CMS sent an email notifying people that it will be making updates to the portion of the CMS website covering HIPAA administrative simplification. Although users might be looking forward to “streamlined content and easier navigation,” nothing says “administrative simplification” quite like creating a new URL and making tens of thousands of users across the country update their bookmarks.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg with CMS and all the other federal bodies that have a say in regulating how we practice medicine and how our EHR vendors should support us.
A physician friend of mine works for a vendor. We had the opportunity to get together over the weekend and commiserate about what medicine has become and what MIPS/MACRA is going to do to our respective customers. He’s completely frustrated by some of the clinical quality measures that he is expected to bake into his application. Some of them aren’t really ambulatory measures and would require a lot of manual abstracting of hospital data into the ambulatory chart. There are another group of measures that impact few patients unless you’re in a narrow subspecialty, which makes it difficult for EHR vendors that are trying to support all possible specialties.
Others require use of screening tools that his company doesn’t already have rights to use. This process can take months (plus a fair amount of cash) to get legal agreements in place allowing software vendors to use proprietary screening tools. In the spirit of interoperability, shouldn’t our federal and regulatory “partners” be selecting the open-source equivalent for the content they are specifying? I know there may not always be a non-proprietary option, but if there isn’t, maybe they can use their development dollars to create initiatives and competitions to create that content so everyone can use it.
Every time we get into a regulatory update cycle, vendors’ attention is diverted from providing the content that their users want and need to providing what they are required to provide, regardless of whether their users plan to use it or not. My consulting firm is involved in a fairly deep way with three vendors, all of which are in the same pinch whether they’re privately owned or publicly traded. Of course some vendors are more nimble than others and they have it a bit easier as far as creating content and distributing it to their respective client bases. Like physicians, though, they’re all having to focus on checking the box. This means that they’re not necessarily as focused on innovation as they otherwise could be.
Vendors are not entirely without blame in this game, though. One that I work with frequently recently made a decision that defied logic: they changed the provider home page to remove the instant messaging portion that had previously been embedded at the top of the screen. Now, physicians have to go to a separate screen to address their messages, which not only adds clicks, but increases the possibility that something will be missed.
Since they didn’t use the real estate for anything else, it boggles the mind why they would have thought this was a good idea. I can’t imagine they did usability testing on this before releasing it to the client base, and if they did, I’d be interested to talk to the people who thought it was a good idea so they can explain it to me because I’m missing it.
As with so many things in healthcare today, it feels like we’re focusing on the wrong things. Case in point: precision medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is sexy. The idea of being able to look at someone’s genetic makeup and use that information to diagnose disease before it happens is extremely sexy. But it’s expensive. Given the need for research, development, etc. it has a long lead time, so that makes it feel a bit like we’re pouring money into something that’s not going to provide benefit to everyone, and not for a long time. That’s my perception from the trenches and I’m sure the perception from academia or industry is likely to be different.
It might feel different it we were also pouring money into proven but un-sexy solutions like public health. Obesity prevention, anyone? Getting the number of obese people in our country down under 20 percent again is going to save more lives and provide more quality of life in the intermediate to short term than precision medicine will. But it’s not sexy.
I was on a webinar the other day for family physicians where the speaker was telling us we’re supposed to be referring our patients to community gardens and organic food pantries as ways to combat obesity and food insecurity. Yet another thing for primary care physicians to do while they’re trying to keep all the plates spinning and coordinate care in an increasingly fragmented environment.
Where’s the funding to promote these solutions? Can I get an embedded care coordinator to reach out to those patients and have the conversation about community gardens? Can I get someone to pay for the custom reporting I’ll need to identify eligible patients by diagnosis and ZIP code? Guess what, there’s no funding for that. And even if you have an EHR that can do it and a population health system that can do the outreach, there’s no recognition of the fact that it’s additional work on the practice.
Of course if the dreams of advanced payment models and whatnot come true and we start to see additional reimbursement for this additional work, it might all balance out. But that’s not the reality that most of my primary care clients are living in today. I’m watching my colleagues retire or move to non-continuity practices like urgent care or cosmetic medicine in droves.
Although I find issues like this to be exasperating, it’s a good reminder of why I’m in consulting. Many of my clients are small practices that can’t navigate this world on their own and rely on my partner and me to get it done. We’re their first line of education and sometimes the last line of defense at keeping their practices afloat. They trust us to help them, and by extension, their patients. When it all works out, it can be very satisfying. But most days it just feels like a grind.
What do you think about the tension between high-tech and public health fieldwork? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.