By Aaron Perreira, director of integrated marketing, Kareo.
A nationwide survey conducted by Kareo reveals an interesting fact for everyone involved in healthcare technology. One of the primary sources from which independent medical practices get advice and information on adoption of new technology is their billing companies.
Independent medical practices remain the primary healthcare delivery system for patients in the U.S. Physician-owned practices see 990.8 million visits, or 3.1 visits per person in the U.S. each year. In contrast, hospital outpatient visits number 125.7 million per year, or .4 visits per person. At the same time, these independent practices – small businesses in most cases – are greatly impacted by the rapidly changing healthcare arena.
Regulatory changes, technology infrastructure demands and increasingly large administrative burdens have put pressure on independent practices in recent years, and they do not have the resources or economies of scale that larger hospital practices have to address them. Experts agree that the primary hope for independent practices thriving efficiently and cost effectively in the emerging healthcare landscape depends upon the effective integration of technology.
One of the steps many independent practices take to help alleviate some of their administrative burden is the outsourcing of billing. Nearly one-third (28 percent) of physicians and medical practitioners who do not currently outsource medical billing indicated that they plan to do so over the next two years. As a result, medical billing companies expect an average revenue growth of 12 percent during 2019 as utilization of outsourced billing by independent medical practices continues to increase. Of course, the primary service billing companies bring to practices is – billing.
The survey highlights that extensive revenue cycle expertise at the specialty level is a successful strategy for building a billing company to scale. Forty-seven percent of small billing companies specialize in order to differentiate themselves, while 58 percent of medium-sized businesses do. As might be expected, large billing companies tend to diversify across a wider range of medical specialties, responding to the rapid growth (11 percent since 2012) in multi-specialty medical practices.
Billing companies are also becoming specialists in patient collections because of the significant increase in high deductible insurance plans – the average deductible for employer-based plans reached nearly $1,500 in 2018 and the average deductible for individual A?ordable Care Act (ACA) Bronze plans was more than $5,800 in 2018. Of those surveyed, patient balances account for an average of 23 percent of total collections.
Significantly, billing companies have found an important path to growth in value-added services. Despite the rapid growth of healthcare technology solutions, many smaller practices are still slow to adopt new technology. Billing companies serving small, independent practices have the opportunity to recommend technology to help them improve efficiency, stay competitive in the healthcare delivery marketplace, and run a more profitable practice. Helping medical practices implement and leverage technology is something that 75 percent of billing companies report doing today, with the adoption of integrated EHR and billing software the top area of focus.
With the establishment of value-based payment models that tie reimbursement to the documentation of quality care, many billing companies are seeing the importance of having their clients use a certified EHR that is integrated into their billing platform. The current replacement rate for EHRs is estimated to be as high as 50 percent in the United States, presenting significant opportunity for billing companies to advise on replacement options that will streamline their revenue cycle management process. The survey shows 86 percent of high-growth billing companies are statistically more likely to recommend an EHR solution to their clients that integrates with their billing software/practice management solution.
The Kareo survey points to an interesting chain – the future of American healthcare depends on independent practices. The success of independent practices moving forward depends on technology. And the recent Kareo survey shows that adoption of technology by independent practices depends, to a great extent, on their billing companies.
Healthcare providers continue to face new and growing challenges across the marketplace. From the release of the MACRA final rule to the consumerization of healthcare, there is a lot to balance and manage. It can be hard to keep up while also trying to provide quality care and get paid. As a result, providers continue to look at alternate payment models according to a new survey from Kareo and the American Academy of Private Physicians (AAPP).
The survey shows that 25 percent of practices are now using some kind of direct pay, concierge, or other membership model in their practice. This number stayed steady from the 2015 study to the 2016 study. Most do not have all their patients on one of these models, but 30 percent have completely transitioned their practice. The results show that many practices are testing these models while still offering patient other options like traditional fee-for-service. This may suggest that physicians want to see how successful the models before shifting their entire practice.
Another 35 percent of providers say they are considering a change in part or in whole to an alternate model like direct pay or concierge. The reasons are consistent with the results from the 2015 survey. The top reason cited was to separate from the insurance payer system, closely followed by spending more time with patients and improving work/life balance.
The survey indicates that those physicians who do switch see improvements in those areas. Physicians using direct pay, concierge or another membership model spend more time with patients, see fewer patients each day at longer visits, and work fewer hours than their fee-for-service counterparts.
This infographic shows the details of both the differences and the similarities when physicians use private pay models versus fee-for-service models.
As any holiday TV-loving baby boomer can attest, the island of misfit toys is not a happy place. In the 1964 stop-motion animated television show, “unwanted” were destined to live out their toy lives without the joy of playtime with the child they were built to please. Unfortunately, some EHR products share certain misfit qualities which can make their use more difficult for a busy provider.
So how do you know if you are using a misfit EHR? Here are a few signs:
There is little to no communication with others or outside entities, and you are stuck with the same, less than perfect software environment that is dysfunctional and aging fast.
No one calls to see how your EHR is doing and no one responds to your outcries for help.
Sound familiar? This is essentially your situation when you have committed to an outdated and under-supported EHR system for your practice. You are land-locked by an older system that is not cloud-based or does not leverage the many cloud resources for communication and interoperability.
So, your technology is old, the code base has been put on the shelf by the EHR vendor and no updates are coming. This is despite the rapid changes surrounding your practice and the healthcare industry in general.
You feel isolated, and when you call for support you get little to no relief, as the vendor has moved on to bigger and better customers. In the TV show, Santa promised to come back to save the misfits, just as your EHR vendor promised customized support, ongoing upgrades and improved efficiency. But the costs are prohibitive and your confidence in the vendor is low.
Maybe it is time to get off the island, and hitch a ride with a new vendor. If a new EHR is on your holiday list, here some criteria you should consider:
Leverage the power of the cloud to connect to labs, e-prescribing networks, HIEs and other data hubs such as the Commonwell Health Alliance. With a cloud-based EHR system these connections are built into the application, and any new features or connections to other entities become available to all users, no upgrades, no updates required to your infrastructure.
Don’t buy expensive hardware, servers and IT support staff to manage them. All you need to run a cloud-based EHR is a desktop web browser or mobile device.
One of the ways physicians are finding to stay independent is through the use of private pay, or membership, models. Recently, the American Academy of Private Physicians and Kareo conducted the largest industry survey on physician perspectives on practice models. It showed that about 24 percent of providers have already fully changed or incorporated in some way a concierge, direct pay or membership model in their practice and another 46 percent are considering a similar change in the coming three years.
This infographic highlights some of the other key discoveries made in this industry-first survey.
CommonWell Health Alliance announces the addition of five new members enhancing the association’s nationwide footprint, share of the EHR marketplace and diversity across the care continuum. MEDITECH, Merge and Kareo join as contributing members while PointClickCare and Surgical Information Systems (SIS) join as general members.
With the addition of these new members, CommonWell membership now represents 70 percent of the acute care EHR market and 20 percent of the ambulatory care EHR market. CommonWell membership also represents market leaders in imaging, perinatal, laboratory, retail pharmacy, oncology, population health, post-acute care and others across the care continuum.
“We know it takes collective experience and dedication to break down barriers to nationwide data exchange, so we are especially pleased to welcome these industry innovators to the CommonWell family,” said Nick Knowlton, Vice President of Business Development at Brightree and CommonWell Membership Committee Chair. “Each organization will contribute to our effort by providing a commitment to action and new perspectives for additional use cases that will help us accelerate our current deployment of real-world interoperability services.”
• MEDITECH is one of CommonWell’s largest members to join since inception. It provides fully integrated technology solutions for hospitals, ambulatory care centers, physicians’ offices, long term care and behavioral health facilities, and home care organizations. MEDITECH’s membership increases CommonWell’s share of the acute care market from 50% to 70%.
• Merge is a leading provider of enterprise imaging, interoperability and clinical systems that seek to advance health care. It offers solutions in radiology, eye care, cardiology, orthopedics and clinical trials—all of which provide the opportunity for CommonWell to develop new use cases across a broader spectrum of the health care continuum. Additionally, Merge has the most complete radiology solution on the market, from small-volume sites up to the largest practices and chains in the country.
“Merge embraces the opportunity to join CommonWell at a critical moment in health care,” said Steve Tolle, Chief Strategy Officer at Merge Healthcare. “Industry leaders must actively come together to make interoperability real, and the Alliance provides an effective platform for meaningful dialogue and collaboration to help chart the future trajectory of the health care industry.”
• Kareo brings more than 30,000 providers and 60,000 users of its cloud-based medical office software suite into CommonWell. As CommonWell continues to deploy services nationwide, Kareo’s ambulatory experience and reach will accelerate universal provider access to critical health care data.
Guest post by Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, chief medical information officer, Kareo
Quality assurance (QA) in healthcare is exactly what the name implies — the process of implementing programs to improve and assure quality care for patients. In a hospital, these programs are often quite robust and monitored closely, but in a small practice, the picture can be quite different.
Smaller practices have limited resources and staff. There is already a huge burden to stay compliant in so many areas while keeping up changes to reimbursement and other programs like meaningful use. Often, there isn’t much time left over for QA.
Unfortunately, measuring and monitoring patient satisfaction and outcomes is becoming more important as reimbursement shifts to a more value-based model and patient expectations change. Whereas patients once stayed with the same doctor forever, now the majority would change providers for a wide range of reasons. While 80 percent of healthcare providers think that patients depart because of relocation or change in insurance, the reality is far different. Nearly 60 percent of patients switch physicians because of better service or treatment from a new provider.
For practices that are stretched for time, dollars and staff, technology can play a valuable role in improving the patient experience, compliance, and outcomes. Ultimately as the industry shifts to value-based reimbursement it can also help the practice improve revenue. Here’s how:
Let’s face it, return on investment (ROI) for an electronic health record (EHR) has been has been a rainbow unicorn kitty for practices over the years. Some studies have indicated that many practices don’t see positive returns for years if ever while others show very positive results of increased revenue per full time provider and ROI in as short as two and half years.
Why the big variation? It’s hard to say for sure but some of the factors may be practice size, type of EHR, and looking for the ROI in the right places. According to the Physicians Practice 2014 Technology Survey, sponsored by Kareo, over 40 percent of practices have seen a return on their investment from their EHR.
Some of the places they are seeing financial rewards may be old news but others could be a surprise.
It will come as no great shock that practices that got on board with PQRS and meaningful use at the beginning have reaped some financial benefits. The full incentives for MU early adopters was $44,000, and they avoid any penalties. For the past several years one of the top three reasons physicians cited for changing or adopting and EHR was qualifying for incentives.
The incentives are gone but the penalties are still in play. If you haven’t started yet, you will have reductions in your Medicare payments starting this year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get on board. If you serve a large portion of Medicare patients it may make sense to attest for MU to avoid further penalties.
The ability to cut costs has always been a bugle call for EHR, and nothing has changed. You can cut costs and streamline with an EHR. The key is to ensure it is implemented correctly with the right workflow, that everyone is onboard and using it the way they are supposed to, and you let go of paper as much as you can.
When you do that, you can save anywhere from $5 to $8 per new paper chart along with ongoing savings on paper, toner, and printer and fax equipment. They are seeing so many benefits from the EHR, they’d never go back now. Eric Pokky, practice manager at Total Healthcare for Women, says about 20 percent of their patients are new and those charts run $5 at their practice. With 15 new patients a week, that is a savings of around $300 a month.
When physicians maximize the EHRs documentation tools, you can also cut transcription significantly or all together. Transcription has been estimated at as much as 11 percent of total collections so that is a substantial savings. For a primary care provider who brings in $300,000 a year, that is a savings of more than $30,000 alone.
I remember when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed. I was working for a leading practice management software vendor. Everyone was overwhelmed by what was involved. We developed a huge amount of education and information for our customers. Some people wondered if the healthcare industry could make such a major change.
Today, HIPAA is ubiquitous. Many practices take it for granted. They are not concerned about a breach because they believe they have done everything they need to do. In a recent study by MedData Group of physicians top practice management priorities for 2015, HIPAA didn’t even make the list.
“We instigated HIPPA when it came out, and it is in place and second nature to us,” said Joann Lister, a provider at a family medicine practice in Texas. “We have all worked at the hospital so we had plenty of training on the rules. Our physical space and computers are confidential. Our practice management and EHR software, Kareo, always goes back to login when we are done in a room so the next patient does not see anything. We have limited personnel so it is easier to know that everyone honors the HIPAA rules.”
The question is: Have practices gotten too complacent with HIPAA? With the latest changes to HIPAA in 2014, have they followed through on making changes and updates? The data and experience of industry experts and consultants suggests that there may be a problem with HIPAA compliance.
“The last analysis we did for a practice had 41 pages of regulations that required implementation,” recalled practice management consultant Rochelle Glassman, CEO of United Physician Services. “Most practices do not know what the complete requirements are. They believe that if they have the patients sign the privacy form that is all they need to do. This year there were updates that included the new HITECH Act and the HIPAA Omnibus rule. I can guarantee that many practices have not updated their HIPAA program to include the changes because they do not even know they exist.”
Guest post by Tom Giannulli, MS, MD, chief medical information officer, Kareo.
It seems like everywhere you look there is a new piece of wearable technology to help people monitor their health and lifestyle. The latest and greatest, of course, is the Apple Watch, which hit the newswire with a bang last month.
There is no doubt that mobile health apps and wearable technology and devices are big business. Both patients and clinicians are using mHealth apps on their smartphones and other devices. There are tens of thousands of these apps, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says this number will grow by 25 percent a year. Their research also shows that by 2018 1.7 billion people worldwide will download a health app.
Despite what the media may say, the fact is most people aren’t using these apps and devices yet according to a new study from Technology Advice. Their research found that nearly 75 percent of adults do not track their weight, diet, or exercise using a fitness tracking device or app and most cited reason was general lack of interest.
However, one interesting thing to note is that more than half said they would be more likely to use a health tracking app or device if there was a possibility of lowering their insurance premiums. Just over 40 percent said better advice from their healthcare provider would be a possible incentive to use a fitness tracker.
Guest post by Lea Chatham, content marketing manager, Kareo.
In the recent Physicians Practice Technology Survey, sponsored by Kareo, there are two trends that bode well. First, the majority of practices surveyed were independent, and second, there were more positives about EHRs than negatives. It looks like things are finally heading in the right direction.
Ongoing EHR Concerns Linger
That isn’t to say that practices don’t continue to have concerns, however. Nearly 20 percent of those surveyed still don’t have an EHR. The barriers? Implementation, interoperability and cost. And implementation of EHRs is cited as the top technology challenge for practices.
“The transition to an EHR can be hard, especially when practices choose the wrong system the first time and have to go through the process twice,” explains Laurie Morgan, senior partner at Capko and Morgan, a practice management consulting firm. “So it is really important to make the right choice. What we have seen is that the practices that have been on a good system for while do see the value and the workflow benefits. It just takes some time.”
On the flip side though, 57 percent are happy with their choice of vendor, which may mean that we will start to see a slowdown in EHR switching, giving providers a chance to focus on patient care and building their practices. In addition, more than 40 percent say they have seen a return on investment, and even more cite an improvement in efficiency.
For those who are unhappy with their EHR, this is a clear sign that better technology is out there. It is a matter of making sure to choose the right one and implement it correctly. “There are several steps practices can take to make sure they get the right EHR at the right price,” says Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, chief medical information officer at Kareo. “These days most of the affordable cloud-based EHRs will have the basic features so it often comes down to a few special needs and the implementation and training. To help improve satisfaction with the EHR it is really important to take advantage of all training and support and invest the time to get familiar with the system.”