Is Healthcare Hi-Tech Enough?

315x236-Devices-med-iconsThe answer to that question depends on what part of the healthcare continuum you look at. When it comes to the actual treatment of disease, few fields can compare with medicine in terms of developing and incorporating new technology. Think of cyber knives, genetically guided cancer therapies, complex new drugs for autoimmune diseases, and the way that surgery has become increasingly less invasive through its reliance on computer imaging and magnification for micro-, laparoscopic, and robot assisted surgery.

On the other hand, when it comes to the use of information technology, healthcare hasn’t been nearly as forward looking as, say, banking, or travel, or even the food industry. How often have you visited a highly respected doctor, located in state-of-the-art facilities, and had to spend half an hour filling out pages of badly xeroxed forms, asking redundant and often irrelevant questions about your personal health history? How often has a member of your doctor’s staff had to spend the time to call you to remind you of an appointment? How often have you wasted time trying to reach your doctor by phone to ask a simple question about your treatment?

Fortunately, the landscape is changing. The industry is starting to engage patients in new ways, using text messaging, video conferencing, and wearable devices to keep patients actively in the therapeutic loop rather than simply at the passive, receiving end. And it’s about time.

According to Pew research:

  • 88% of Americans use the Internet
  • 73% have broadband service at home
  • 95% of us carry a cell phone of some type
  • 62% of those have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.

Those numbers don’t surprise me. As I write this, I am sitting in O’Hare Airport and almost everyone in the departure lounge has a smart phone in his or her hand. Urban legend has it that people under 55 like to text while people over 60 prefer to make phone calls, but if O’Hare is any indication, the over-60 crowd is just as tech savvy as the younger generation. They’re checking the airline app—this happens to be a really bad travel day fraught with weather delays—so that they can text their families and friends with updates. In 2013, Exerpian Marketing found that adults over 55 send almost 500 text messages a month. I’m sure that number is much higher today.

So why not take advantage of this in your practice? Phones and texting allow you to engage with your patients in a whole new way. You can text them appointment reminders (my hair dresser has been doing it for years), let them know if your office is closed due to inclement weather, or notify them that it’s time to make an appointment to have their eyes checked.

Mobile devices can also be used as an electronic physician’s assistant, with apps to guide care and improve outcomes. Imagine if patients could log onto an app on their phones that reminded them of exercises they had to do that day, showed a video of how to do those exercises, recorded that the exercises had been done as well as the patient pain level and other progress indicators . . . and then automatically transmitted all of this information to the physician to become part of their charts. And that all this happened without the time and expense of the doctor’s staff having to make personal calls.

Even better, imagine that you, as the patient, could see your doctor without leaving your home or office. While video technology has been around for a long time, traditional physician practices have been slow to adopt teleservices. This is partly because state regulations and reimbursement policies have not encouraged it, outside of the few online physician services offering quick and relatively easy consults on a “pay now for service” basis. However, more and more states are passing legislation that allow doctors to establish provider-patient relationships through face-to-face interactive, two-way, real-time communication, or through store-and-forward technologies. In addition, some of the laws call out payment policies, and require that care provided via teleservices be billed the same as an in-office visit. I’d personally love it if my doctor adopted teleservices—it would save me the 30-minute drive to her office, the 10 minutes spent parking, the 20-minute delay because she is usually running late, and the 30-minute drive home. Instead, her office could text me when she’s ready and we could engage for 15 minutes via a telemedicine system. A lot better than the minimum 90+ minutes to do an in-person visit.

The final frontier is when healthcare manages to combine information technology with its existing drive for advanced treatment technology. One university research team is developing a tracking device that could be embedded in a pill; the device would activate when the patient took the medication, sending a message to a receiver app, which in turn would create a record for family members or physicians to review. This may initially sound a little too invasive, but think of the boon for families caring for an elder relative—they could verify that the correct meds were taken without having to hire an on-site care-giver or to make daily trips to ensure compliance.

What’s common to all these new technologies is that they recognize that the patient is at the center of the care team, and the information the patient provides must be incorporated into the therapeutic process in real time. The sooner we engage patients in their own care, the better outcomes we will all experience—and the technology that we are already using every day can help us get there. Is the healthcare you are providing hi-tech enough? What technology are you using now to advance your patient engagement?

We Must Enable Patients to Become Better Stewards of Their Own Care

Conventional wisdom says that people perform better if they have a vested interest in the outcome of a given situation. From experience, employers know this to be true: Employees who are given an ownership stake in their company historically perform better, and enjoy a higher degree of satisfaction from their respective jobs than do their non-stake-holding counterparts.

Recent research has shown that a similar premise holds true in healthcare as well. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), which has expanded its focus on patient engagement each year states, “Patients want to be engaged in their healthcare decision-making process, and those who are engaged as decision-makers in their care tend to be healthier and have better outcomes.” The most commonly cited technologies hospitals plan to add involve patient-generated health data solutions (2016 HIMSS Connected Health Survey). Generally speaking, the greater the engagement of the patient, the better the results, and information technology (IT) can support improved engagement platforms, such as patient portals, secure messaging, social media and other technologies.Graph

Data underscores importance of patient engagement
According to a 2016 New England Journal of Medicine survey of 340 U.S. healthcare executives, clinician leaders and clinicians at organizations directly involved in healthcare delivery:

  • 42% of respondents indicated that less than a quarter of their patients were highly engaged.
  • More than 70% reported having less than half of their patients highly engaged.
  • And to underscore the importance of this result, 47% of those surveyed revealed that low patient engagement was the biggest challenge they faced in improving patient health outcomes.

In addition, a 2017 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “should assess the effectiveness of its efforts to enhance patient access to and use of electronic health information.”

This is not only true for hospitals, but also for specialty care practices, such as orthopaedists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists and other high-performance specialists. In these environments, it is imperative that practices understand the very specific needs of their patients, and how to best conduct outreach that will increase patient portal access and engagement.

How has your practice encouraged more patient engagement?

The Top 5 Challenges for Orthopaedists

In a recent article featured on Becker’s Healthcare, 19,200 physicians representing over 27 unique specialties were surveyed on what the most challenging parts of their careers were.

Here are the top 5 challenges for orthopaedists:

The Top 6 Challenges for Orthopaedists

It is also interesting to note that “Despite challenges, 79 percent of orthopedists would choose a medical career again, and 95 percent would choose orthopedics again.”

Would you?

Patient-Reported Data Collection and Return on Investment

ROI-300x300-screenDetermining ROI Metrics

The determination of when an investment recoups its costs is in many instances a fairly straightforward matter. In other instances however, it isn’t quite that simple. As the transition to value-based healthcare advances, providers are keenly looking for ways to assess the impact of patient-reported outcomes data on their bottom line.

The identification of a specific ROI metric to the cost of deploying a patient-reported outcomes data platform deployment is dependent on a number of factors that are not always easily quantifiable. Much depends upon what kind of data is being collected, the purposes for which it is being collected and both the qualitative and quantitative nature of the data.

To ensure a credible and reliable calculation of the ROI of patient-reported outcomes data collection, providers should rely upon a rigorous systematic approach for evaluation. One such methodology can be found in the work of the ROI Institute, through their “evaluation framework,”1 which categorizes results in a prescribed, logical order. This recommended sequence represents a chain of impact that can attribute and account for benefits realized. This framework consists of 5 levels of information to consider:

  1. Reaction to the program, particularly the perceived value of the program.
  2. The extent of learning such as skills, competencies, knowledge, and insights in the program.
  3. The extent of application and use of knowledge, skill, and insights acquired during the process.
  4. The program’s effect on the data such as, sales, productivity, quality, time, and costs.
  5. The ROI, the net monetary benefits compared to the cost of the program.

Patient-reported outcomes data collection offers its users a myriad of ways to generate value. For researchers, the data analysis tools provide powerful opportunities to analyze deep data sets. Practice managers are enabled to follow physician members to uncover best practices. And of course physicians can optimize their CMS reimbursement adjustment amounts by monitoring their performance scores throughout a performance year. The point is each user has a unique basis from which to evaluate and determine the overall benefit Patient-reported outcomes data collection contributes to a provider’s practice. Any valid assessment of an ROI must be tailored to the specifics of each user. Any generalized metric is clumsy at best and more than likely misleading.

Value Return to Physicians

The value of any patient-reported data collection platform to a physician must be measured by an array of considerations requiring objective and deliberate analysis. Each aspect of a physician’s practice that is impacted, whether directly or indirectly, necessarily needs to be factored into the equation. Failure to pursue such diligence in the assessment process will more than likely produce an incomplete and misleading result.

Application of the ROI Institute’s evolution framework offers a substantive foundation on which to assemble a meaningful appraisal. The framework is flexible enough to enable application to each unique practice configuration, yet establishes cumulative benchmarks that result in a succinct and useful metric. The sequential nature of the framework reinforces an approach that captures seemingly disparate variables and leverages them collectively to reveal a deeper and more nuanced valuation of deploying a patient-reported outcomes measurement system.

Data mining technology, such as OBERD’s “Mountain,” can factor prominently in generating value out of the data being collected. With it, physicians have the power to slice and dice information in a myriad of ways for infinite uses. For example, providers may measure effectiveness of care, by specific procedure as well as in aggregate. These insights, which can be generated on-demand, can empower physicians with invaluable and actionable information. No longer is a physician constrained to wait for an annual, boilerplate report.

The capacity to robustly leverage data enables insightful benchmarking for both patient and practice analysis can fortify operational best practices. By incorporating efficiencies and successful procedures revealed through tools such as Mountain, new competitive and productive gains can be realized.

A byproduct of this ability to mine data is to provide physicians the opportunity to license newly uncovered knowledge to manufacturers for research and development by the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Patient Engagement

Patient portals and other technologies that identify and fortify patient touch-points provide opportunities to encourage patient participation in their own care. Heightened patient engagement can lead to better healthcare outcomes at a lower cost by increasing the efficiency of the healthcare system/care offered. In addition, the deployment of patient defined outcomes instruments offers to maximize clinician-patient communication by facilitating an environment that involves patients in their care leading to a better understanding of their conditions and quality outcomes.

Tracking patient reported outcomes for research purposes provides an exceptional marketing tool to showcase your advancement in medical treatments/surgical practices. OBERD’s powerful analytic tool, Mountain, offers providers a platform to analyze and mine the data you collect, and to benchmark against other data sets, global or local.

MIPS Compliance

The determination of any unambiguous ROI regarding MIPS compliance relies upon several factors that presently are premature to firmly assess and are simply not available. No reliable computations can be made until CMS has aggregated Composite Performance Scores (CPS) of all physicians participating in MIPS performance year one, 2017. All scores achieved during this initial year will be used to determine a “CPS Threshold” against which providers will be compared in order to assign reimbursement adjustments that will affect payment year one amounts in 2019. Until that threshold is published, it is simply impossible to identify express ROI expectations.

That said, close monitoring of CMS communications are beginning to reveal benefits through the thoughtful and strategic usage of patient-reported data measurement for the collection, analysis and reporting of patient-reported outcomes data.

CMS has published guidelines to demonstrate how reimbursement will work through the Quality Payment Program (QPP) but has yet to provide specific monetary values. The program has allocated $833 million dollars yearly for the next 5 years that will be distributed based on eligible clinician merit with a focus on quality outcomes, which is reflected in one’s CPS.  The better one’s CPS, the higher the probability that positive reimbursement adjustment will follow. Beyond the funding set aside to incentivize performance merit, here is an additional $500 million dollars available annually for the next 5 years reserved for those with an overall composite score of 70 points or above.

OBERD continues to closely monitor CMS announcements and regulatory developments. As each iteration of QPP rules are revealed, OBERD will continue to refine its products to optimize results for its customers.

Reinforcing a Practice’s Marketing Message

The publication of CMS’s Physician Compare website, by publishing clinician measure scores, allows patient to embody the role of a consumer in shopping around for the best healthcare and for providers that demonstrate higher quality outcomes. CMS has further advanced the promotion of provider score transparency by empowering qualified clinical data registries (QCDR) to supplement Physician Compare website information with enriched content that will further empower patients to see additional information about providers and their practice. OBERD, as a CMS-approved QCDR, is developing multi-modality scorecards to showcase a provider’s best qualities, identify top performers, identify best practices and establish additional practice marketing opportunities.

Summary

As the transition from a fee-for-service to a value-based care system continues to evolve and accelerate, the ability to efficiently and economically collect, analyze and communicate patient-outcomes data will be foundational to a provider’s success. Evidence-based healthcare decisions will rely on leveraging a patient’s involvement in their own healthcare. By increasing the role of a patient to communicate on their own individual situation and progress, that patient is afforded a more active role, which promotes better patient experience and satisfaction. Better performance scores directly impact reimbursement computation.

Of the ROI Institute’s five point evaluation framework mentioned earlier, it needs to be underscored that the first three elements address subjects that do not lend themselves to quantifiable measurement. The perceived value derived from acquired knowledge, skills and insights precludes the value received in the application of those newly realized observations. Application of the new knowledge in turn can directly impact and drive a provider’s best practice.

The ROI evaluation framework begins to address quantifiable activities in step four only after the first three steps of the process are accomplished. These activities, such as sales, productivity and costs can only be accurately assessed in the context of framework steps 1-3. The ROI Institute’s framework requires that all four steps are necessary, a condition precedent, before any actual ROI, the net monetary benefit compared to cost, can be accurately assembled.

OBERD understands that providers desire to be free from the routine task of data collection. Providers can now harness exceptional new methods to gather information from their patients, learn from them and to apply those insights towards that patient’s care. A healthcare provider should be able to practice medicine, and not have to monitor every single regulatory change. OBERD is set up to do just that. Be assured that OBERD will continue to advance solutions that address the latest in compensation strategies that generate optimized benefit to its customers.

As seen in OBERD’s Insights Blog.

Learn how you can take your value-based care to new levels with our new outcomes solution in partnership with OBERD.

7 Tips for Reducing Stress While On Call

  1. coc-blogMake sure you know your schedule- No one likes surprises. So make sure you know when you are on call.  If there are conflicts take care of them with enough time to get someone to cover for you.  Ideally you want the schedule made far in advance with easy access to view it on a shared calendar.  Many practices use google calendar or something similar.
  2. Don’t make big plans- Depending on your practice, being on call may be extremely busy or pretty slow. However, you need to be available for urgent and emergent patient issues that arise.  Trying to make it to a concert or take a family vacation while you are covering your practice after hours is a recipe for disaster.  You may be setting yourself up for medical liability and certainly making it difficult to enjoy your time off. Instead, swap calls with a partner or develop a relationship with a friendly competitor in your area to help cross-cover your practices.
  3. Ensure that patients can get through easily- At the beginning of call review the process that patients take to reach you. For some it may be checking that your phones are being forwarded properly and the call center knows your contact preferences. Ideally they should have your cell phone, home phone and email. Make sure they know how you want to be contacted.
  4. Try not to get angry or grumpy- It’s not always easy to sound enthusiastic when you get awoken in the middle of the night or disturbed during dinner to speak to a patient for an issue that doesn’t seem very important. Try to remember that the patient is not as knowledgeable as you are about health issues and wouldn’t be bothering you unless they were very concerned. Even if the call turns out to be non-urgent be sure to be polite and reassure the patient; you will both sleep better if the tone is pleasant.
  5. Educate your patients- Tell your patients to call if they are having difficulties or have questions about their care; try to be specific about the type of symptoms to look for.  This is especially important for patients who have had recent surgery or are taking new medications. By explaining what serious post-operative symptoms or potential medication side effects may be will reduce potential problems for you and the patient.
  6. Have a process to document calls- Your job is not done when you are finished speaking to the patient. Find an easy and reliable way to document the call and your recommendations. Some practices have a voicemail system that they call into to tell staff members about patients that called. You can also keep notes and fax back to the office.  We don’t suggest email or texting your office staff since this is likely to be in violation of HIPAA regulations. The easiest way to document is with an app based on-call service which allows for immediate documentation that is sent to the office staff as well as into your EHR.
  7. Designate staff to follow up after hour issues- No matter how you document the calls you need to designate someone in your office to handle the follow-up and charting of after hours calls. Ideally that person gets in early so they can call patients that need urgent appointments.  Make sure you have a way to track which calls were reviewed and charted by your staff.  Signature and time/date stamp is helpful.

We invite you to learn more about solving on call challenges as well as other pain points your medical practice may be facing and we look forward to speaking with you.

rheeDavid Rhee, M.D. – Retinal Specialist and Co-Founder of Connect On Call

David graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Biology, and obtained his MD from UC-San Diego. He then completed a residency in ophthalmology at Tufts University and a vitreoretinal Surgery Fellowship at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. David has a keen interest in the Android platform and other open source platforms and designed the wireframe layout of the mobile web app for ConnectOnCall.

2018 MACRA (MIPS) Proposed Rule: The Abridged Version

lynns-notesThe proposed rule is here, and it’s another long one! So for those who don’t have the patience (or the time) to read through the 1,000+ pages, here are some highlights from what CMS is suggesting for the second year of MIPS. Bear in mind that these are proposals; they must be confirmed in the Final Rule, which will be released by November. (What had already been set in stone within the MACRA legislation itself is the maximum penalty and related incentive: 5% in 2020 based on performance in 2018, up from 4% in 2019 based on performance in 2017.)

  • CMS would allow clinicians to use either 2014- or 2015-Certified EHR technology to report for 2018. Acknowledging the slower-than-anticipated pace at which EHRs are achieving the next required certification, this accommodation will facilitate more successful, non-rushed upgrades and provide sufficient time for training on the new capabilities and associated requirements. To encourage the move to 2015 CEHRT, 10 ACI bonus points would be awarded for its exclusive use.
  • The Quality reporting period returns to full year, but ACI (Advancing Care Information) and Improvement Activities remain at a minimum of 90 days. Cost is still unscored, but performance in this category will be evaluated by CMS and feedback will be provided to clinicians to prepare them for 2019 when, by law, the cost category must account for 30% of the MIPS score.
  • The proposed performance threshold separating “the winners” from “the losers”, (i.e., recipients of positive vs. negative payment adjustments), would increase from 3 points out of 100 in 2017 to 15 MIPS points in 2018—still an eminently achievable bar.
  • CMS would implement increased protection for small groups (≤15 eligible clinicians)—these are the practices that had been predicted to be the most vulnerable to penalties.
  • Many more clinicians would be exempt from MIPS altogether because the eligibility threshold would increase from $30,000 to $90,000 in annual Medicare revenue and from at least 100 to at least 200 Medicare patients.
  • Small groups that do participate in MIPS would receive 5 bonus points toward their score, in an attempt to level the playing field.
  • And my favorite proposal is one that specialists, in particular, will appreciate: the elimination of the restriction that all 6 quality measures had to be reported by the same submission method. In 2018, clinicians would be able to mix and match submission methods within a category. Specialists, who have typically been faced with an insufficient number of relevant eCQMs, would be able to continue reporting those measures which are available by EHR submission, but could supplement them with registry or claims measures that are also specialty specific. The result would be more meaningful reporting and more equitable scoring. This is a request that SRS has included in its comments to each of the previous proposed and final MACRA rules, so we were very happy to see this change.

MIPS is only one of the two MACRA participation options, and CMS has also proposed some changes designed to accelerate the shift from MIPS to Alternate Payment Models. More on that topic in a future post.

CMS Overpaid $729MM in MU Payments: What Does That Mean for You?

overpaid-blogIt’s been all over the press for the past week—CMS paid a lot of money in the form of EHR incentives (Meaningful Use) to providers who did not truly earn them. These inappropriate payments were revealed in a report by the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) that reviewed CMS’s compliance with Federal requirements in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for eligible professionals from 2011-2014. Although the subject of the OIG’s audit was CMS—in contrast to the audits of providers (pre- and post-payment) that have been conducted by Figliozzi and Company—there are some important implications for providers.

Here are two of the OIG’s major conclusions:

  • 14 EPs (Eligible Professionals), out of a sample of 100 who attested to having met MU one or more times did not actually meet the MU requirements. They either could not support their attestation with sufficient evidence or had errors in their attestation. Affected payments to these providers totaled $291,222. Extrapolating on this data, the auditors estimated that CMS inappropriately paid over $729 million.
  • In addition, 471 payments to EPs who switched between the Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs were incorrectly calculated, accounting for another $2.3 million.

The report recommended that CMS:

  • recover the $291,222 from the EPs who had the unfortunate luck to have been sampled [editorial comment is mine, not the OIGs!] and found to be non-compliant;
  • recover the $2.3 million in overpayments to EPs who switched programs; and
  • try to recover some of the estimated inappropriate payments made to other providers.

It’s likely that CMS will pursue the first two recommendations, but yet to be determined what—if anything—they will do about the third. That said, however, one thing is certain: CMS will intensify its oversight going forward. (This was another of the OIG’s recommendations.) Does this mean you should abandon your plans to participate in MIPS and/or MU (Medicaid program)? Absolutely not! It does, however, imply that it will now be more important than ever to keep full documentation to support everything you submit. And, make sure to keep it somewhere that will survive any future changes in software, hardware, and/or practice staff.