Guest post by Richard Loomis, chief medical officer and VP of informatics, Practice Fusion.
In 2016 the healthcare industry made a number of meaningful strides on the move to value-based care, culminating in October with CMS issuing the final rule for the Quality Payment Program (QPP). As the largest program of its kind, the QPP will replace existing programs such as meaningful use and PQRS and fundamentally change the way providers receive payment for patients with Medicare Part B coverage.
In 2017, this focus on value will begin to shift to the vast value found in restoring the provider-patient relationship that drives individualized care and best outcomes. Healthcare isn’t ultimately about quality programs, big data or population health management — it’s about improving our shared human experience and to live happier, longer, more fulfilling lives. The healthcare industry will start restoring this humanity by unwinding the complexity of care delivery and supporting individualized care through a number of new and exciting ways in the new year. Below are five themes we’re predicting to see in 2017:
The year of EHR usability: EHR usability will become a critical success factor for providers as the burden of quality reporting continues to grow in an increasingly fee-for-value world. Practices already spend $40,000 per doctor per year — $15.4 billion nationwide — on collecting and reporting information about their care to Medicare, payers and others. These costs will increase in 2017 and disproportionately affect small practices. It will be financially impossible to practice medicine without a user-friendly EHR. Given this emphasis in usability, more EHRs will turn to offering cloud-based solutions to stay relevant and cost-effective.
Real world evidence comes of age: Real world evidence (RWE) will increasingly be used to support FDA approval for marketing new drugs, leading to further investigation through one or more RWE studies. Although randomized clinical trials continue to be the gold standard for establishing efficacy and safety, they may not reflect typical patient care or day-to-day experiences. RWE studies can include larger sample sizes and a greater breadth of patient demographics and clinical circumstances, which can help supplement the data derived from clinical trials. The FDA has already signaled their interest in RWE, and in 2017 we will begin to see it come to fruition.
Small practices recognized for their oversized role: Small independent practices are a cornerstone of the healthcare ecosystem: Independent solo and small practices are shown to have a lower average cost per patient, with fewer preventable hospital admissions, and a lower readmission rate among their patient populations. For CMS to drive additional value through the QPP, they will start to recognize and support small practices in 2017.
In virtually every context that question might be asked, we struggle to give an honest, accurate answer.
It Works If You Believe It Works
Is the medication working? Difficult to say–it may be the placebo effect, it may be counteracted by other medications, or we may be monitoring the wrong indicators to recognize any effect. Is “working” the same as “having an effect,” or must it be the desired effect?
Alternative medicine confounds the balance of expectations and outcomes even further. Right at the intersection of evidenced-based medicine and naturopathy, for instance, we have hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT. These devices are as much in vogue among emergency departments (to treat embolisms, diabetic foot ulcers, and burns) as holistic dream salesmen (to prevent aging and cure autism, if you believe the hype). When the metric being tracked is as fluid as the visible effects of aging, answering whether the treatment is working is about as subjective as you can get.
As though the science of pharmaceuticals and clinical medicine weren’t confounding enough, you can hardly go anywhere in healthcare today without politics getting added to the mix. In the wake of Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, you have observers and stakeholders asking of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): is it working?
There’s Something Happening Here
It is definitely doing something. It is measurably active in our tax policy, for instance: 2016 returns are heavily influenced by the incremental growth of the ACA’s financial provisions. Of course, the point of this tax policy (depending on who you ask) is to influence behavior. As to this point, there are some signs that, again, something is happening: among young people, ER visits in general are down, while emergency stays due to mental health illness are up. We changed how healthcare is insured, and that changed, in turn, how we access our care. But is it working?
Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.
According to a survey almost 50 percent of the physicians do not understand MACRA. With less than five months to full implementation of MACRA, are we ready to embrace one of the most elaborate laws of US? And, most importantly, will it produce the needed positive outcomes? The program is expected to improve the current standards, sort the most persistent problems and create opportunities to rework and revise Medicare. How will all this happen?
With MACRA in place, there won’t be two digit payment cuts like in the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Besides enhancing the use of electronic health records, MACRA is expected to increase the relevance of Medicare to the real world and reduce the administrative burden from physicians’ shoulders.
MIPS stands for Merit-Based Incentive Payment System. It will streamline the three independent programs Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), meaningful use, and value-based modifier to ease the burden on the clinicians. The three components in MIPS will replace these programs. Besides this, one more component will be there to bring improvements in practice. Namely following components will be there in MIPS:
1.) Quality: This component will replace the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). Under MIPS the methods of reporting and the various quality measures have been adopted from the old programs PQRS and VBM. There are some changes in the reporting methods and for the registry, EHR, and Qualified Clinical Data Registry (QCDR) reporting methods, a clinician can select minimum six measures which could be a combination of any quality domain. If the clinician faces patients, then he has to select in such a way that one of these measures is cross-cutting measure (cross-domain-cutting), and one is outcome-based measure. If there is no outcome-based measure, then a high priority measure has to be selected.
Besides these six measures, CMS will calculate two or three more measures depending on the size of the group of physicians. For instance, if there is an individual physician or a group less than 10 then two measures and if more than that then three measures. Additionally, for QCDR and registry reporting methods, the “data completeness” standard has been changed. The number of patients to be reported within a measure denominator has been raised from 50 percent to 90 percent.
2.) Advancing Care Information: According to MIPS the meaningful use program will see a lot of changes. Currently, the meaningful use program is everything-or-nothing; i.e., if one clinician achieves a performance rate of 20 percent on meaningful use measures and another achieves 90 percent then they both get rewards in a similar fashion. However, under ACI the latter one gets 10 out of 10 points, and the former gets three points.
More than 100 ACI performance points have been defined out of which base 50 are base points given for reporting either “yes” or a non-zero numerator. The performance scores are up to 80 points based on the performance on eight measures. Rest bonus points are awarded for reporting any other public health registry.
Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.
The digitization of healthcare was a much-needed change brought after years of hard work and effort. One might wonder how could one justify the expenditure of $10 billion in a span of five years just on digitization. The problem intensifies when after several studies we find out that EHRs only reciprocate around 30 to 35 cents on a dollar and sometimes the figure dips to 15 cents.
Why have we digitized healthcare when the efforts required to get the desired result is still too much? I think we haven’t used the available technological aids appropriately. It is like driving a car at midnight and not knowing that you have headlights. You can have a clear view of your path, you can get to your destination fairly fast but can’t because you don’t know what is going to help you and in what way, your performance is reduced to a great extent to be able to achieve what you desire
Justified use of EHR could create the needed ecosystem
According to a report, 10 percent to 20 percent of savings are possible if a value-focused healthcare organizations capitalize on EHRs and interact with their patients better through technology. The amount that could be saved annually per bed is in between $10,000 and $20,000.
There are incentives for meaningful use of EHRs, but the truth is that the return through meaningful use incentives is somewhere around 15 or 20 cents on a dollars. There have been implementation, stabilization and optimization problems that have made it hard for healthcare organizations to extract the best out of EHRs. Practices will have to start using data as a source of innovation and come up with solutions that’ll not provide them better incentives but assist them in providing even better patient-centric care.
There are certain key points one can work on to make their healthcare ecosystem more efficient and patient-centric. Only judicious data usage from data disparate sources can help in so many ways, imagine what else is possible with advanced solutions. The integration of EHR with different disparate sources could be really beneficial in understanding the factors that drive value-based care. For instance, with the help of various data one can perform:
Population Health Management: With the help of data collected from different sources, impact at a population could be created and analyzed. Once you have the data of millions of patients, imagine all the things that are possible. Identification of at-risk patients, stratification of patients on the basis of various disease registries, better decision making, and a lot more. According to a study, due to disease management programs the cost of care were reduced by $136 per member per month because of reduction in admission rates by 29 percent.
Variations in Care Delivery: Efficient analytics and data management can help answer many questions. The medication process could be streamlined on the basis of past cases, and identified opportunities could be capitalized. Also, a thorough data-driven analytics could provide substantial insights on the performance of various facilities and how they differ when it comes to care delivery process.
Guest post by Lea Chatham, editor-in-chief, Getting Paid, a Kareo Resource.
Patient engagement has been the hot topic of this past year or two. Everyone agrees that engaging patients more in their healthcare can help reduce costs and improve overall health. A study conducted by HIMSS in 2015 showed that the majority of physicians believe patient engagement is beneficial and should be a part of their job. However, the study also concluded that over 40 percent of physicians worry that there is little reimbursement for engagement activities.
Patient are looking for more ways to connect with providers from online scheduling to text reminder to email follow ups and social media. And while many see these as conveniences, the reality is that they do also improve health and have the potential to reduce costs. Studies have shown that simple follow up communications via text and email can help ensure patients show up for appointments and can reduce hospital re-admissions, which has a big impact on healthcare costs.
Unfortunately, physicians are already stretched thin trying to care for patients, run their practices, adhere to complex programs like meaningful use and PQRS, and navigate changes like ICD-10. Who has the time to do more? And many providers worry that “engagement” means more work with less reimbursement. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact there are many opportunities to automate engagement and provide the tools patients want without adding any time or effort to a provider’s plate. Today, there are solutions that once set up enable easy online scheduling, text and email reminders, follow up patient surveys, and even re-care programs.
This infographic highlights some of the feelings of both patients and providers feel about patient engagement and shows how practices can utilize engagement strategies that benefits both and do have a financial return.
The current plight of America’s healthcare industry is not wholly unprecedented. In fact, it isn’t even unique.
American education — higher education in particular — is going through a parallel period of turmoil and scrutiny. It is really uncanny how closely the two industries actually reflect one another. Consider:
Both are critical industries whose public/private status is up for constant debate
Both serve an essentially captive market: everyone needs education to succeed in the economy, and everyone, sooner or later, will require some form of healthcare
There has been a historical tendency for both to treat the people they serve as customers, rather than as students or patients. It is more than semantics: it is a reflection of an underlying philosophy that can potentially compromise the mission of each type of institution
Both are going through a crisis of accountability, in terms of what standards are used to measure their performance, and to whom they must answer for that performance
Both have been very slow to adopt modern technology, and as a result are going through a rapid, disruptive catch-up period
In the race to modernize and reconcile many of these conflicts of purpose and identity, it appears that higher education as a whole may be slightly ahead. Because of this relative lead on the healthcare industry, behavior within the American college and university system can act as a rough preview for the health sector. So, what do we see upon gazing into this crystal ball?
All for One?
A helpful place to direct this gaze is the recent ASU GSV Summit. The name alone reveals much about what is happening in higher education, and needs to happen in healthcare: Arizona State University, in the interest of promoting innovation, collaboration, and evolution in the higher education sector, joined forces with Global Silicon Valley’s family of companies to create their joint summit.
The summit began in 2009, seven years into the tenure of ASU president Michael Crow, who has become one of the leading voices and actors in higher education’s 21st century evolution. The summit is just one of the many strategic partnerships Crow has helped organize through ASU. Aligning the school with everything from technology startups supporting the development of ASU’s online degree programs, to the Mayo Clinic Medical School to offer future doctors transdisciplinary education in fields like business or engineering, Crow is expanding the reach of America’s largest public university by strategically sharing its resources.
In American medicine, there is a clear need for a similar attitude toward strategic partnerships and mission alignment, especially with technology companies and developers. This need is most acute in terms of EHR interoperability. Despite all the rhetoric, the old mentality of siloes, competition, and proprietary ownership prevail, and information remains immobile.
This symptom has implications that extend into every other facet of healthcare.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, billionaire, surgeon and incorrigible optimist, has set his sights on curing cancer. Much like the Precision Medicine Initiative, Soon-Shiong’s approach to this challenge is a matter of getting more, better data from as many partner institutions as possible.
“Cancer is really a rare disease,” he explains. “Because of the molecular signature, because of the heterogeneity, no single institution will have enough data about any [single] cancer. So you actually need to create a collaborative overarching global connected system.”
The end result — better medicine, better outcomes — is something common to the mission of every clinical organization, and ever caregiver practicing medicine. But the means — large scale collaboration, facilitated by transparency and a suspension of select elements of competition — are seldom realized in the current environment. Reconciling the ends and the means requires organizations to think bigger than themselves, and prioritize the sort of partnerships that bring new perspectives, larger pools of data, and creative solutions where they are desperately needed.
Vice President Joe Biden recently took the stage at Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C. to discuss where healthcare technology currently stands, and he didn’t hold back. Among other things, he chastised the industry for poor health IT system interoperability and the resulting difficulties it causes providers and patients. “We have to ask ourselves, why are we not progressing more rapidly?” Biden lamented.
Biden’s criticism is only the latest high-profile commentary about the unfulfilled promise of information technology in healthcare. AMA leaders and individual physicians have been grousing about it for years. We’ve seen technology increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve productivity in every other industry – but why not healthcare?
Ironically, seven years after the passage of the HITECH Act of 2009, doctors are less productive than they were before, and IT is the culprit. Rather than enabling a better, more streamlined workflow, IT has become a burden.
The drag that IT is placing on healthcare providers is a principal reason why U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced with great fanfare at the HIMSS16 conference an “interoperability pledge,” which vendors and providers alike are encouraged to take. Its purpose in part is “to help consumers easily and securely access their electronic health information, direct it to any desired location, learn how their information can be shared and used, and be assured that this information will be effectively and safely used to benefit their health and that of their community.”
This call resonates because the promise of better healthcare through technology has been broken. Technology has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we watch TV, the way we drive, and the way we interact with our homes. As an industry, healthcare is lagging way behind. The consequences are drastic. In order for us to deliver the kind of holistic care that will truly improve people’s health, it’s time not only to talk about the potential, but to make it a reality for users and providers across the healthcare continuum.
Here’s the reality: we have today what 10 years ago was called a supercomputer in front of physicians – a device that knows virtually everything about the patient – but it isn’t helping out in ways that we take for granted in our everyday lives when we shop online, use Google Maps or order an Uber.
Guest post by Justin Sotomayor, pharmacy informatics director, CompleteRx.
The field of health informatics has grown exponentially over the past 50 years. From Robert Ledley’s work paving the way for the use of electronic digital computers in biology and medicine in the 1950s, to the founding of the American Medical Informatics Association in the 1990s, to the launch of the Medicare/Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program in the 2000s, it continues to mark new milestones at an astounding pace, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the healthcare industry.
Three trends – in particular – will have a marked impact on patients and practitioners, and are certain to define health informatics in the near future, if not for years to come.
The end of Meaningful Use
In 2009, with the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, came the launch of the Meaningful Use program – and the related requirement that healthcare providers show “meaningful use” of a certified EHR to qualify for incentive payments. With both Stage 1 (adoption) and Stage 2 (coordination of care and exchange of information) behind them, hospitals are fully responsible for Stage 3 (improved outcomes) by 2018. While, undoubtedly, the program has improved EHR adoption – in many cases, streamlining and enhancing patient care – it has been widely criticized. In a 2015 news release, the American Medical Association regarded Stage 2 as a “widespread failure,” suggesting it monopolized staff attention without commensurate benefit to patients, and hampered innovation.
Most recently, following highly-publicized remarks in January by CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt that Meaningful Use would be replaced, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed transitioning Meaningful Use for Medicare physicians to the “Advancing Care Information (ACI)” program under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). According to Mr. Slavitt, this program is designed to be “far simpler, less burdensome, and more flexible,” primarily by loosening the requirements to qualify for extra payments, and incentivizing providers based on treatment merit, known as Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). While this update doesn’t yet affect hospitals or Medicaid providers, and these groups should continue to prepare for full Meaningful Use implementation, it’s an indication that industry concerns over meaningful use are being heard and responded to, and that additional changes may be forthcoming.
Guest post by Emily Tyson, director of emerging markets, Curaspan.
On the cusp of many important changes currently impacting major healthcare policies, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), made a striking statement to the audience at the J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference earlier this year: “The meaningful use program as it has existed will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.” This remark created a stir within the healthcare community, which has long lamented the burdensome documentation and lackluster results most often associated with the Meaningful Use (MU) program, and left many providers and healthcare organizations wondering what that really meant for the future of reimbursement, along with healthcare technology and EHR regulation.
What do we know today?
Slavitt’s comments reference a transition – not a replacement – to a new payment program. The government is making a concerted effort to lessen the burden associated with its programs and push the industry toward value-based care. Last year Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The Act made three notable, high impact changes to Medicare reimbursement:
It ended the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for physician reimbursement;
It created a new framework to compensate healthcare providers for better, higher quality care (rather than higher volumes of services); and
It streamlined the process by combining existing quality reporting programs into one new system.
With the recent release of the proposed MACRA ruling, the Act and associated rules may take effect on January 1, 2017 and will offer healthcare providers two options for participating in quality programs: (1) Fee-for-service (FFS) combined with greater incentives through a new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), or (2) Alternative Payment Models (APMs). The current payment adjustments associated with the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), the Value-based Payment Modifier (VBPM), and MU will be phased out and replaced with a consolidated approach. MIPS will provide payment adjustments based on four weighted performance categories: Quality (30 percent), Resource Use (30 percent), Meaningful Use of Certified EHR Technology (25 percent), and Clinical Practice Improvement Activities (15 percent). APMs include reimbursement models, such as ACOs, patient centered medical homes, and bundled payments.
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.