe until they get a bill. What makes things worse is that very few consumers (7%) even know what a deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum are, so they’re ill-prepared to understand bills when they receive them, studies have found.

Providers are waiting longer to collect what they are owed by patients, with three-quarters waiting a month or longer to collect outstanding balances from patients. And problems with collecting patient accounts are getting worse over time.  In fact, a new study from TransUnion Healthcare found that about 68% of patients with bills of $500 or less didn’t pay off the full balance during 2016, up from 49% in 2014.

Meanwhile, patient financial responsibility for care has risen from 10% to 30% of costs over the last few years, with more increases likely. This has led to expanding levels of consumer bad debt for medical expenses.

In attempt to cope with these issues, providers are buying new revenue cycle management systems. A survey released last year by Black Book Research, which included 5,000 management and user-level RCM clients, found that many healthcare organizations are rethinking RCM technology and demanding better performance.

Forty-eight percent of responding CFOs told Black Book that they weren’t sure they had the budget they needed to upgrade to an end-to-end RCM system this year.  Nonetheless, 93% of CFOs said they planned to eliminate RCM vendors, financial and coding technology firms, that are not producing a return on investment, up from 79% with similar plans in Q4 2015.

In addition to investing in newer RCM technology, providers are making it easier for patients to pay via whatever medium they choose. Not only are providers issuing bill reminders via text, and accepting payments online and by phone, they’re also adding new channels like PayPal payments, bank transfers and mobile payments.