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5 Ways Your Certified EHR Can Help Boost Your MIPS Score

Posted on February 5, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lisa Eramo, a regular contributor to Kareo’s Go Practice Blog.

How did you do in the first year of reporting under the Quality Payment Program? Are you expecting a negative payment adjustment under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)? Or did you only submit the minimum data necessary in 2017 to avoid this adjustment? The good news is that you can get on track to report critical MIPS measures in 2018 that will safeguard and perhaps even enhance your revenue in 2020 and beyond.

In fact, your electronic health record (EHR) technology may already include various features that can help increase your MIPS score, says Marina Verdara, senior training specialist at Kareo. All you need to do is take advantage of them. Verdara discusses five ways in which medical practices should be able to capitalize on their EHR to improve performance under MIPS.

  1. Use an EHR Certified With the 2015 Criteria

Technology certified using the 2015 criteria supports interoperability across the care continuum, and it also enables physicians to earn additional revenue under MIPS, says Verdara. According to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act final rule, physicians earn a one-time bonus of 10 percentage points under the advancing care information (ACI) performance category of MIPS when they report objectives and measures using only 2015 edition certified electronic health record technology during calendar year 2018. In 2018, 25% of a physician’s MIPS score is tied to ACI.

“The federal rule indicates the clinician will earn a 10% bonus to their ACI score if they report using only a 2015 CEHRT, but they will determine this based on the measures submitted,” Verdara explains. “Therefore, a clinician can switch anytime during 2018 as long as they can report at least 90 days for the ACI category.”

In addition to this bonus, clinicians are eligible to receive a bonus of 10 percentage points applied to the ACI category if they report Stage 3 objectives and measures, says Verdara. They can do this if their certified EMR can document and track these measures. Refer to Table 7 in the MACRA final rule for more information about these measures.

  1. Choose Applicable Quality Measures

In 2018, 50% of your MIPS score is based on the quality measures you submit. Your 2015 Certified EHR should support your quality measure selection. “For instance, our physicians have an easy-to-use tool within our EHR that prompts them to narrow down measures that are most applicable for their specialty,” says Verdara. Customers can contact them directly for more information about each measure, its specifications, and what CMS is looking for when calculating numerators and denominators.

When using your EHR to choose measures, Verdara suggests running a report for all of the quality measures your vendor supports, including those you may not plan to submit for attestation. That’s because the data could reveal one or more measures you hadn’t anticipated as advantageous for your practice that could ultimately boost your score, she adds.

Examine the entire report, and identify your top 10 measures (i.e., those on which you’ve performed most effectively). Now dig into the data. Are each of these measures applicable for your specialty? If so, focus on data capture for those 10 measures. If some of your top 10 measures are in other specialties, eliminate those from your workflow and choose ones that are relevant. “Make sure you understand how to document and improve the score for that measure,” says Verdara.

Ultimately, submit all 10 measures to CMS even though only six are required, says Verdara. During the submission process, the CMS attestation website automatically scores each measure based on available benchmarks, and physicians have an opportunity to remove the measures on which they’ve performed most poorly prior to final submission.

  1. Don’t Overlook Reporting Opportunities

Your EHR should be looking out for reporting opportunities so that you can focus on patient care. Verdara provides the example of smoking cessation counseling. Physicians commonly perform this type of counseling but may not receive credit under MIPS because they don’t check the box indicating the work was done. “We have built-in guides to help physicians understand why they might be missing out on a particular quality metric,” says Verdara, adding that physicians should be able to look to their EHR to prompt and guide them to understand where missed opportunities may lie.

  1. Use Clinical Decision Support to Enhance MIPS Performance

Your EHR should also provide prompts to remind physicians about age- and condition-specific preventive screenings and care that, when provided to patients, can help improve MIPS scores. Physicians using Kareo, for example, can improve performance on MIPS measures related to influenza and age-specific immunizations as well as screening for clinical depression, high blood pressure, and more, all of which directly translate to higher scores, says Verdara. “It helps the physician provide better care,” she adds. “It’s a win-win for the clinician and the patient.”

  1. Run Clinical Reports to Pinpoint Opportunities for Care Improvement

MIPS reports not only allow for attestation, but they also help practices understand what they do well—and what needs improvement, says Verdara. For example, practices tracking patients whose hemoglobin A1C is greater than 9% during the performance period can use this report for MIPS attestation and to improve outcomes. More specifically, they can reach out to patients with a poor A1C to provide additional counseling and guidance. “This is a good one to track because diabetes is an epidemic,” says Verdara. “It helps practices target patients who are non-compliant.” The same is true for measures related to controlling high blood pressure and asthma.

To learn more about MACRA, visit https://qpp.cms.gov/.

About Lisa Eramo
Lisa Eramo is a regular contributor to Kareo’s Go Practice Blog, as well as other healthcare publications, websites and blogs, including the AHIMA Journal. Her focus areas are medical coding, clinical documentation improvement and healthcare quality/efficiency.  Kareo is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Why Clinicians Need a 2015 Certified EHR

Posted on January 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lisa Eramo, a regular contributor to Kareo’s Go Practice Blog.

What does “2015 Certified EHR” mean to practicing clinicians? The once-flooded EHR market is now whittling down to those vendors equipped to respond to regulatory and industry changes. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology listed more than 4,000 EHRs with 2014 certification criteria, according to the most recent data from healthIT.gov. And to date, only about 200 EHRs have passed the rigorous 2015 certification criteria.

However, beyond the fact that 2015 is indeed the most recent certification criteria as issued by the HHS, why should medical practices care?  

When vendors certify their EHRs, physicians—and patients—are ultimately the beneficiaries, says Beth Onofri, EHR and industry advisor at Kareo, who led the 2015 Certification process for the Kareo Clinical EHR. Physicians benefit because the technology allows them to easily attest that they’ve met quality requirements specified in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). This includes Advancing Care Information (ACI)-related measures that help physicians boost their payments. ACI accounts for 25 percent of a physician’s performance score that dictates reimbursement under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). Patients benefit because they’re able to access and exchange their own health information more easily than ever before. It’s a win-win all around, says Onofri.

“The 2015 criteria require functionality supporting unprecedented patient engagement, care coordination, and information exchange, all of which bodes well for physicians striving to improve outcomes.”
—Beth Onofri, EHR and Industry Advisor at Kareo

Although using a certified EHR is important, implementing one that’s certified using only the 2015 criteria (not the 2014 criteria or a combination of the two) is a critical piece of the puzzle under MACRA, says Onofri. EHRs certified with the 2015 criteria help pave the way for physicians to receive a bonus in 2018. In addition, the 2015 criteria require functionality that supports unprecedented patient engagement, care coordination, and information exchange, all of which bodes well for physicians striving to improve outcomes.

Still, many physicians aren’t aware of how the 2015 certification criteria can help their practices, says Onofri.

Of the 60 different 2015 certification criteria, Onofri says these five are particularly helpful for practices seeking to improve the quality of the care they provide, ultimately fostering accurate payments under value-based payment reform:

1. View, download, and transmit health information to a third party

The 2015 criteria require a secure method of access (usually through a patient portal) as well as the ability to send information to an unsecured email address of the patient’s choice, says Onofri. The idea is that offering various access options improves overall patient engagement and outcomes.

She suggests creating a brochure that explains to patients how they can access and use the portal, including how to view, download, and transmit their health information. Another idea is to recruit a volunteer who can show patients how to use the portal while they wait in the waiting area. “There needs to be a strong advocate in each practice to make sure that these functionalities are implemented and used,” she adds. “Those practices with an advocate are the ones that will succeed.”

2. Secure messaging

This functionality allows physicians to send messages to—and receive messages from—patients in a secure manner, helping to improve engagement and communication. Practices must define how they’ll use secure messaging, including who will respond and what types of questions they’ll permit (e.g., fulfill appointment requests vs. answering clinical inquiries). “There are a small percentage of doctors who will want to answer their own messages, but there is a larger percentage of doctors who will want their staff to answer the emails and, if necessary, escalate to the provider,” says Onofri.

3. Patient health information capture

This functionality allows physicians to accept patient-generated health data into the EHR. For example, Onofri notes that the Kareo Clinical 2015 Edition EHR allows patients to record their health information at home to easily upload the information to their portal and transmit it securely to the physician for shared decision-making. The idea is that access to more comprehensive health data can help physicians prevent and manage disease—and it could be a game-changer in terms of population health management.

Start small when rolling out this functionality, she says. For instance, encourage patients with high blood pressure to upload their blood readings daily before engaging a second population (e.g., those with diabetes who upload their glucose levels).

4. Transitions of care

This functionality calls for interoperable documents that include key health data (e.g., name, date of birth, and medications) as well as standardized format for exchange. A transition of care summary provides critical information as patients transfer between different physicians at different health organizations or even distinct levels of care within the same organization.

“It’s not uncommon for our providers to send the referral right as they are completing the note with the patient in the room,” says Onofri. “This obviously speeds the care coordination for patients in terms of seeing another doctor.” The only caveat is that practices must compile a list of direct email addresses for physicians to whom patients are frequently referred, she adds.

5. Application programming interfaces (APIs)

“This is one of those requirements that is the foundation of things to come,” says Onofri. “It’s the first step toward interoperability.” API functionality will eventually allow patients to aggregate data from multiple sources in a web or mobile application of their choice.

Physicians who take the time to explore each of these 2015 certification functionalities may be more likely to improve outcomes and reap financial rewards under MACRA, says Onofri. “The improved functionality is there—is your practice taking advantage of it?”

About Lisa Eramo
Lisa Eramo is a regular contributor to Kareo’s Go Practice Blog, as well as other healthcare publications, websites and blogs, including the AHIMA Journal. Her focus areas are medical coding, clinical documentation improvement and healthcare quality/efficiency.  Kareo is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Does Your HIPAA Risk Analysis Tool Protect Your Practice?

Posted on December 15, 2017 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.

Fourth quarter signifies more than a countdown to the holidays, many healthcare organizations are met with the realization that it is time to complete HIPAA risk analysis in order to comply with MACRA – MIPS. Of course, HIPAA risk analyses are nothing new, practices should be conducting  them regularly,  in light of the HIPAA Omnibus Rule which gave teeth to the regulations and made  an annual HIPAA risk analysis a requirement for every healthcare organization.

Recently, I was recently reading a blog post by HIPAA One called “Not All Risk Analysis Tools Created Equal” and it made me think about the requirements for a bona fide risk analysis. I realize that HIPAA One provides a risk analysis solution and therefore, approaches the conversation as a vendor would, however, they are also deeply embedded in the HIPAA risk assessment world and have a unique understanding of what’s happening.

I’ve seen first-hand the principle they describe in the post with many medical practices. Most medical practices are so overwhelmed  with the daily grind of dealing with staff issues, schedules, billing, supplies, etc that it’s hard for them to distinguish between a high quality risk analysis tool and one that was built 3 years ago and hasn’t been updated since then.

In HIPAA One’s blog post they offered a list of what you should look for in a HIPAA risk analysis solution and I think this is a great  starting point for any organization that needs a tool or is evaluating their existing tool:

  1. Industry-Certified Auditors on Staff – Verify the vendor has:
    1. Auditors who are certified professionals, such as CHPS, CISSP, HCISPP, CISA, etc. and
    2. Previous experience responding to AND PASSING government and private-sector audits.
  2. Compliance Gap-Assessment – This assessment determines if your workplace meets each of the HIPAA requirements as selected the Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) HIPAA Audit Protocol.
  3. Mock-Audit – Put your money where your mouth is. If your workplace maintains HIPAA compliance, prove it with proper supporting documents and examples per the OCR’s HIPAA Audit Protocol.
  4. Risk Analysis –Bona Fide security risk analysis which digs into any non-compliant areas along with a calculation tool that addresses which gaps are low, medium or high risk to the organization using NIST-based methodologies (i.e. at minimum NIST800-30 rev1 and NIST 800-53 rev 4).
  5. Remediation Plan – This documented plan answers the questions: “Who will do what by when” in regards to remediating gaps in compliance.
  6. Final Report – Key deliverable proving compliance with HIPAA security risk analysis.
  7. Ongoing Tracking – Track the resolution of those gaps in compliance by proving due diligence in the event of an audit.
  8. Periodic Re-evaluation – Each year take a new “snapshot” performing steps 2-6 on any changes that happened from the previous year.

The item on this list that I see fall short in many solutions and services on the market today is the remediation plan. It’s amazing how many tools only account for a risk analysis, and do not provide any guidance on creating remediation plans for any risks you find. That’s a big deal and could leave you in trouble if your practice is ever audited and hasn’t remediated any of your security deficiencies .

The good news is that HIPAA risk analysis tools have come a long way over the years. ]  Much like you need to make sure EHR vendors are updating and improving their systems to meet your needs and comply with changes in government regulations, the same is true with HIPAA risk analysis tools. Make sure you take the time needed to ensure the quality of the tools and services you’re using. Ignorance is not bliss when a HIPAA audit occurs.

Note: HIPAA One is a Healthcare Scene sponsor.

Inspector General Says CMS Made $729 Million In Questionable EHR Incentive Payments

Posted on June 16, 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 report from the HHS Office of Inspector General has concluded that over a three-year period, CMS made roughly $729.4 million in EHR incentive payments to providers who didn’t comply with program requirements.

To determine whether the incentive program was functioning appropriately, the OIG audited payments made between May 2011 to June 2014.

After sampling payment records for 100 eligible professionals, the agency found 14 EPs, who received payments totaling $291,022, who didn’t meet incentive criteria.  The auditors found that the 14 had either failed to meet bonus criteria or didn’t provide proof that they had.

Then, the OIG used the data to extrapolate how much CMS had spent on invalid payments, which is how it arrived at the $729 million estimate. In other words, given the margin of error across the sampled incentive payments, the OIG assumed that 12% of all incentive payments were in error. (The analysis also concluded that CMS mistakenly paid $2.3 million to EPs switching between Medicare and Medicaid programs.)

Not surprisingly, the OIG has recommended that CMS recover the $291,000 in payments made to the sampled providers. It also suggested that the agency review EP payments issued during the audit period to see what other errors were made. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get back the approximately $729.4 million the agency may have paid out in error.

In addition, the OIG  called on CMS to review a random sample of self-attested documentation from after the audit period, to determine whether additional inappropriate payments were made to EPs.

And to make sure the EPs don’t get payments under both Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs for the same program year, the report urged CMS to conduct edits of the National Level Depository system.

As part of this report, the OIG noted that allowing providers to self-report compliance data leaves the incentive payment program open to fraud, and recommended keeping a closer eye on these reports. CMS seems to have had at least some sympathy for this argument, as it apparently agreed partly or fully with all of the OIG’s suggested actions.

One side effect of the OIG report it brings back attention to the Meaningful Use program, which has been eclipsed by MACRA but still clings to life. Eligible providers can still report either Modified Stage 2 or Stage 3 in 2017, the main difference being you need a full year of data for Stage 2 but only 90 days for Stage 3.

But MACRA does change things, as its performance standards will test providers in new ways. This year, providers have a chance to get situated with either the MIPS or APM track, and those who jump in now are likely to benefit.

Meanwhile, the future of Meaningful Use remains fuzzy. To my knowledge, the agency has no immediate plans to restructure the current incentive program to audit provider reports in depth. In fact, given that providers are more concerned about MACRA these days, I doubt CMS will bother.

That being said, it’s fair to assume that incentive payouts will get a bit more attention going forward. So be prepared to defend your attestation if need be.

Cybersecurity, MACRA, MIPS, HIPAA, and PCMH Training Workshops

Posted on May 3, 2017 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 been partnered with 4MedApproved for a long time offering healthcare IT training courses to my users. If you subscribe to a Healthcare Scene email list, then you’ve probably seen some emails offering a great discount on their training courses. 4Med really tries hard to listen to the community and create courses that are valuable to the healthcare IT professional.

They just sent me their list of upcoming courses and I was really impressed with the wide variety of courses that they’re offering between now and the end of July. Here’s a look a the courses they’re offering:

The good news is that by using any of the links above you’ll get a discount off of each of the courses for being a Healthcare Scene reader. Each of the above sessions is available as a live online training where you can ask the trainer questions. Also, if you miss one of the live sessions, then the recording will be made available to you after the event.

Also, for many of the courses, CEU are available to those who need them.

You can see on the list above that some of the most popular courses are around MACRA and healthcare security. Both are hugely important topics and there’s a lot of information to cover for both topics. If you’re dealing with either of them (which is most of you), these courses are a great resource for you to get up to speed on the latest.

The Impact of the 2016 Election on Healthcare IT

Posted on November 9, 2016 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.

Today it’s pretty obvious that the Presidential is on everyone’s mind. While I don’t plan to discuss the details of the election and the specific results, it’s worth thinking about what Donald Trump in the white house will mean for healthcare IT.

Let’s start off with the easy one: Meaningful Use/MACRA. One doctor tweeted me that now that Trump is President, MACRA will be gone. I don’t think that’s further from the truth. In fact, I really can’t imagine any scenario where the EHR Incentive program (Meaningful Use, which still applies to hospitals and Medicaid) and the MACRA program would be gone. I think they’re here to stay and won’t be altered at all by this election.

The biggest reason for this belief is that Trump is going to have so many other things on the agenda. Not the least of which is ACA (Obamacare), which we’ll get to later in this post, but also a whole suite of other things that he’ll make a priority. Why would Trump want to take on a relatively bipartisan thing like healthcare IT, EHR and MACRA? I don’t think he’ll waste a second on the subject.

Plus, even if Trump wanted to go after the MACRA and EHR incentive legislation, I can’t imagine the Senate and House passing something to replace those programs either. Remember that Trump can propose all he wants, but the Senate and House have to pass it too and both of those groups seem to be firmly behind both efforts. Add this to the previous point and why would Trump go after health IT when it’s unlikely to pass and isn’t a strategic goal of his? Short Answer: He won’t.

My opinion: we’re unlikely to see any change to MACRA and other healthcare IT initiatives.

The trickier part to assess is the impact a Trump presidency will have on the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). I live in Vegas and I wouldn’t even want to offer odds on what’s going to happen there. The rhetoric out there is to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” What’s not clear to me is if this concept is even practical and possible. There are so many issues with the idea of repealing Obamacare, that I can’t imagine it ever happening. I could see parts of it being repealed, but not the whole thing.

I also think it would be seen as very unfavorable for Trump to roll back things like the pre-existing condition exemption that allows those with pre-existing conditions to get insurance. There are probably a dozen other things like this that would likely be hard to take back without some major backlash and so I think they’ll have to preserve many of these things in whatever they do with Obamacare. Maybe that means a full repeal, but then rolling back in some of the popular pieces of the legislation so they can say they repealed it.

All of this said, I think that Trump will evaluate all options to undermine many of the things that were implemented by Obamacare including the insurance mandate and the insurance exchanges. Most people don’t realize that there’s so much more to Obamacare than just the mandate and exchanges. How he’ll undermine Obamacare and the impact it will have is anybody’s guess. I’m not sure anyone really knows and it’s certainly beyond my political punditry.

Long story short on Obamacare, I have no idea. I know that something’s going to happen because of the strict “Rip and Replace” rhetoric. I just think it’s really hard to predict which parts they’ll be able to rip out at this point and what they’ll replace it with going forward.

No doubt this will keep many in healthcare on edge. Unknowns are always a challenge. While I think the Trump Presidency will likely have a big impact on healthcare, I don’t see it having a big impact for good or bad on healthcare IT. I think the path to healthcare IT is happening and he won’t do anything to really stop it.

Side Note: Check out this interesting lessons learned post by Mr. H at Histalk which talks about the challenge of relying on data. As healthcare enters the world of data in a big way, it’s important to make sure we have a good understanding of what the data really tells us and what it doesn’t.

MACRA Challenges and Predictions

Posted on October 11, 2016 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.

On Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 3:00 PM ET (Noon PT) I’ll be hosting a live video interview with three MACRA experts. We’ll be discussing the challenges associated with MACRA and predictions on what will be included in the MACRA final rule. If you’re interested in learning more about MACRA, you’ll really enjoy this discussion.

The great part is that you can join my conversation with this panel of experts live and even add your own comments to the discussion or ask them questions. All you need to do to watch live is visit this blog post on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 3:00 PM ET (Noon PT) and watch the video embed at the bottom of this post or you can watch on YouTube directly. The conversation will be recorded as well and available on this post after the interview.

Here are a few details about our panelists:

2016-october-macra-challenges-and-predictions

We hope you’ll join us live or enjoy the recorded version of our conversation. The MACRA legislation is an extremely important one for healthcare. Making sure you understand it is going to position you well for all the changes that are coming to healthcare.


(To Ask Questions, visit the YouTube page)

If you’d like to see the archives of Healthcare Scene’s past interviews, you can find and subscribe to all of Healthcare Scene’s interviews on YouTube.

Finally, be sure to check out our MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA rules.

As Patient Engagement Advances, It Raises Questions About Usefulness

Posted on September 26, 2016 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Reading ONC’s recent summary of patient engagement capabilities at US hospitals left me feeling both hopeful and wistful. The ONC, as usual, is trying to show off how much progress the field of health IT has made since Meaningful Use started, and the statistics in this dashboard meet those goals. On the other hand, I look at the statistics and wonder when real patient empowerment will emerge from these isolated gains.

The ONC dashboard includes information both on raw data exchange–what Meaningful Use called view, download, and transmit (VDT)–and the uses of that data, which ultimately mean much more than exchange.

I considered at first how important I would find it to download hospital information. I certainly would like my doctors to get the results of tests performed there, and other information related to my status upon discharge, but these supposedly are sent to the primary care physician in a Continuity of Care Document (CCD). If I or a close relative of mine had a difficult or chronic condition, I would certainly benefit from VDT because I would have to be an active advocate and would need the documentation. My point here is that our real goal in health reform is coordinated care, rather than data transfer, and while VDT is an important first step, we must always ask who is using that information.

The ONC did not ask the hospitals how much of their data patients can download. God is in the details, and I am not confident that an affirmative answer to the question of downloading data means patients can get everything that is in their records. For instance, my primary care physician has a patient portal running on eClinicalWorks (not his choice, but the choice of the hospital to which he is affiliated). From this portal I can get only a few pieces of information, such as medications (which I happen to know already, since I am taking them) and lab results. Furthermore, I downloaded the CCD and ran it through a checker provided online by the ONC for a lark, and found that it earned D grades for accurate format. This dismal rating suggests that I couldn’t successfully upload the CCD to another doctor’s EHR.

Still, I don’t want to dismiss the successes in the report. VDT is officially enabled in 7 out of 10 hospitals, a 7-fold growth between 2013 and 2015. Although the dashboard laments that “Critical Access, medium, and small hospitals lag,” the lag is not all that bad. And the dashboard also shows advances in the crucial uses of that data, such as submitting amendments to the data

A critical question in evaluating patient engagement is how the Congress and ONC define it. A summary of the new MACRA law lists several aspects of patient engagement measured under the new system:

  • Viewing, downloading, and transmitting, as defined before. As with the later Meaningful Use requirements, MACRO requires EHRs to offer an API, so that downloading can be done automatically.

  • Secure messaging. Many advances in treating chronic conditions depend on regular communications with patients, and messaging is currently the simplest means toward that goal. Some examples of these advances can be found in my article about a health app challenge. Conventional text messaging is all in plain text, and health care messaging must be secure to meet HIPAA requirements.

  • Educational materials. I discount the impact of static educational materials offered to patients with chronic conditions, whether in the form print brochures or online. But educational materials are part of a coordinated care plan.

  • Incorporating patient-generated data. The MACRA requirements “ask providers to incorporate data contributed by the patient from at least one unique patient.” Lucky little bugger. How will he or she leverage this unprecedented advantage?

That last question is really the nub of the patient engagement issue. In Meaningful Use and MACRA, regulators often require a single instance of some important capability, because they know that once the health care provider has gone through the trouble of setting up that capability, extending it to all patients is less difficult. And it’s heartening to see that 37 percent of hospitals allowed patients to submit patient-generated data in 2015.

Before you accept data from a patient, you need extra infrastructure to make the data useful. For instance:

  • You can check for warning signals that call for intervention, such as an elevated glucose level. This capability suggests a background program running through all the data that comes in and flagging such warning signals.

  • You can evaluate device data to see progress or backsliding in the patient’s treatment program. This requires analytics that understand the meaning of the data (and that can handle noise) so as to produce useful reports.

  • You can create a population health program that incorporates the patient-generated data into activities such as monitoring epidemics. This is also a big analytical capability.

Yes, I’m happy we’ve made progress in using data for patient engagement. A lot of other infrastructure also needs to be created so we can benefit from the big investment these advances required.

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

Posted on September 9, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Words That Health Care Should Stop Using: Insurance, Market, and Quality (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on August 23, 2016 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous part of this article ripped apart the use of the words “insurance” and “market” to characterize healthcare. Not let’s turn to another concept even more fundamental to our thinking about care.

Quality

The final element of this three-card Monte is the slippery notion of quality. Health care is often compared to the airlines (when we’re not being compared to the Cheesecake Factory), an exercise guaranteed to make health care look bad. Airlines and restaurants offer relatively homogeneous experiences to all their clients and can easily determine whether their service succeeded or failed. Even at a mechanical level, the airlines have been able to quantify safety.

Endless organizations such as the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) collect quality measures, and CMS has tried strenuously to include quality measures in Meaningful Use and the new MACRA program. We actually have not a dearth of quality measures, but a surfeit. Doctors feel overwhelmed with these measures. They are difficult to collect, and we don’t know how to combine them to create easy reports that patients can act on. There is a difference between completing a successful surgery, caring for things such as pain and infection prevention after surgery, and creating a follow-up plan that minimizes the chance of readmission. All those things (and many more) are elements of quality.

Worst of all, despite efforts to rank patients by their conditions and risk, hospitals repeatedly warn that quality measures underestimate risky patients and therefore penalize the hospitals that do the most difficult and important work–caring for the sickest. Many hospitals are throwing away donor organs instead of doing transplants, because the organs are slightly inferior and therefore might contribute to lower quality ratings–even if the patients are desperate to give them a try.

The concept of quality in health care thus needs a fresh look, and probably a different term. The first, simple thing we can do is remove patient ratings from assessments of quality. The patient knows whether the nurse smiled at her or whether she was discharged promptly, but can’t tell how good the actual treatment was after the event. One nurse has suggested that staff turnover is a better indication of hospital quality than patient satisfaction surveys. Given our fascination with airline quality, it’s worth noting that the airline industry separates safety ratings from passenger experience. The health care industry can similarly leverage patient ratings to denote clients’ satisfaction, but that’s separate from quality.

As for the safety and effectiveness of treatment, we could try a fairer rating system, such as one that explicitly balances risk and reward. Agencies would have to take the effort to understand all the elements of differences in patients that contribute to risk, and make sure they are tallied. Perhaps we could learn how to assess the success of each treatment in relation to the condition in which the patient entered the office. Even better, we could try to assess longitudinal results instead evaluating each office visit or hospital admission in isolation.

These are complex activities, but we have lots of data and powerful tools to analyze it. Together with a focus on changing behavior and environments, we should be able to make a real difference in quality–and I mean quality of life. Is there anything an ordinary member of the health professions can do till then? Well, try issuing Bronx cheers and catcalls at any meeting or conference presentation where someone uses one of the three misleading terms.