Advances in technology have fundamentally altered and inarguably improved the way we drive, shop and travel. Just ask anybody who uses Google Maps, Foodler or Uber.
Sadly, however, information technology has failed to deliver so far in the most crucial service of all – healthcare. This is at least partly because electronic health records (EHR) systems grew out of the computer systems that run the hospital’s inner workings — patient scheduling, admission and discharge, staff payroll and accounts receivable. For system designers, physicians’ needs were an afterthought, which is problematic because physicians are, after all, the linchpin of the healthcare delivery system.
To begin pulling healthcare IT out of the past, we must first take a look at how it supports physicians. The short answer today is “not well.” In fact, EHRs are creating as much frustration as benefit. Problems include poor presentation of patient data, fragmented information sources and unwieldy user interfaces that require dozens of mouse clicks or screen taps. It’s no wonder more than half of physicians who responded to a recent survey claimed their EHR system had negative impacts on costs, efficiency and productivity – three things IT should help, not hinder. These issues not only affect physicians’ professional satisfaction, they contribute to the phenomenon of physician burnout, which is a growing concern across healthcare. Studies show some 30 percent of primary-care physicians age 35 to 49 plan to leave medicine, and there’s an expected shortage of 25,000 surgeons by 2025. A Mayo Clinic study released earlier this year directly connected the burnout problem to physicians’ use of EHRs.
Today’s EHRs have done little more than “pave the cow paths.” We’ve gotten rid of paper in the hospital and made processes electronic, which is why EHRs can legitimately claim to have reduced transcription errors. But eliminating paper is just table stakes; the critical next phase is to do for healthcare what Uber has done for transportation: Reinvent the process so it’s optimized for and native to the technology that enables it.
Patients and physicians can and should advocate for such change. Today, patients have access to a vast body of information—the notes a doctor took, quality of care rankings, the level of personalization provided—and it’s only going to increase. As Lygeia Ricciardi, former director of the Office of Consumer eHealth at ONC said, “Getting access to personal health information is the start of engaging patients to be full partners in their care.”
Why do so many small medical practices give up a significant portion of their earnings to outside billers? Depending on its geographic location, volume of billing, and other factors, a practice will pay an average of seven percent of its total revenue to a biller, which could be the difference between profit or loss, maybe even success or failure.
In many cases, the reasons given are that no one in the office has experience with medical billing and the physician doesn’t believe a small staff can handle the added burden of work. But if you dig a little deeper, these assumptions are often wrong.
As a developer of electronic health record (EHR) and practice management (PM) software for small practices, my company hears a lot about billing directly from physicians and staff. We’ve learned exactly who does the billing and how they do it once a practice starts using a PM system for the very first time.
In one case, a medical assistant was able to learn everything he needed to know about billing from the PM product training alone. That’s because the physician specializes in podiatry, so the practice uses a limited set of billing codes. With a relatively light patient workload, this Medical Assistant has more than enough time to handle billing functions during normal office hours.
At another practice, when a gynecologist questioned her staff, she learned that her receptionist was eager to start doing something else, preferably from home so she could care for young children. The receptionist became certified in medical coding at a local community college on her own time, and now uses the PM system remotely and visits the office once a week every few weeks.
In a third practice we know, the pediatrician himself shares the work of billing with two of his part-time staffers, who welcomed the extra hours of pay. One staffer had knowledge of billing from a past job, while another was eager to learn. They all handle billing together as a team, so there’s no burden on any single person.
Guest post by Susmit Pal, healthcare strategist, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Dell EMC
Aging populations and the rising incidence of chronic disease consume a disproportionate amount of healthcare resources. In the United States, about 75 percent of healthcare dollars go to chronic disease care and two out of every three Medicare recipients suffer from at least two chronic diseases. The pressure for relief will grow as the population ages with approximately 10,000 new patients estimated to enroll in Medicare every day for the next 15 years. The current demand for resources for chronic disease care combined with the imminent spike in Medicare enrollment beg for achievable solutions and strategies that address costs, care quality and outcomes in the short term.
Enter the Internet of Things (IoT), also referred to as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) within the healthcare industry. IoT is something that most are well-familiar with, but for the sake of clarity, we define it here as the purposeful connection of intelligent sensors, devices, and software to computer networking systems using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, RFID or M2M wireless technology in order to promote an inter-functionality that serves a greater purpose. In healthcare, that greater purpose is the achievement of less costly and more information-driven and efficient patient care. Think wearable devices and wireless pill bottles, nanotechnology and ingestibles, and network-enabled medical devices like stethoscopes that can transmit cardiac data directly into a patient’s electronic health record (EHR).
The Impact on Chronic Disease Management IoT shows great promise in helping to improve the health of patients with chronic conditions. Combinations of remote monitoring, analytics and mobile platforms have repeatedly cut re-admissions of high risk patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) by more than half. Evermore affordable and easier-to-use devices, such as wireless scales and heart rate and blood pressure monitors are improving overall wellness for the chronically ill. In fact, some researchers estimate that the value of improved health in patients with chronic disease using remote monitoring could amount to $1.1 trillion per year by 2025.
At the consumer level, the rapid increase in the type and variety of personal mobile fitness trackers like Fitbit®, and online fitness applications for consumers demonstrates comfort with IoT to monitor physical health. Their very existence has created an avenue for patients to become more accustomed to tracking and managing their health online. In response, healthcare organizations are beginning to incorporate them into their consumer engagement strategies, while payers are starting to offer discounts and incentives tied to wellness management.
IoT is also helping to spur on some rather exciting new technological advancements in chronic disease management. Connected wheelchairs, for instance, are enabling people with disabilities to engage with care providers on a whole new level, communicating health alerts to care teams and repair notices to manufacturers. A group from the University of Missouri is spearheading a development project to utilize home monitoring sensors in an effort to prevent falls among the elderly by providing alerts to the patient when there is a fall risk, while Dell Healthcare is working with hospitals to leverage the use of tablets with integrated card readers to enable remote healthcare for home-based treatments.
There exists an even greater potential for IoT to impact chronic disease management at a population-level when combined with data analytics. For instance, Health Net Connect (HNC) has initiated a population diabetic management program with the intent to improve clinical outcomes and healthcare savings for diabetes, one of the deadliest and most costly of chronic diseases—and the results are impressive. They captured vitals and blood work from study participants over a 6-month period to measure the impact that routine teleconferencing and patient monitoring had on outcome. Patients in the program showed a significant decrease in key biomarkers, including 9.5 percent lower HB A1C and 35 percent decrease in LDL. To put that into perspective, for every 1 percent drop in HB A1C they estimate an $8,600 annual savings, and for every 1 percent decrease in LDL there is a 1 percent decrease in coronary heart disease, which costs on average a million dollars over a lifetime. HNC is continuing this program, noting that “this project has, and currently is demonstrating return on investment with cost savings, improved access for program members to their physician, improved clinical outcomes, and improved knowledge by program members on their disease condition.”
Is there an unspoken fear among caregivers that the subtext of all this digital disruption is a devaluation of the human element?
In countless industries, workers and analysts alike watch the slow march of technology and innovation and see as inevitable the takeover of human tasks by robots, AI, or other smart systems. We watched as the threat of outsourcing transformed into a reality of automation in industrial sectors, saw drones take on countless new roles in the military and in commerce, and now we hear about how driverless cars, self-checkout kiosks, and even robotic cashiers in restaurants are all waiting in the wings to dive in and displace even more formerly human occupations.
And looking at how EHRs — by virtue of their cumbersome workflows alone, not to mention all the documentation and growing emphasis on analytics and records-sharing–are taking flack for burnout and frustration in hospitals across the country, it hardly seems a reach to suggest that maybe America’s caregivers are feeling not just burdened by technology, but threatened.
Digital records are already changing what doctors and nurses do, how they work, and what is expected of them — it must surely be only a matter of time before their roles start getting handed over to the robots and supercomputers … right?
Change, Not Replacement
While some jobs or roles may face elimination through automation, the more common effect is transformation. In healthcare, that may mean that for many their title is the same — perhaps even the education and certification standards that go along with it–but their actual functions and roles in context will be different.
We see this already with respect to EHRs. The early, primitive documentation workflows and reporting obligations have drawn ire from clinicians who see their autonomy under attack by digital bureaucracy. But this is naturally destined for correction; medicine has advanced through trial and error for centuries, and the 21st century is no different.
All of these trends point to the medical lab as a newly central component of the modern care center, treatment plan, and information hub. The demands all these new technologies and applications put on laboratory professionals requires them to do more learning, adapting, and leading than ever before, especially to integrate the latest and greatest devices and tests available.
Simply put, machines are still fallible, and require assistance in providing critical context, to supplement their ability to accurately read, diagnose, and self-regulate to ensure accuracy and consistency, not to mention proper application in the clinical setting.
It seems increasingly disingenuous to frame health IT as being “revolutionary.”
For one, digitization has already swept nearly every other industry. The iPhone was a revolution in communication, but after generations of iterations and imitations, smartphones are normal, and consumers have adjusted their expectations accordingly.
To bring electronic health records (EHRs) into American hospitals and clinics is less a revolution, and more a remediation. That arguments continue over whether this upgrade will prove practical, valuable, or beneficial to patient care and clinical outcomes at all reflects that this evolution has been a top-down endeavor, rather than a true bottom-up transformation.
Despite rhetoric–and plenty of earnest optimism–the EHR rollout has been incremental, administratively-guided, federally-mandated push toward adoption. It has been a crawl toward process improvement more in the mode of Six Sigma than a grassroots “reset” button on the fundamentals of healthcare.
The true revolution–the one that patients and caregivers alike desperately need–is not merely technological, although technology may be our next best hope for realizing it.
A Mental Problem
Healthcare needs to unify behavioral and physical health, treatment, and discourse.
While physical medicine is climbing the next hill with respect to primary care provider (PCP) shortages, interoperability quagmires, and meaningful use (MU), behavioral health is facing the same primary challenges it has since well before health IT became such a hot topic.
Namely, recognition as a legitimate and necessary component of whole-person wellness and medical treatment.
But on both the side of care providers, and patients, physical health has been rigidly siloed away from behavioral health. Even EHRs have been shoehorned through America’s hospitals while behavioral health clinics have been barred from accessing incentive money. Their exclusion from the development table means fewer solutions and platforms exist at all for those facilities and caregivers who want to embrace digitization, because developers have been preoccupied with MU compliance.
Guest post by Richard A. Royer, MBA, chief executive officer, Primaris.
It has been several years since Medicare began introducing payment changes aimed at driving the healthcare industry away from volume-based payments and toward value-based reimbursements. One of the main purposes of the payment system’s overhaul is to improve the quality of care that healthcare providers deliver to patients. Of course, the other main goal is to keep costs in check. In simple terms, the shift to value-based incentives rewards providers that deliver on cost, quality and patient outcome measures. What many providers have learned along the way is that technology plays an important role in the transition to value-based care, and meaningful use of electronic health records is necessary for success under value-based incentive programs.
Value-Based Payment Basics
For healthcare providers that are working to adapt to new payment models and are just beginning to make adjustments, understanding the basics of value-based care is the first step to success. Some of the key points healthcare providers need to recognize about value-based reimbursements are:
The value model rewards performance. That can mean a number of different things, for example, achieving high quality and patient satisfaction scores or making improvements to care over time. The point is, providers must focus on meeting certain standards for care and cost in order to be eligible to earn financial incentives and to avoid penalties.
Value-based care models are extremely data driven. Providers need to measure and report performance outcomes in order to assess their efforts internally, and also so they can earn reimbursements from external payers. As a result, healthcare providers need to continuously measure and analyze patient data, not just collect it.
Collaboration is an important success factor under value. Patients – particularly those with chronic health conditions – receive care from multiple providers as they move across the care continuum. To ensure that treatments, medications, and care plans are safe and effective, and that patient outcomes (which impact reimbursements) are the best they can be, providers need to communicate with each other and work to coordinate care. Value-based programs demand coordinated care.
Guest post by Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer, IDT911.
Earlier this year, Centene Corporation lost six hard drives containing personal and health information of almost one million of its clients, including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers and health information. Unfortunately, Centene is only one of many healthcare organizations that recently had their sensitive patient information exposed. More than 113 million health records were breached in 2015 – which translates to one out of every three Americans being affected by a healthcare record breach last year. Medical identity theft is a disastrous trend that needs to be addressed. The good news is there are many steps healthcare organizations can take to reduce the risk of data breaches.
Electronic Health Records
As more and more healthcare organizations transition away from paper medical records and move to electronic health records, it is critical that security features are put in place to protect the vast amount of data being collected. Just as the digitally stored health information is more easily accessible for employees, it is also easier for cyber criminals to access. According to the Ponemon Institute’s The State of Cybersecurity in Healthcare Organizations in 2016 report, nearly half of those surveyed said their organizations have experienced an incident involving the loss or exposure of patient information during the last year. Strong encryption, routine vulnerability patches and multi-factor authentication are key to protect health data.
Mobile and BYOD
Greater connectivity means more convenience, but this also opens more doors for hackers to access healthcare networks. Healthcare organizations should set clear BYOD policies so employees understand what can and cannot be accessed from mobile devices, what operating systems are approved for use on the network, what security features and settings are required and what type of data can be stored on devices. While using mobile devices can significantly improve productivity, it is important to minimize security risks in order to protect sensitive data.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is a growing trend in the tech world that has also become popular in the healthcare industry. Now, medical devices can collect, track and share enormous amounts of data instantly through internet connectivity. As these medical devices were most likely added to pre-existing networks, they may not have the necessary security protections. Security vulnerabilities are not just limited to EHR and health networks anymore – medical devices must be thoroughly inspected as well. Just as computers and servers are patched for vulnerabilities, medical devices that connect to healthcare networks must also be regularly patched. If these IoT enabled devices do not have the necessary layers of security, they will become an easy target for hackers to access the healthcare network.
Guest post by Amy Sullivan, vice president of revenue cycle sales, PatientKeeper.
The multi-year run-up to the ICD-10 cut-over last October had a “Chicken Little” quality to it. There was prolonged hand-wringing and hoopla about the prospect of providers losing revenue and payers not processing and paying claims – the healthcare industry equivalent of “the sky is falling.”
Then CMS helped calm things down by announcing last July (as the AMA reported at the time), “For the first year ICD-10 is in place, Medicare claims will not be denied solely based on the specificity of the diagnosis codes as long as they are from the appropriate family of ICD-10 codes.”
Since ICD-10 is all about specificity – the number of diagnosis codes increased approximately four-fold over ICD-9 – this was a big relief to all involved. And, if you believe new research data, the sky indeed has not fallen: Sixty percent of survey respondents “did not see any impact on their monthly revenue following Oct. 1, 2015… Denial rates have remained the same for 45 percent of respondents. An additional 44 percent have seen an increase of less than 10 percent.”
Still one has to wonder what will happen after Oct. 1, 2016, when the current leniency expires and ICD-10 code specificity is required. Will physicians be in a position to enter their charges completely and accurately once “in the general neighborhood” coding no longer suffices?
They will if their organization has invested in technology that adheres to best practices in electronic charge capture system design. The three watch-words are: specialize, simplify and streamline.
A charge capture system is specialized when it exposes only relevant codes to physicians in a particular specialty or department, and when it provides fine-tuned code edits. With different types and processes of workflows (and let’s face it, personal preferences), physicians need an intuitive and personalized application that easily fits into their individual work styles. A tailored user experience allows providers to build and display their patient lists in whatever way is most convenient and meaningful to them – down to lists organized by diagnosis and “favorites.”
The health IT revolution is here and 2016 will be the year that actionable data brings it full circle.
Opportunities to achieve meaningful use with electronic health records (EHRs) are available and many healthcare organizations have already realized elevated care coordination with healthcare IT. However, improved care coordination is only a small piece of HIT’s full potential to produce a higher level synthesis of information that delivers actionable data to clinicians. As the healthcare industry transitions to a value-based model in which organizations are compensated not for services performed but for keeping patients and populations well, achieving a higher level of operational efficiency is what patient care requires and what executives expect to receive from their EHR investment. This approach emphasizes outcomes and value rather than procedures and fees, incentivizing providers to improve efficiency by better managing their populations. Garnering actionable insights for frontline clinicians through an evolved EHR framework is the unified responsibility of EHR providers, IT professionals and care coordination managers – and a task that will monopolize HIT in 2016.
The data void in historical EHR concepts
Traditionally, care has been based on the “inside the four walls” EHR, which means insights are derived from limited data, and next steps are determined by what the patient’s problem is today or what they choose to communicate to their caregiver. If outside information is available from clinical and claims data, it is sparse and often inaccessible to the caregiver. This presents an unavoidable need to make clinical information actionable by readily transforming operational and care data that’s housed in care management tools into usable insights for care delivery and improvement. Likewise, when care management tools are armed with indicators of care gaps, they can do a better job at highlighting those patients during the care process, and feeding care activities to analytics appropriately tagged with metadata or other enhanced information to enrich further analysis.
Filling the gaps to achieve actionable data
To deliver actionable data in a clinical context, HIT platform advancements must integrate and analyze data from across the community—including medical, behavioral, and social information—to provide the big picture of patient and population health. Further, the operational information about moving a patient through the care process (e.g., outreach, education, arranging a ride, etc.) is vital to tuning care delivery as a holistic system rather than just optimizing the points of care alone. This innovative approach consolidates diverse and fragmented data in a single comprehensive care plan, with meaningful insights that empowers the full spectrum of care, from clinical providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, behavioral health professionals, staff) to non-clinical providers (e.g., care managers, case managers, social workers), to patients and their caregivers. Armed with granular patient and population insights that span the continuum, care teams are able to proactively address gaps in patient care, allocate scarce resources, and strategically identify at-risk patients in time for cost-effective interventions. This transition also requires altering the way underlying data concepts are represented by elevating EHR infrastructures and technical standards to accommodate a high-level synthesis of information.
Guest post by Ben Weber, managing director, Greythorn.
This is the time of year when people are looking into their crystal ball, and telling all of us what they see happening in the next 12 months. Some of these predictions will be wild (aliens will cure cancer!) and some will be obvious (more health apps in 2016!). But how many will be helpful?
As I gaze into my own crystal ball, I have to admit I’m also peeking at my email (I like to multi-task). I can’t really say if it’s inspired by the swirling lights of the magic orb on my desk, or if it’s because of the inquiries from clients, messages from my management team and RFPs from various hospital systems … but I also have a prediction for the New Year: 2016 will be the year of migration for Epic and Cerner consultants.
The United States healthcare industry has made great progress in EHR implementation—to the point where implementation is no longer the primary conversation we’re having. Now we’re discussing interoperability, if we’re using ICD-10 codes correctly, how and if we should integrate the data collected from wearable fitness technology, and more. Those discussions—and the decisions made as a result—will continue to require human intelligence and power, but in 2016 there will be a decreased demand for consultants on these projects. Healthcare IT professionals who have grown accustomed to this kind of work will either have to settle into full-time employment—or turn their nomadic hearts north to Canada.
Our neighbors on the other side of the 49th parallel are ramping up their EHR implementations, which is good news for consultants interested in using their passports. Implementations in the US are slowing down, and while there is still work available, it is not as constant and may not command the same hourly rates as in years past. Meanwhile, several leading Canadian healthcare IT organizations have already warned of a looming talent shortage in their country (source), the effects of which are beginning to be felt.
Epic and Cerner specialists are particularly in demand, as there is a dearth of experienced talent. Out of the Canadian healthcare IT professionals who have worked with an EMR, 28 percent report familiarity with MEDITECH, 13 percent with Cerner, and 7 percent with McKesson. Only 4 percent have worked with Epic, according to the 2015 Canadian Healthcare HI & IT Market Report.