Can You Satisfy the Government and Your Patients?

Never before have healthcare professionals operated in a time of such rapid technological blog-image-111714change—and faced the great uncertainty of today’s complex industry regulations. Unfortunately, it’s not a trend we see ending anytime soon. It’s getting harder and harder to even understand what the government is asking us to do, let alone satisfy those requirements. Does data collection have to mean data distraction—taking the focus off of what matters most to each physician: the patient?

At our annual User Summit last month, big data was the big topic of discussion. While our users recognize there can be very real benefits to elements of meaningful use, there is a lot of friction surrounding its integration into medical practices. It often feels like the data we are being asked to capture—the data that is supposed to make everything more productive—interferes with what we are trying to accomplish. Physicians can find themselves required to ask questions that make no sense, that take up valuable office visit time, and that possibly cast a little doubt in the patient’s eye. Where is the ROI on that?

Medical professionals need more, because that’s what MU is asking of them. HCIT companies have to provide more than technology—they have to provide expert guidance to help navigate the MU waters. Together, technology and expertise can help physicians satisfy government regulations while also achieving their industry and business goals. From strategic planning through product execution, we must provide more predictable solutions. This goes beyond “certified solutions”—this is about creating working solutions that allow medical professionals to be compliant without interfering with their practice goals.

It all comes down to ECR: Efficiency . . . Care . . . and Revenue. The right HCIT solutions will:

  • create efficiencies, allowing doctors to spend more time with more patients;
  • improve care, providing flexible solutions that don’t interfere with the doctor–patient relationship; and
  • increase revenue, helping doctors earn more by reducing malpractice risk and insurance, creating additional revenue streams, and more.

We heard it loud and clear at our User Summit: increased data requirements cannot be accomplished at the expense of patient care. EHR solutions aren’t real solutions if they slow you down—they have to capture data with minimum interference while ensuring maximum productivity.

At SRS we’re working even harder to help our clients navigate government and industry demands and translate them into meaningful products that will satisfy more than MU: they’ll satisfy your patients. And they’ll satisfy you.

Final “2014 MU Flexibility Rule”—What It Does and Does Not Offer

As predicted, the rule modifying meaningful use in 2014—now referred to as “The blog-103014Flexibility Rule”—was finalized basically as proposed. Pleas for future flexibility, however, were rejected. (For a review of the details, read EMR Straight Talk’s Kudos to CMS for MU 2014 Proposed Rule).The good news is that for 2014, many providers can report Stage 1 again instead of Stage 2, and some providers can report using 2011-certified EHR technology instead of 2014 CEHRT.

Providers who exercise any of the flexible options will have to attest to the following statement: “EP was unable to fully implement 2014 Edition CEHRT for a full EHR reporting period in 2014 due to delays in 2014 CEHRT availability,” and they should be prepared to support their decision if they are audited pre- or post-attestation. Potential justifications include—for example—certification delays or implementation backlogs, software problems once the EHR was implemented or upgraded, delayed installation of required integrations/interfaces, insufficient time to make necessary workflow revisions, etc. Provider inaction or delay, financial constraints, inadequate staffing, and the contention that Stage 2 is just too darn hard—while certainly understandable—are not considered legitimate justifications under the rule.

Many of the comments submitted on the Proposed Rule had asked (“pleaded” would be a more accurate word) for flexibility beyond that which was offered. The biggest “ask” in this regard was for quarterly reporting again in 2015, as it is in 2014, rather than full calendar year reporting. CMS rejected that request outright. Undeterred by that response, numerous healthcare professional organizations subsequently submitted their recommendations on the future of meaningful use directly to the Secretary of HHS and the head of ONC—the two organizations responsible for the program. In addition, “The Flex-IT Act” (recently introduced by representatives Renee Ellmers and James Matheson) attempts to mandate a return to 3-month reporting.

While it may be tempting to dream that the bill will become law or that CMS will relent, the only safe assumption at this time is that the 2015 meaningful use reporting period will begin on January 1. Therefore, any physicians who want to pursue meaningful use incentives in 2015 will need to have a 2014-certified EHR in place by January 1 (if they are not already using one), and physicians who will be at Stage 2 next year should devote the next 2 months to preparing to support the increased requirements—installing required interfaces and integrations, implementing Direct, and developing new workflows as needed.

Client Satisfaction Isn’t a Noun

People talk about client satisfaction as if it were a static thing—something that never blog-101314progresses or evolves. I believe the “action” in satisfaction means we must continually measure it and make adjustments as necessary. Our world is constantly changing; what made a customer happy three months ago may have nothing to do with his or her needs today. We must check in on a regular basis through a variety of channels in order to create a multi-dimensional living model of what our clients really want. Only then can we understand whether we are truly satisfying our customers. In order for any company to innovate, they must know what is important to clients today—as well as have a sense of what will be important tomorrow. Insights are discovered in many ways, and I believe we should use a variety of tools to determine the most accurate picture. Here are a few:

  • Industry Events – Be present to check the pulse of your industry, hear about issues and trends, and speak to others as an authority and a colleague. Events are already in place for these purposes, so get out there and learn.
  • Focus Groups – Drill down to specific insights that allow you to ask new questions and test ideas that may not yet be ready for a larger forum. Modern focus groups can provide nearly instantaneous feedback and insights at a very reasonable cost, so consider upping the frequency.
  • Social Media – Sometimes it’s the informal comment or question that can trigger a breakthrough innovation. Social media can be the next best thing to actually talking with clients—and sometimes even better, since it gives people a place to share their thoughts in real time.

If you’re really committed to knowing (instead of assuming) what your customers are thinking, why not create a whole experience dedicated to discovering just that? Right now I’m at our annual User Summit, where my team and I will be spending three days with our clients, listening to what only they can tell us. This is the ultimate forum for the pursuit of knowledge, and we look forward to learning how to continue to evolve our company to best serve our customers. Each customer interaction reveals different insights; enabling and acting upon that ongoing dialog is what we consider to be the action in customer satisfaction. It’s what allows us to innovate with purpose. The most significant question our clients ask right now is, “How can I successfully meet government requirements and achieve my practice’s goals without having to sacrifice one to serve the other?” I’ll be sharing more about our answer to that in my next blog post, so stay tuned . . .

The Key to Growing Your Practice

blog-key-093014If there is one thing both physicians and vendors readily agree on, it is the ever-
changing healthcare landscape—driven by legislation, government programs, and technology. This changing environment poses a challenge for medical practices and businesses alike to retain and attract new patients/clients in order to prosper and thrive.

How can a medical practice operate like a successful business? It all starts with creating a marketing plan that includes clear goals, an identified target market, powerful tactics to reach your target market, and metrics to measure your success. The marketing plan acts as a roadmap by clearly stating goals, laying out a tactical plan of action to achieve them, and identifying the right measurements to ensure a successful outcome. Clearly defined goals might include a targeted number of new patient visits/follow-up visits/procedures per month. Not only is the goal clearly defined, it is timely, and measurable.

The tactical portion of your marketing plan will identify the ways in which you plan to reach your target audience. Today, patients search for information online. This makes your website the focal point of your practice’s online presence. It should be up to date, accurate, and user-friendly. Both your website and social media can help position your practice as an educational resource by providing videos concerning disease-state awareness, detailing procedures, and exposing patients to educational information about practice resources and expertise.

Having the right technology can also help you reach your goals. For example, you can leverage your EHR to run reports identifying a subset of patients (target audience) inclusive of demographics, frequency of visits, diagnoses, and procedures. These reports can be used to assist in communicating with these patients to drive follow-up visits.

In addition, push notifications such as e-mails can be sent through the patient portal to request appointments or to communicate with patients. The use of a portal cuts down on phone calls and paper, representing a significant financial savings and creating an efficient flow of patients through the waiting room. Print materials placed strategically at check-in and check-out points can also help educate patients, and drive portal usage.

Developing and implementing a marketing plan for your practice will place you ahead of the competition, in front of patients and referral sources, and increase your revenue base.

When Is an EHR Like a Tesla?

091214-blogMany of us simultaneously adore and fear the high-tech gadgetry that has entered our day-to-day lives. We adore the benefits today’s technology can bring—convenience, speed, connectivity—yet we fear the ramifications of the unknown. From mobile phones to golf clubs, there are so many choices out there, and we all want to make the right choice. But how do we determine what is right for us? Ironically, our high-tech decisions are usually made in a very low-tech way—through discussion with people we trust. In my circle, I’ve always been the one that friends and family have come to for insights on all things technological.

I’ll admit I’m a technophile, but with a caveat: I’m only for technology that actually helps our lives in meaningful ways. Just because a new gizmo exists doesn’t mean it is right for my life—even though many times, it’s just that it’s not quite right, quite yet. I’ll give you an example: lately, I’ve been getting barraged with questions about cars with alternative-fuel sources. Most often I’m asked, “When are you getting a Tesla?” My response, “Not now,” seems to surprise those who know me.

Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support the inroads Tesla is making in bringing electric-powered cars into the mainstream. These are gorgeous automobiles that are winning awards from all the right sources for everything from performance to safety. Those who have them brag about being on the leading edge, and with every right. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that some of these proud owners are plagued with a fear... a fear that, at some point, they will literally run out of energy because there aren’t enough charging stations. The infrastructure simply is not in place yet. So if I run out of electricity—a very real possibility—I don’t care how amazing these cars are; I’m still stuck, and may as well be driving an AMC Gremlin.

What does this have to do with what I do? Meaningful use makes many high-tech demands of the physicians we serve in the HCIT industry, and it seems that some of those demands don’t consider the implications to the physician in a practical application. Why are doctors—whose time is best spent interacting with patients in a very human way—being relegated to capturing every bit of data imaginable when chances are they will only leverage a very small portion of the information? This is especially true when that data (a) may not be relevant to every patient and/or practice, and (b) may not ever be shared because the information superhighways for this exchange are still under construction.

The right data is critical, of course, and that’s something that medical professionals have long been experts in diagnosing. So what happens when a shiny new EHR technology suddenly makes unreasonable demands on doctors’ time, but with limited tangible benefits? We start to interfere with meaningful patient interactions, and practice-wide productivity, in the name of compliance. Again, the right technology will help in the right way—and in our industry, I believe that means IT solutions that help doctors do more of what they do best: spend meaningful time with patients, and do it more efficiently and with better outcomes.

So if you want to know when I’ll consider getting a Tesla, the answer is when the proper infrastructure is in place to handle it. Until then, I’ll find the vehicle that best serves my needs today and in the foreseeable future. And if you’re looking for my advice regarding mobile phones, golf clubs, or EHR solutions, it’s exactly the same.


Tomorrow’s Technology

As a product manager in the healthcare information technology industry, I speak with customers, potential clients, partners, and competitors on a regular basis to identify emerging trends. For the most part, the feedback is actionable and concrete—there is a market need that is both urgent and pervasive, and, if solved correctly, will bring value to our customers. However, recently the topics on everyone’s minds are more abstract. They are monolithic concepts like “interoperability,” “big data,” “analytics,” “outcomes,” and my favorite: “population health management.”

Every year the research and advisory company Gartner releases a “Hype Cycle” for various industries. It plots the most-talked-about emerging technology trends on a continuum, and, based on historical track records, estimates how long before that technology becomes productive. Below is the continuum and what the stages actually mean. This year’s release includes three technology items that reflect the concepts mentioned above. According to Gartner, “Content Analytics,” “Big Data,” and “Mobile Health” are 5–10 years from becoming productive technologies that are widely embraced and, more importantly, bring value to customers.

Gartner-chartSource: Gartner, Inc.

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “I can’t wait for 5 years, I need these things today.” The good news is that many companies are racing to build, improve, or buy the technology to address all of these trends. Some already exist in the marketplace, and other new products or services will be launched in the near future. The bad news, as I see it, is that no one will get it just right on the first try. As with any other industry offering, we will see many iterations over the next few years. Each one will improve by using lessons learned from the last iteration. Ultimately, the market will decide which options add value to the practice and patient.

Although I am personally excited to see what the next few years bring, I do have a few words of caution for healthcare providers and practices who are looking to leverage these technologies. First, because these technologies are in their infancy, it is important that you provide frequent feedback to your partners. Let them know what works and what doesn’t. This will help them to develop the functionality that you value. Second, since all of these trends revolve around data, you must be willing to invest time in capturing it. If you don’t have it, you can’t analyze, exchange, or act on it.

I look forward to reading your comments and learning about your views.