Now that we have the official ICD-10 go-live behind us, we can breathe a little easier. But it’s not time to let our guard down. In fact, if one more person tries to tell me it was a “non-event,” I’m likely to scream. The fact that things have gone smoothly so far is largely due to the millions of dollars and hours spent making it go as well as humanly possible.
Although I haven’t seen any major hitches, the majority of practices I work with have had only a small percentage of their claims processed. Many practices haven’t even sent claims out the door yet. They’re waiting for providers to finish their notes, for coders to review them, for managers to harass the providers to finish the notes, for pathology to return so codes can be determined, and more.
Two business days is far too early to judge whether this transition has been successful. I think it’s going to take at least two to three weeks to fully understand whether there are going to be cash flow lags or other downstream impacts. Long story short, it’s too early to let our guard down.
Our colleagues on the revenue cycle side need to be watching carefully and communicating as soon as they suspect there might be issues. Although Medicare has said it will not penalize physicians for coding without the ultimate level of specificity as long as the diagnoses are in the ballpark, I haven’t heard from many payers that they’re willing to look the other way.
Still, for those of us that have been heavily invested on the training side of things — particularly on the provider and coding aspects of the transition — the bulk of our work is behind us. This week I’m doing a handful of remedial training sessions for providers who either didn’t pay attention the first time they were trained or had valid reasons to miss.
One of my customers today has been on family leave with a new baby and warned me that he feels like he’s been “under a rock” as far as keeping up with things. He did well with the training, though, and asked a lot of good questions. Based on his performance with practice scenarios, I think he’ll be fine. He said that compared to the recent upheaval of his life as he knew it coupled with ongoing sleep deprivation, ICD-10 seems like a piece of cake.
A lot of people are asking me what I’m going to work on now that I have some relative free time. I’m going back to helping practices work more efficiently and effectively with their EHRs. I’ve already scheduled several clients both large and small for optimization visits. They know I’m going to go through their processes with a fine-toothed comb and look for ways to make them more efficient or at least less stressed. Some will be micro workflow within the software itself, but I’d estimate that nearly 80 percent of what I do is macro process work.
There are plenty of non-IT processes that need tweaking in many offices. Some may be straightforward, such as reducing the need for patients to call the office for medication refills. In a typical primary care office that hasn’t addressed this yet, I can generally free up a staffer for two to four hours a day by streamlining the process. I work with providers to help them understand the benefits of refilling medications for a year at a time (or at least through the next scheduled visit) or to help them consider a refill protocol where nurses or other staffers can do some triage. We educate patients that they can request refills through patient portals or directly through the pharmacy, which allows us to handle them electronically vs. on the phone. We set up efficient processes for those medications that can’t be handled electronically, such as controlled substances.
This is pretty basic stuff that many organizations addressed during EHR go lives. But there are plenty of people out there whose practices were just fighting their way through EHR training and didn’t spend any time on practice redesign or clinical transformation. Now that they have the technology, they’re having to circle back to figure out the best ways to use it. They’re also realizing the continual squeeze that comes from increasing payer and regulatory burdens. They need to free up time for staffers to start doing new work that’s going to bring revenue to the practice – things like care management, patient outreach, and population health.
I’m also seeing a fair number of practices that want my help with technical projects. Some of them bought tools and technology that they never implemented because their attention has been pulled by Meaningful Use and ICD-10. Now that they have a bit of a comfort level with both of those challenges, they’re circling back to see how they can use their new toys or to see if there are features or functions in their EHRs that they missed the first time around. Maybe they were just too busy or maybe they weren’t philosophically ready for them, but it’s always good to revisit and see if you already have tools that can be of help.
I’m doing two population health implementations for small practices. Both of them have solutions from their primary EHR vendors. One never went through training and the tool has just been sitting on the virtual shelf. The other went through training but never fully implemented it, largely due to perceived lack of staff. They recently added a part-time role for care management and population health, so we’re going to dig in and get a program up and running. I’m familiar with the tool they’ll be using and it’s decent. The biggest challenge they’re going to have is figuring out how to narrow their populations to the most high-risk or high-yield patients.
I think physicians see population health solutions and the ability to find all your patients that have X disease or X need, and reach out to them. It’s an attractive concept for those of us who went into primary care to help prevent disease or help patients maximize outcomes. However, the reality is that many of us have been collecting a lot of data, and if we tried to act on all of it, we’d quickly outstrip our practices resources to handle it. That can lead to some difficult decisions for physicians.
In the absence of real risk profiling data, they have to select whether they want to target the oldest or the sickest patients because they’re at the highest risk of complications. Or perhaps they should target the youngest because they have the longer time-burden of disease in their futures and the greatest opportunity to change. They also have to figure out how much staff capacity they have. Do they have enough open appointments over the next several months or do we need to do a project to burn down the appointment backlog first? Do they have enough phone lines to handle return calls from digital outreach and enough people to answer them? Do they have enough hours in the day?
Physicians are always surprised when I suggest small pilot programs first. Many of them are so used to trying to do everything for everyone that it’s counterintuitive to ask them to do less than that. My goal is to do a smaller project where they can be successful, then build on that to involve more patients or more conditions. This lets change happen organically in the practice rather than it being a complete upheaval. We’ve already had enough of that in medicine. We need to try to stop doing everything at once and just take it one day at a time.
What’s your plan for post-ICD-10? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.