The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March, has provided a lifeline for many businesses — including healthcare organizations. Amid the grim reality of medical equipment shortages and limited hospital beds, the CARES Act provides the healthcare industry much-needed relief.
Considering a significant number of practices are struggling to keep their doors open, and hospitals have experienced significant revenue loss from elective procedures being cancelled or postponed, the act has been pivotal in providing critical aid.
However, at over 800 pages, understanding the full impact of the act can be challenging. Below, I’m sharing how the CARES Act can benefit healthcare providers, as well as additional steps medical practices can take today to ensure the financial security of their organizations.
What You Need to Know About the PPP
By now, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been in place for a few weeks, and many healthcare practices with fewer than 500 employees have likely already submitted their applications. Whether you’ve already applied for the PPP or are weighing your options, here is some need-to-know information to consider.
At its core, the PPP gives businesses an incentive to keep their staff employed. Funds dispersed from this program can be used to cover up to eight weeks of payroll costs and other eligible expenses, such as rent, utilities and mortgage interest. This loan can provide practices with the necessary funds they need to keep their staff employed and continue serving their communities.
While the initial funding for the PPP from the CARES Act quickly ran out, another law passed in April 2020 provided another welcome injection of funding in the program.
The electronic health record (EHR) industry continues to undergo a significant transformation, with many physicians asking themselves whether they consider their EHR a friend or a foe.
In too many cases, medical staff feel their EHR works against them, not for them. In fact, according to Medical Economics’ 2019 EHR score report, 60% of physicians said their current EHR system was harming their ability to engage with patients. In addition, The National Academy of Medicine found that as many as half of American physicians and nurses experience substantial symptoms of burnout. And, the same study found that poorly designed technology is a major contributing factor due to the increased amount of time needed to keep systems properly updated.
This should not be the case, and it’s time to change this narrative.
As we near a new year and a new decade, it’s time to focus on advancing EHRs to make the lives of physicians easier, while assisting in improving the patient experience, increasing engagement, enhancing administrative burdens, and more.
Required features and functionalities of EHRs in the next decade include:
Legacy EHR’s are typically thought of as outdated and lacking customization. Custom forms take months to build, cost extra and users ultimately lack control over the functionality. This is not acceptable by today’s standards. Every healthcare practice and specialty is different. So, the EHR must be customizable to fit each practices’ needs in order to optimize efficiency in data entry and management.
In addition, medical trends and challenges are constantly evolving. For example, opioid addiction has risen to epidemic levels in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that more than 130 people die from an opioid overdose every day. Fortunately, health information technology has emerged as a powerful tool for tracking prescription activity.
EHR’s hold a tremendous amount of data – data that can help physicians provide better care to a specific patient or population. Armed with these analytics, a practice can gain insight into population health — along with reporting requirements for government incentive programs and data to optimize billing and cash flow.
The EHR of the next decade should be a tool for decision making. EHRs need to utilize advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to make smart suggestions based on data.
An EHR should not just track if a patient is following their care plan, but alert providers when a patient has missed certain critical elements and make suggestions on how best to proceed. As such, the technology can be used to play a larger role in lowering no-show rates and helping predict which patients will have the most success – or biggest challenges – with certain treatment plans.
EHR’s should also be capable of helping physicians make the best financial decisions for their practices. In addition to increasing practice efficiencies and costs, EHRs assist in offering reduced drug and treatment plans with expected costs.
Like so many industries in today’s Third Industrial Revolution, the pace of innovation in healthcare today is fast and ever-changing. New technologies – like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and voice recognition – are at the heart of applications and tools that are becoming demanded by patients and more ingrained in clinicians’ daily workflows.
For vendors developing new solutions based on these technologies, it appears they find themselves in a ‘race,’ striving to be first-to-market in order to establish their competitive edge. But being on the bleeding edge of innovation isn’t always easy. The healthcare industry has not been immune to this rapid quest for first-mover advantage. Often when this occurs, these new solutions sacrifice the quality and functionality required to deliver on promised improvements.
Think about the initial introduction of the electronic health record (EHR). Billed as a way to make practices and physicians more efficient, many early EHR solutions had the opposite effect – creating a significant learning curve and adding to physicians’ workloads overall. While EHRs may have made great strides toward digitizing medical records, taking paper and manual processes out of the equation, they often created new problems that placed different burdens on practices, providers and patients. In fact, in the early days, physicians reported spending more than half of their workday – an average of six hours – using the EHR, plus another 86 minutes after hours.
But EHRs are not the only healthcare technology solution attributing to this challenge – it transcends innovation across the entire health IT sector. As an industry, we must take a step back and slowdown to ensure all new technology can deliver meaningful change to practices, providers and patients.
How to Design New Healthcare Technology with the End-User in Mind
A key to ensuring healthcare technology delivers true benefits is considering how it will fit into day-to-day operations of the end-user – whether that be a patient, a nurse, a surgeon or a billing manager. Before introducing any new technology to the market, make sure your first intention is to get it right.
To do that, engineering teams must employ “user-centered design,” a concept that emerged in the mid-1980s. This approach, defined by the International Standards Organization, “aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge and techniques.” The goal ultimately is to enhance effectiveness and efficiency, improve human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability, and to counteract possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance.
User-centered design in healthcare could entail shadowing a nurse to observe his workflow when triaging patients, following a surgeon to see how she develops post-op papers, or interviewing patients to understand how they obtain healthcare information in their daily lives.
With that experience, you can then ascertain what capabilities would make users’ lives easier or more effective. From there, determine if there’s a way to improve an existing product on the market to fulfill needs, or whether a completely new platform is required.
Key Questions to Answer When Implementing a User-Centered Design Approach
There are several questions you must consider when following this method:
As a physician, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is building relationships with my patients. In developing this connection, I’m able to better understand their healthcare challenges and frustrations, which enables me to ultimately help them achieve their health goals.
But establishing strong patient engagement is getting harder, in part due to the ever-changing regulations and daily demands we as physicians must manage.
Consider this: During a 20-minute appointment, physicians spend only about 12 minutes interacting with the patient and 8 minutes documenting their visit on the electronic health record (EHR). Once the patient leaves, we spend another 11 minutes completing documentation in an effort to keep up with payer demands and comply with other requirements.
While healthcare tech – in the forms of EHRs, patient portals, secure messaging or mobile apps – are proven to help foster stronger connections between physicians and patients, it’s the personal touch, the solid relationship between the patient and the provider, that’s most important.
Building a Trusted Relationship: The Patient <> Provider Connection
Despite best intentions, many healthcare practices fail to provide solid patient experiences. Considering today’s healthcare environment where individuals now foot more of their healthcare bill than ever before, patients are seeking greater value and convenience for their money.
According to a recent study, nearly half of all healthcare consumers are frustrated with their healthcare experiences. Why? Because there is a gap in perception between providers and consumers on the quality of experience currently being provided.
To overcome this disconnect, let’s go back to the basics. As a child, you’re taught that it’s proper etiquette to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eyes when speaking with them. This is true for physicians as well.
The first step in building better relationships with patients is to make eye contact with them. In fact, a recent JAMA study found that patients equate engagement with eye contact from the provider. As simple as this seems, many physicians (myself included) sometimes struggle with this due to the fact that we are heads down in our technology systems.
However, eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication and shows our patients that we are giving them our undivided attention. Trust me – patients notice whether or not their doctors make eye contact. If we are constantly looking at our computer or tablet during an office visit, the patient automatically feels the disconnect and will rate their overall healthcare experience much lower.
Overcoming the Pitfalls of Technology to Improve the Patient Experience
While the human element in healthcare is of paramount importance, there is still a role for patient engagement technology, which can enhance and strengthen our personal relationships with patients. However, practices must make sure these tools are integrated and operate seamlessly. While patient engagement technologies look great on paper, when put into practice, they often require patients to use different apps or access a variety of unconnected systems.
Portals are one of the most common technologies that can be used to engage patients, however research shows that more than 56% of patients have said they’ve never been encouraged to use an online medical record by practice staff, and 47% of patients offered access to a portal have never viewed their health info. In addition to making patients aware that these technologies exist, it’s also crucial to discuss the benefits of patient portals, such as simplified processes for refilling prescriptions, scheduling appointments, reviewing health information and more.
Fostering a Successful Technology-Enabled Patient Engagement Strategy
While it’s true that it takes both people and software to truly engage patients, applications of patient engagement technology can be successful when enabled by a compassionate and sincere strategy. Some key considerations when implementing these technologies include:
By Marvin Luz, senior director of revenue cycle management transformation, Greenway Health.
The move to value-based care not only impacts the approach providers take to serving their patients, but it also changes the way they document, account for, and bill patients — quickening billing cycles and creating a need for better cost containment.
Timely revenue cycle management (RCM) is essential for success in this new healthcare realm, but many practices still handle billing as if they were in the fee-for-service age. This leads to critical mistakes that cost them in the long run, including:
#1 – Lack of a defined process
Billing glitches originate in several areas of practice operations, especially during busy times. With many patients coming in and out of the office, important information may be miscommunicated, overlooked, or even lost. Practices must standardize their billing processes as a “cycle” that is clinically driven and embraced by staff.
#2 – Neglecting critical information
While managing every type of information contained in documents that practices require may seem overwhelming, providers must embrace this task to optimize revenue opportunities. For example, when organizations understand the nuances of payer contracts, they are in a better position to fully leverage payment and negotiations. Equally important is staying on top of edit reports, explanation of benefits forms, and other claims issues, while also making sure denied claims are reworked and resubmitted in a timely manner.
#3 – Failing to follow up
Providers employ a variety of strategies to improve collections, including appeals, tracers, collections letters, and payment plans. While these tactics are a good first step, many fall short due to lack of follow-up. Research conducted by Greenway Health found that only 62 percent of practices review delinquent claims, while just 59 percent of secondary claims are filed due to back office time constraints. Often, by the time a practice realizes a patient or payer has not responded, it’s too late to collect the money owed.
#4 Drowning in detail
Details are important, but when billing practices become all about them, organizations can neglect the bigger picture revenue opportunities. For example, if practices look for trends, such as repeated claims denials for the same services or claims that are denied for registration errors, processes can be reworked to avoid those common errors to occur in the future.
The cornucopia that is the annual HIMSS conference and tradeshow – healthcare technology’s biggest event – is behind us, but what’s left in the wake is wonderful, inspiring even, if not a bit overwhelming. The reactions to this year’s event have been overwhelmingly positive. Interoperability in the form of data sharing and a ban on patient health information blocking by CMS (through proposed rules released the first day of HIMSS) set the tone.
This was followed by CMS administrator Seema Verma taking a strong tone in all of her presentations at HIMSS, with the media and during her keynote speech. The federal body made it clear that data generated from patient care is, unequivocally, their data. While these themes heavily influenced the show, there were other takeaways.
There are many other diverse opinions about what came out at HIMSS19 and the themes that will affect healthcare in the year ahead. For some additional perspective, I turned to healthcare’s thought leaders; people who are a lot smarter than I. Their responses follow. That said, did we miss anything in the following?
Dr. Geeta Nayyar, Femwell Group Health and TopLine MD
After spending a week surrounded by some of the most intellectual and innovative minds globally in healthcare at HIMSS19, I’m even more confident that the shift toward patient engagement mass adoption is well underway and ON FHIR. The new CMS/ONC proposed law around interoperability and penalties for “information blocking,” are both touchdowns for the quarterback, which remains to be patient engagement. The robust discussions during the pre-conference HIMSS patient engagement program, reflected a move to a consumer-centric approach evidenced by the presence of Amazon, Google and Microsoft at the show. The keynote by Premier’s CEO Susan Devore shared a consumer-centered, provider led vision, “with data flowing seamlessly and being analyzed and effectively leveraged to guide decision making at the point of care.” Collaboration in healthcare is the key to everyone’s success. I was inspired to see her and so many women coming together to support each other in HIT, as Dr. Mom remains the healthcare decision maker in the households, we are all ultimately trying to reach.
Andrew Schall, Modernizing Medicine
Physician burnout continues to be a hot topic coming out of HIMSS19 and many feel that EHR platforms may be a part of the burnout epidemic. There were several sessions that focused on user-centered design at HIMSS this year including one that focused on the iterative approach to software development and user experience. First, I think that the industry is recognizing that one-size-fits doesn’t work for EHRs. Additionally, I believe that improvements will come in large part from the greater involvement of practicing physicians in designing specialty-specific EHR workflows and interfaces. A combination of powerful technology like AI and augmented intelligence, as well as well-designed EHR solutions with an intuitive user interface and user experience, will help ease the physician burden and automate time-consuming and administrative tasks like coding and billing – ultimately reducing burnout.
Shane Whitlatch, FairWarning
HIMSS 2019 showcased the ongoing digital transformation to make healthcare responsive to patients across a continuum of care. Enabling patients to be able to access, use and own their personal health data, while ensuring privacy and security was the central takeaway of this year’s HIMSS. Notable, critical moves to support this goal included: the Department of Health and Human Services announced proposed rules to enhance interoperability and data access with payor data; ongoing security and privacy efforts to ensure appropriate patient access to their data while mitigating emerging risks from items including medical devices to nation-state attackers; and artificial intelligence and machine learning initiatives to effectively manage the tsunami of data in healthcare while promoting optimal healthcare.
Tripp Peake, LRVHealth
The best part of HIMSS this year was we seemed to get away from a single buzzword. Healthcare is hard, there’s no silver bullet. The Precision Medicine Summit got into the weeds about how to really roll out a program in a provider system. The AI companies stopped talking about AI for AI sake and were more focused on ROI. Everyone seemed more balanced about VBC: yes, inevitable, but also gradual. Consumerism was probably as close to a central theme as existed. And I continue to be excited about the energy, creativity, and commitment of the entrepreneurs in this market.
Don Woodlock, InterSystems
Anytime you bring 43,000 healthcare professionals together in one location, you will never have a shortage of opinions on the future of the industry. We are at the cusp of a revolution in healthcare, driven by technological advancements. Some key trends we saw at HIMSS19 were, no surprise, around artificial intelligence, where people are trying to enhance predictive risk scoring and improve patient engagement. Additionally, there were profound announcements around mandating application programming interface (APIs) to improve the flow of healthcare data across the ecosystem. As interoperability becomes liquid, it will become the critical component of every healthcare system, driving the industry to new heights.
Paddy Padmanabhan, Damo Consulting
On day one of the conference, the HHS sucked the oxygen out of the room by dropping a proposed 800-page rule on data and interoperability. The rule aims to aggressively expand interoperability by making it mandatory for providers and health plans participating in government programs such as Medicare Advantage, CHIP and others to make patient data available to patients as a condition for business. CMS head Seema Verma and ONC Chief Don Rucker drove the message home repeatedly during the conference. Indeed, Seema Verma declared it an epic misunderstanding that patient data can belong to anyone other than the patient. A somewhat sobering counterpoint was voiced by Epic Systems CEO Judy Faulkner in a media interview where she suggested that interoperability challenges go well beyond data sharing by EHR vendors. Regardless of where it may fall, interoperability will continue to dominate healthcare IT agenda for some time to come. Related issues around new and emerging data sources, especially social determinants of health, will gain prominence in the coming months.
Erin Benson, LexisNexis Health Care
The proposed rule on interoperability of health information influenced most conversations at HIMSS. In the context of cybersecurity, the rule served as a reminder that it’s just as important to let “good guys” in quickly and seamlessly as it is to prevent unauthorized access. We want to enable value-based care and give patients the ability to manage their own health by having access to their records. We also want to keep costs low and efficiency high by enabling interoperability and giving partners, vendors and employees necessary access to systems. Therefore, a cybersecurity strategy needs to strike a balance between user engagement and data security.
Mike Morgan, Updox
The power of consumerism is really impacting healthcare and the need for patient engagement is alive and well. Providers across the board must look at new technologies and ways to redefine patient engagement to better communicate with patients and partners but do it via channels that are easy for staff and customers to use. New applications, such as telehealth and secure text messaging, have changed how healthcare communicates and consumers are demanding that immediate, convenient engagement.
Vince Vickers, KPMG
HIMSS19 seemed to have the most decision makers at the conference in five-plus years when a lot of healthcare organizations were still looking at implementing electronic health records. We might be ready for another wave of healthcare IT investment after healthcare organizations digested those investments made in electronic health records. The key is now around optimizing EHRs – interoperability, improving ease of use, enhancing analytics — or dedicating resources to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to make themselves more efficient in the back office. We’re also seeing healthcare organizations position themselves to be more consumer-oriented, partly to address new entries from some of the tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and a multitude of others, that wanted to make a big splash at HIMSS.
Healthcare technology continues to proliferate the sector, the developments almost too many to track. The sector abounds with innovation and push forward in the name of better – even the minutest – advancements of care and better care outcomes. The coming year will be no different. As we enter the final year of the 21st century’s second decade, we’ve witnessed a tremendous amount of evolution in just 19 years. What role will our healthcare technology play in the healthcare industry in the next year?
A lot. And not just for a few, but members of many, many areas, even those peripherally involved with the boundaries of care. We must understand where current innovation is, but also the challenges these migrations attempt to solve. Being aware of the trends ahead can give us all a better grasp of how care delivery is changing and we can better understand how new areas can resolve real industry problems.
To help us navigate the year ahead for healthcare and its technology, the following are some of the trends that it leaders, observers, insiders, consultants and investors think are important or need to be taken notice of in 2019.
Lee Horner serves as Stratus Video’s president of telemedicine, bringing more than 25 years of experience in enterprise software and healthcare IT industry. Most recently, Horner served as the president of CareCloud, a health care technology company specializing in practice management and EHR software. During that time, his core focus was setting the direction and strategy of the company while managing the top- and bottom-line revenues. He also drove both technology excellence and platform growth to meet CareCloud’s clients’ goals. Prior to CareCloud, Lee also held executive roles at Vitera Healthcare (formerly Sage Healthcare, where I worked with him; now Greenway Health) and Eliza Corporation.
You recently joined Stratus as president of telehealth – what motivated your decision and why is this such an important field nowadays?
In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, telehealth is a necessity. Telehealth is healthcare 2.0 – it can cut wait times, costs for both the provider and the patient, inefficiencies. At the same time it can elevate the kind of expertise and quality of the care patients receive, as well as give new opportunities to connect doctors to the patients who need them most. Telehealth is the future of health. It’s not only preserving that face-to-face connection between patients and providers – which is essential to great healthcare – it’s making that connection available to so many more people in so many different contexts. By enabling these essential connections, telehealth expands the probability of people getting the care they need, and is inevitably helping to save lives.
What is your background in health IT?
I have been involved in healthcare IT for the past 10 years. I have experience operating businesses in the payer, ambulatory and health system markets. It is a great field to be in. It’s very progressive and always changing.
Why is health IT where it’s at today? What do you feel has made this industry successful?
This market is expanding rapidly and technological advancement is at the forefront of that expansion. Smart people with extreme passion for improving patient quality care are really what is making this industry successful.
What are some of the things that most inspire you about the space and it’s work?
I am inspired every time I see the changes we are making improve a patient’s quality of care. It is incredible to see our work start to make a difference.
What are the most important areas in telehealth nowadays?
One important area is how telehealth is opening opportunities for more health industry professionals – and this is in turn, leading to a more robust patient experience. Predictable disruption is a huge theme in telehealth. You saw unpredictable disruption with industries like car ride service – when Uber and other apps came out, people who weren’t taxi drivers were suddenly entering that industry. In healthcare, it’s different – apps are creating opportunities for people already within the industry, allowing more providers to help the patients who need them most and more patients to connect with the providers best suited to their needs.
A couple of other important areas are readmissions and urgent care:
The Affordable Care Act penalizes hospital readmissions, because it’s important to incentivize successful treatment. Unfortunately, the nature of healthcare and the nature of life is that you sometimes need to go back in for continued treatment or to inquire about something. But maybe you moved or you’re too sick to keep going back to your treating physician. Discharge solutions are allowing people to reconnect and get the follow-up care they need without the hassle.
Urgent and emergency care solutions are also becoming really important. Imagine a burn victim walks into an ER at 4 a.m. and needs to see a specialist – but the staff is all tied up or there isn’t a specialist working in that particular facility. Without an urgent care app, the patient would be waiting and suffering, while the provider would be struggling to give them the care they need. With an app, they’d be able to pull up a tablet and connect that patient face-to-face with the doctor they need almost immediately.