In a new survey conducted by Kareo, independent medical practices and billing companies shared the unprecedented challenges created for them and their patients by the coronavirus pandemic. More than 600 medical practices and 140 medical billing companies were interviewed by Kareo in late March.
The research uncovered the immediate actions medical practices and clinics are taking to ensure patient access to care through telemedicine solutions with 75% reporting either a current telemedicine option or the intent to deploy one soon. The survey also highlighted the risks to patients and independent medical practices with 9% of respondents reporting practice closures with many more concerned about potential practice closures as patient office visits plummet due to “stay at home” orders and other concerns. As Kareo was publishing these survey results, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law, potentially providing a lifeline to the most severely impacted medical practices.
By mid-March, independent healthcare professionals were already facing the practice and personal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with 28% of practices only offering telemedicine visits and 9% of practices already closed, with many more concerned about the risk of future closure. While 63% of practices were still delivering on-site care, most of these practices were exploring options to move to hybrid or exclusively telemedicine-based care.
Kareo’s ongoing analysis of actual patient encounters across over 50,000 medical providers, found that by late March independent medical practices has experienced an approximately 35% decline in patient volume, raising alarm around both the apparent inability for patients to access care and the operational viability of medical practices if this trend continues.
Kareo’s research also highlighted the impact felt by the more than 5,000 medical billing companies across the country, with these service providers reporting immediate impacts on their businesses due to precipitous decline in medical practice patient volume. These companies play a critical role in the healthcare ecosystem by providing medical billing expertise that is essential for the financial viability of many independent medical practices. Financial risk to these service providers creates another risk for medical practices to manage as practice volumes ultimately return to normal.
To address “stay at home” orders and patient concerns about face-to-face medical encounters, healthcare professionals have rapidly turned to telemedicine solutions. By mid-March, fully 41% of independent medical practices reported offering telemedicine, up from 22% reported in Kareo’s State of the Independent Practice Report in late 2018.
An additional 34% reported current efforts to deploy telemedicine options, which ultimately will result in the vast majority (75%) of medical practices providing remote care solutions. In the third week of March, Kareo saw a 500% week-over-week increase in telemedicine visits while working to accommodate an over 3,000% increase in telemedicine adoption.
The easing of regulatory requirements related to telemedicine security and functionality allowed medical practices to access a broader set of possible telemedicine solutions, ranging from medically-specific options like Kareo Telemedicine that are HIPAA compliant and fully integrated with the broader patient engagement, electronic health record, and billing technology platform all the way to general video call technology such as Apple FaceTime. Easing Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance reimbursement requirements for telemedicine also supported the rapid pivot to virtual-care and are essential in supporting the financial viability of medical practices and their supporting medical billers.
“Independent medical practices stand as the cornerstone of the U.S. healthcare system and are responsible for more than two-thirds of annual patient visits,” said Dan Rodrigues, founder and CEO of Kareo. “Yet our research shows that even doctors are not immune to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Telemedicine and the CARES Act provide critical lifelines to ensure independent practices remain available to their patients through this crisis.”
There are several government programs that practices can take advantage of to ease financial burdens and maintain their current staff levels. Small business loans, tax relief, Medicare payment advances and grants are a few of the options currently available. In combination, these programs can help ensure that independent medical practices and clinics emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with minimal damage to the long-term viability of their business.
The CARES Act expands eligibility for loans under Section 7(a) of the Small Business Act and authorizes the Small Business Administration to make $349 billion in Section 7(a) loans. The CARES Act also offers an employee retention tax credit (Employee Retention Credit) designed to encourage eligible employers to keep employees on their payroll. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded their current Accelerated and Advance Payment Program to a broader group of Medicare Part A providers and Part B suppliers. Details on the eligibility, and the request process are outlined in the Expansion of the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program fact sheet. The expansion of these programs is also only for the duration of the public health emergency. For more information on resources available to help with the COVID-19 crisis, visit Kareo.com/covid-19.
Kareo, a provider of cloud-based clinical and business management software for independent medical practices and medical billing companies, announced the sale of its revenue cycle management (RCM) services business unit to an independent supplier of outsourced medical billing services, Health Prime International.
Kareo will now fulfill the growing demand for outsourced medical billing services exclusively through its leading network of over 1,500 medical billing company partners. This shift in strategy enables Kareo to increase its focus on building the industry’s leading cloud-based software platform for independent medical practices and the billing companies that serve them.
“The sale of Kareo Managed Billing will enable Kareo to focus on more quickly advancing our software platform and customer support offerings to continue building on our position as the leading cloud-based software supplier to independent medical practices and billing companies,” said Dan Rodrigues, founder and CEO of Kareo. “We believe this shift in strategy will also help Kareo build stronger relationships with medical billing companies, who in the past were concerned about competing with their software supplier.”
“Once again, Kareo has demonstrated their commitment to medical practices and the billing company industry by focusing their intellect and energies on providing a premier platform for us to use to better support our providers and build their practices. We applaud Kareo for exiting the services side of the business and helping us to grow ours,” said Tracy L. Freeze, president of HMS Midwest, LLC.
Kareo is the first medical practice software company to acknowledge that independent medical billing companies are best positioned to meet the outsourced billing services needs of medical practices. Independent medical billing companies have demonstrated their ability to deliver highly targeted expertise around medical specialty-focused billing, improved reimbursements and increased operational efficiency.
“We’re pleased that Kareo’s decision to sell their RCM services business will give them even more focus and resources to commit to their industry-leading software platform, which gives their billing company partners such a powerful, competitive advantage in the market,” said Ray Shammo, president of PhysicianDS.
By Aaron Perreira, director of integrated marketing, Kareo.
Over 70% of independent medical practices agree that the time demands of electronic health records (EHR) data entry detracts from care delivery. Simultaneously, 69% of independent practices state that integrated technology solutions are needed to improve the efficiency and profitability of their practices. This interesting “love/hate” relationship between independent practitioners and technology was shared in the recent 2019 State of the Independent Practice Industry Report, published by Kareo, a cloud-based medical software company.
The report was based on a nationwide survey designed to uncover the current challenges and expectations of independent practitioners in several areas of their practices, including care delivery, billing, patient engagement and regulatory compliance. Attitudes regarding the role of technology emerged in each of the areas surveyed.
Providers are increasingly reliant on their EHRs to manage their day-to-day clinical operations and maintain regulatory compliance. For many practices, the use of EHRs began when the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 was signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009. The HITECH Act was created to motivate the implementation of electronic health records by providing monetary incentives for being able to demonstrate meaningful use of electronic health records.
At that time, the market was flooded with more than 700 EHR vendors looking to capitalize on the EHR gold rush. Many practices adopted EHRs at that time, however since then, as the regulatory standards and consumer requirements for EHR technology continued to evolve, an increasing number of software providers have failed to keep up with technology and have fallen out of the race. This has left many providers tethered to antiquated, ineffective systems. More established practices (in practice for 10 or more years) appear to be more gun shy in that they likely adopted their EHR several years ago and had to suffer through poor implementations of costly but under-performing software that didn’t deliver on the value that was promised.
Despite government mandate, penalties and incentives, only 64% of respondents are currently using an EHR today. This low figure likely represents both the entry of newer practices that haven’t yet implemented their EHR platform and the fact that some practice specialties such as mental health, are more likely to still be using paper-based records and haven’t made the switch to electronic records.
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.