On December 14, 2020, less than one year after COVID-19 sent our nation into lockdown and a period of uncertainty, the U.S. began rolling out a new set of vaccines. COVID-19 challenged and stretched our healthcare system, with great strain on our heroic providers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical professionals.
Since the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, we’ve improved distribution greatly and as of May 10, 2021, the FDA even expanded Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents aged 12-15, further accelerating the vaccine rollout across the nation. As we’ve taken great strides recently to expand immunization to the wider population, we can reflect on the progress we’ve seen across the healthcare industry.
The past year has been filled with healthcare IT innovation which includes the almost instantaneous shift toward telehealth technologies, with utilization increasing from less than one percent to more than one-third of all visits, and new enhancements including virtual check-ins, COVID-19 screeners, virtual waiting rooms, and high-volume vaccine workflows.
One thing that healthcare IT companies were unprepared for was the incredible spike in inbound patient appointment request volumes as testing (and vaccine distributions) ramped up. In the early days of vaccine availability, scheduling systems found their servers crushed by demand. This sudden and unprecedented surge of patients attempting to schedule appointments exposed scalability issues in many scheduling systems, rendering it challenging to book appointments online.
True cloud-based SaaS systems, such as athenahealth, fared better than traditional on premise or remote hosted systems. Even so, the first release of roughly 6,000 appointment inquiries at one of athenahealth’s New Jersey customers in January resulted in an immediate onslaught of traffic and exposed several previously undetected configuration issues. Fortunately, these configuration issues were able to be quickly resolved, and athenahealth was able to support and meet its clients’ vaccine workflow needs and the intensity of the appointment request volume throughout the rest of the vaccination push.
With the high number of COVID-19 cases (currently 33.3 million in the U.S. alone), the COVID-19 vaccination effort has brought forth a new set of administrative challenges. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech require two doses and, while this is not a new concept for vaccines, the scale, scope, and importance of ensuring that patients follow-up and receive their second dose required a myriad of steps.
Vaccine registries (and perhaps soon: proof of vaccination or “vaccination passports”) have gone from the domain of a few public health officials to the key to winning the battle with the virus. Complicating this issue, every state across the nation has its own vaccine registry — each with different requirements and approaches. As a result, the vaccine administration process has faced scrutiny and received a bit of an overhaul. These reconstructed processes, much like the incorporation of virtual visits into care delivery options, will pay dividends well into the future.
While the healthcare industry has made great strides in inoculating patients, there are still lessons to be learned, especially when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine workflows and the role EHRs play in supporting providers and patients. Here are the ways in which EHR technologies can and are improving COVID-19 vaccine workflows to heal industry pain points:
To say that this has been a challenging year for healthcare providers would be a grave understatement. From the financial hardships that the state shutdowns brought, to the need to change traditional processes to create a COVID-19 safe environment, we have proven that while healthcare may be recession proof, it is not pandemic proof. Although we hope that the majority of these immediate challenges are behind us (or will be behind us once we have a widely distributed vaccine), the healthcare industry has gone through momentous changes in 2020 which will no doubt drive lasting transformation for years to come.
No matter the role healthcare providers play or their specialties, all providers have experienced some degree of change. Some of the biggest changes that we’ve experienced in 2020 — that will continue to drive trends in the coming year — include shifts toward value-based care (VBC) models, increased focus on whole-person health, and utilization of digital health tools.
Continued Emphasis on VBC and Whole-Person Care
One of the most unexpected observations that providers have had is that those with VBC financial arrangements saw better results than practices with exclusively traditional fee-for-service (FFS) models. In effect, having both VBC and FFS models provides business model diversification and protection against systemic volume declines. This isn’t something that was considered or talked about pre-pandemic.
VBC has been an accelerating force in the healthcare landscape the past few years and has made us rethink patients as consumers. We’ll continue to see practices want to differentiate themselves by moving to VBC models. Additionally, practices will shift away from the problem-focused approach and practice medicine with a much more holistic, patient-focused strategy. There will be advancement toward whole-person care models and new ways to care for patients outside of the encounter and proactively intervene.
The healthcare industry has acknowledged the impact that behavioral, social and human service needs have on an individual’s health — which is causing primary care providers to adopt new offerings around behavioral health. This starts with assessments and will grow into psychosocial support. Also expect that there will be an increased need for mental health support because of the isolation and reduced social connections to friends and family resulting from the pandemic.
QuickCred, the credentialing division of MedTrainer, Inc., announces its partnership with athenahealth, the leading provider of network-enabled services for electronic health records (EHR), medical billing and care coordination. The collaboration will enable medical practices to take advantage of QuickCred’s state-of-the-art compliance and credentialing system while optimizing revenue cycle management through athenahealth.
By merging the strengths of QuickCred and athenahealth, medical practices can solve three of their biggest challenges today: administrative strain, clinical efficiency and financial performance. QuickCred and athenahealth’s partnership seeks to help practices dedicate more time to patient care with steady cash flow and full revenue potential by supplying practical, streamlined ways of managing provider credentialing, payer enrollments and privileging.
Regarding the partnership, Steve Gallion, CEO, MedTrainer, the parent company of QuickCred, said, “Provider credentialing is essential to success. Proper credentialing management helps practices avoid the adverse effects of payment delays that quickly compound into serious issues. By joining QuickCred’s streamlined and intuitive compliance and credentialing platform to athenahealth’s revenue cycle management solutions, we are mutually diversifying our messages and bringing greater marketplace benefits to all our customers.”
Ted Gottis, senior vice president, QuickCred, said, “While both companies have very different software solutions, we share a common goal to bring the value-add of a trusted relationship to our mutual customers, helping them streamline and optimize their medical practices. QuickCred’s credentialing services pair perfectly with the need for athenahealth’s clients to deploy credentialing programs that are executed correctly and consistently in order to increase the quality of patient care, ensure proper revenue cycle management and defend against potential litigation.”
Medfusion announces a partnership with athenahealth, Inc. through athenahealth’s Marketplace program. As part of the athenahealth Marketplace, this newly integrated application is now available to athenahealth’s growing network of 120,000 healthcare providers, allowing patients to book appointments directly from a provider’s website — that fully conform to practice rules.
“Medfusion solutions simplify practice workflows and improve the patient experience,” said Kimberly Labow, Medfusion CEO. “We are excited to partner with athenahealth to accelerate the adoption of patient-and-provider-friendly patient self-scheduling solutions. By providing 24/7 access to scheduling—according to practice-defined rules — providers can fill schedule gaps, decrease call volume, attract new patients, and reduce no-shows.”
athenahealth is a network-enabled, results-oriented services company that offers medical record, revenue cycle, patient engagement, care coordination, and population health services for hospital and ambulatory clients. The company’s vision is to build a national health information backbone to help make healthcare work as it should. As a Marketplace partner, Medfusion joins a network of like-minded healthcare professionals who are looking to disrupt established approaches in healthcare that simply aren’t working, aren’t good enough, or aren’t advancing the industry and help providers thrive in the face of industry change.
athenahealth, Inc. announces that its More Disruption Please (MDP) Accelerator is now accepting applications. Launched in June 2014 with the arrival of its first portfolio company, Smart Scheduling, the accelerator is the company’s newest initiative for driving connectivity and innovation across the continuum of care.
The More Disruption Please Accelerator intends to drive disruption in health care by fostering the growth of high-potential, early-stage startups. athenahealth is offering its accelerator portfolio companies seed funding, free office space at its Watertown headquarters, and ongoing mentorship from athenahealth experts, advisors-in-residence and partners. Most notably, the More Disruption Please Accelerator provides its portfolio companies with exposure to athenahealth’s network of more than 55,000 health care providers via seamless integration with athenahealth’s athenaNet platform. Companies interested in working with MDP can now access and test athenahealth’s APIs through a re-imagined developer portal, designed to streamline global connectivity with athenaNet.
Chris Moses, CEO, Smart Scheduling, said, “Smart Scheduling is thrilled to take advantage of athenahealth’s commitment to open, interoperable, and disruptive technology as its first portfolio company. What’s unique about the athenahealth Accelerator is its highly customized approach; we are working together to determine a mutual definition of success for our company. Access to athenahealth’s APIs and cloud-based network has been, and will continue to be, critical to our scalability and success. We look forward to continuing to work with athenahealth’s team to bring our unique service to more and more providers across the country.”
ICD-10 has been delayed. Change has been left unchanged. The can has been kicked down the road by politicians in Washington, despite a great deal of opposition from those in healthcare. Of course, opposition to the delay seemed to matter little as it was voted upon, and passed, as part of the broader SGR patch.
Athenahealth, one of the better known vendor names in the health IT landscape issued the following statement in reaction to the news of the delay of ICD-10 for another year to October 2015. Ed Park, executive vice president and chief operating officer, athenahealth, said: “It is unfortunate that the government has once again chosen to delay ICD-10. athenahealth and its clients are/were prepared for the ICD-10 transition, and in fact we have national payer data showing that 78 percent of payers are currently proving readiness in line with the 2014 deadline. The moving goal line is a significant distraction to providers and inappropriately invokes massive additional investments of time and money for all. The issue is even more serious when considered in association with another short-term SGR fix and 2013’s meaningful use Stage 2 delay. It is alarmingly clear that healthcare is operating in an environment where there is no penalty for not being able to keep pace with necessary steps and deadlines to move health care forward. Our system is already woefully behind in embracing technology to drive information quality, data exchange, and efficiency, and delays like this only hinder us further.”
Sharp words, but appropriate. It’s nice to see a vendor come out and speak some truth, at least as they see it. Despite the somewhat shocking and seemingly inappropriate delay of ICD-10, it’s clear the waiting will continue for the new deadline.
Athenahealth is not alone. Others feel similarly about the delay. The following are responses from several healthcare practitioners and their partners about the ICD-10 delay. They provide some interesting insight about the move from October 1, 2014, to 2015 and express disappointment and, in some cases, anger about the postponement.
ICD-8 was not an industry standard, so when ICD-9 was introduced, it was a huge undertaking to try and get people trained. For the ICD-10 transition, we have a current standard to work with. The real roadblock for many are the intricacies of ICD-10 because despite all the preparation training you go through, if you don’t have an anatomy and physiology background, it’s going to be a lot harder. I can understand why then, the compliance date would be pushed back but with all the time the industry has spent talking about ICD-10, there are so many resources and educational materials by now that are readily available to healthcare entities. The 2014 ICD-10 compliance date was actually very realistic and attainable with the proper resources.
What’s more confusing in this scenario, is the fact that non-covered entities including property and casualty insurance health plans and worker’s compensation programs, along with others, have started to switch to ICD-10 codes in effort to seamlessly align with the rest of the industry. It’d be a mess if the vendor or partner you were using wasn’t prepared. So now there’s a disconnect. Half of the industry is prepared, half isn’t. There will always be bumps in the road when you’re talking about an entire industry switching to a new language, but a bit of tough love would have done the industry good here. Now we’ll see more time, more energy and more resources go to waste.
If you love drama, there may be no better time than now to be in health IT. Specifically, the CommonWell Health Alliance movement – spearheaded by vendor giants Allscripts, Athenahealth, Cerner, Greenway and McKesson — to promote health information exchange.
However, as we all know, the one giant in the room not to be invited to the dance, Epic, is crying foul.
Does healthcare technology actually interfere with patient care? Apparently so, according to a new study commissioned by athenahealth.
“Overburdened” physicians face pressures from continual government “intervention,” “increased use of and frustration with EHRs” and “administrative burdens.”
According to the study, physicians are disenfranchised.
Why? Well, according to athena’s study, there’s too much change. Perhaps that’s a bit of a blunt summation, but it seems to be the picture the study paints.
Nearly half the physicians interviewed for the study said electronic health records were not designed with the physician in mind while nearly two-thirds said the EHRs take away from their ability to engage with patients.
Some of this is obviously subjective opinion. Of course, there’s really no way to measure whether or not patients feel put off by their doctors entering data during the visit. On the contrary, there are plenty of reports to suggest that patients actually appreciate that doctors use an EHR during the visit.
However, from the eye of the beholder (physicians), they’re the ones sitting in the practice day after day getting a feel for the moods of their patients in the exam room once the keyboard comes out.
Sadly, the conclusion they have come to as a collective population is that EHRs are significantly reducing the quality of care patients receive. Again, this is filled with opinion, but if it’s the mood conveyed, that mood is bound to rub off on the patient population and will affect their perception of the technology, too.
These same physicians – more than 80 percent of physicians in the study – also feel the future of the independent practice is not viable, and more than two thirds feel the quality of care will greatly diminish over the next five years because of all these continuous distractions, including technology’s pervasiveness in the practice space.
This is stark “reality” for the profession from the mouths of its professionals.
Interestingly, in a completely unrelated study by recruiting firm Jackson Healthcare, more than a third of private practitioners say they will quit private practice within the next 10 years because of “declining reimbursement, capitation, and unprofitable practice; business complexities and hassles; overhead and cost of doing business too high.”
Where they’ll likely end up is obvious: in a hospital setting or in a hospital-owned practice. Why leave? They said they fear economic factors facing private practice (the first reason given) and they don’t want to practice in the age of reform (second response), which may be quite difficult given the current climate of healthcare.
What does all of this eye-opening information mean?
Well, it doesn’t bode well for those concerned about the ever increasing shortage of healthcare providers.
Perhaps more troublesome, though, is that no matter how much time is spent educating and informing certain segments of the healthcare population, there are always going to be many who remain unconvinced that technology produces practice efficiencies and helps lead to better care outcomes.