With the shift towards value-based care reimbursement models, it has become even more important for providers to be able to digitally share patient clinical documentation with payers and other providers in a timely and reliable manner. Yet, despite administrative functions backing clinical care provision, both providers and payers have not actively explored new technologies to streamline and improve data exchange and processing workflows.
Manual, error prone document exchange methods plague healthcare. Fax is the most common secure communications protocol that providers use to electronically transmit patient documentation to health plans and other care facilities, leaving the recipient with a paper document that needs to be processed manually. Other methods of information exchange are available, but healthcare organizations often feel they don’t have a good, reliable alternative to paper-based faxing due to, in part, familiarity and comfort level with the technology.
When providers communicate the medical necessity of services to commercial health plans and government payers, they must do so within tight turnaround times. Failure to meet the submission deadlines can result in care delays for patients as well as denial or reduction in payment to providers. Additionally, comprehensive and timely communication is vital when executing proper transitions of care, where key patient information has to be part of the referral process to ensure optimal clinical outcomes.
Payers, on the other hand, spend hundreds of labor hours processing documents. CAQH CORE gives an example of a plan needing 792 labor hours, the equivalent of nearly 20 people working full-time, to process the attachments it receives by mail, fax and web portal in the course of just one week, presenting an enormous administrative burden. Only 6% of medical document attachments are processed using a fully electronic method. If all paperwork were processed electronically, the healthcare industry per-transaction costs could be reduced by over 60%, according to CAQH CORE.
Digitizing exchange and processing of medical documentation with the evolved fax and document processing tools can deliver numerous benefits to all healthcare stakeholders. Cutting down on manual document handling will ensure care is being delivered quickly and providers are adequately reimbursed. Payers can improve operational efficiency and handle claims and medical documentation faster.
Additionally, a more streamlined, electronic medical attachments exchange among payers and providers is the right step toward interoperability today because it will help break the data silos of separate clinical and administrative systems. The fluid exchange of clinical documents needed for claims adjudication, prior authorization and quality measure reporting is essential for value-based payment success. It could facilitate earlier identification of patient risk factors, reduce the time and effort associated with quality measure reporting and ease the adjudication of value-based payments.
It isn’t that doctors aren’t skilled, intelligent or capable enough—it is that the demands being placed on them are too great.
Time and documentation demands mean that something has to give. As many physicians have pointed out over the years of the HITECH Act’s implementation, the thing that normally “gives” is facetime with patients: actual, hands-on delivery of care and attention. Instead, they are driven to input data for documentation, follow prompts on EHR interfaces, ensure their record-keeping practices will facilitate correct coding for billing, as well as tip-toeing around HIPAA and the explosion of security and privacy vulnerabilities opened up by the shift to digital.
The reality of modern medicine—and especially the rate at which it evolves, grows, and becomes outdated—means that doctors need what most every other industry has already integrated: more brains. Not simply in the form of EHRs for record-sharing, or voice-to-text applications as a substitute for transcriptionists, but as memory-supplements, or second brains.
As a species, humans are also evolving away from memory as a critical element of intelligence, because we now have devices—“smart” devices—always on, always on us, and always connected to the ultimate resources of facts and data.
Our smart devices—phones, tablets, etc.—are gateways to the whole of human knowledge: indexes of information, directories of images, libraries question and answer exchanges. In effect, we are increasingly able and willing to offload “thinking” onto these devices.
Supplement or Supplant?
Depending on the context and application, this trend is both helpful and potentially harmful. For those prone to critical thinking and equipped with analytical skills, offloading some elements of memory to these devices is a question of efficiency. Even better, the more they practice using it, the more effective they become at integrating devices into their cognitive tasks. In others (those less prone to think critically), it is a shortcut that reduces cognitive function altogether: rather than a cognitive extension, the devices act as substitutes for thinking. Similarly, increasing over-reliance on the internet and search engines further diminishes already deficient analytical skills.
The standard roadmap for a medical education entails a lot of memorization—of anatomy, of diseases, of incredible volumes of data to facilitate better clinical performance. It isn’t memorization simply for the sake of recitation, though; it is the foundation for critical thinking in a clinical context. As such, medical professionals ought to be leading candidates for integrating smart devices not as crutches, but as amplifiers of cognition.
So far, that has been far from the dominant trend.
Enter the Machine
Integrating computers as tools is one thing, and even that has proven an uphill battle for physicians: the time and learning curve involved in integrating EHRs alone has proven to be a recurring complaint across the stages of Meaningful Use and implementation.
Patient engagement—another of the myriad buzzwords proliferating the healthcare industry lately—is another challenge. Some patients are bigger critics of the new, digitally-driven workflows than the most Luddite physicians. On the other hand, some patients are at the bleeding edge of digital integration, and find both care providers and the technology itself moving too slowly.