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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/21/17

December 21, 2017 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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Usually things in the healthcare IT world are relatively slow from Thanksgiving through the early part of the New Year, as vendors save their best efforts for HIMSS. At the same time, hospitals and health systems make sense of new federal regulations and changes to insurance contracts while patients try to figure out new coverage along with new deductibles, networks, and more.

This year, the early November release of CMS updates to the 2018 MACRA Quality Payment Program, along with the Physician Fee Schedule, seem to have energized the provider community to ensure that they understand the rules that they’ll be operating under in 2018. Healthcare organizations are scrambling to make sure they are ready for initiatives such as the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) program and year-long reporting for various quality programs.

On the vendor side, there has been increased activity supporting clients in the above areas. I’ve seen a handful of vendors announcing their required APIs along with their plans to support the transition to new Medicare beneficiary identifiers. Others are highlighting enhancements to CCD exchange.

Compared to the last several years, vendors seem more likely to publicize the changes they’re making to their systems. Where some focus on enhancements and updates, others are increasingly transparent about defect identification and fixes. In the wake of the Department of Justice action against EClinicalWorks, one has to wonder whether vendors are hoping that transparency will save them from potential whistleblower actions or client claims.

In addition to supporting their clients, vendors are well into the pre-HIMSS run-up. They are refining their messaging and getting ready to put their best feet forward as they work to recruit new clients and to retain existing clients who are constantly looking for the next big thing to solve their workflow woes. I’ve heard from several firms that conduct marketing research – they’re looking for physicians to participate in projects that sound like they are being conducted on behalf of EHR vendors. At least two of them seemed to be for new product launches and I hope I’m able to see what companies are planning before we get to the HIMSS exhibit hall.

I had the opportunity to learn about a startup’s product this week and was impressed by what I saw. The company’s founders come from an industry far away from healthcare. Although many “outsider” companies have thought it would be easy to crack the healthcare nut and have received a rude surprise, this group comes from an extremely data-intensive industry and they have a fresh approach. I’m looking forward to seeing how they prepare for HIMSS and whether their approach to patient engagement will play to healthcare purchasers in the way they hope it will.

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A reader emailed after my last Curbside Consult that talked about the challenges patients face when trying to figure out prescription pricing and whether they should use their insurance coverage or pay cash for prescriptions from us. He asked if I had ever seen GoodRx. Although it provides real-time information and price comparisons across pharmacies, it has some of the same issues that make patients question whether they should get their medications from us – namely that GoodRx doesn’t run prescriptions through insurance.

For patients who are looking to meet a family deductible or get out of the Medicare donut hole, it’s not going to help with the bigger picture of those expenses unless their payer allows them to submit receipts and credit the cash expenditures towards the deductible. I also failed to mention that our home grown cheat sheet in the office includes data on pharmacy hours, which is indispensable for any patient trying to get their medications filled after 4 p.m. in our area. I haven’t used GoodRx in a while, but will make it a point to give it another go during my next clinical shift.

It will be challenging to predict how the patient cost curve will bend following changes to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act once the current tax legislation makes it through the process. Although supporters are trumpeting the repeal of the individual mandate for insurance coverage, that doesn’t appear to happen immediately and some subsidies will continue. I would expect costs to rise as people opt out of individual coverage, leaving only sicker people in the pool.

Additional challenges will come to families who receive funding for child healthcare through the CHIP program, whose federal funding stopped September 30 and hasn’t been reauthorized. This is a popular program with bipartisan support, and states are running out of reserves with a forecast of half being out of money by the end of January. Alabama is no longer accepting new patients into the program and Colorado and Virginia have told parents to start looking at private insurance options. Of course, there’s also the threat of a government shutdown looming, so when this will all be untangled is anyone’s guess.

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For many organizations, this is the time for holiday greetings and service projects. InstaMed launched its “10 Days of Giving” program, running a toy drive for patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and delivering 930 toys.

I looked for blurbs from other vendors and was surprised at how little I found on public websites. One vendor detailed their efforts to collect clothing for the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and another had a corporate philanthropy blog that hadn’t been updated since 2016. A couple of corporate responsibility webpage links returned “page not found” messages.

I know vendors are out there doing good things and would love to report on them. Many hospitals (especially pediatric facilities) have wish lists for gifts in kind and would be happy to receive your donation. My local hospital is looking for not only toys, but things like ear buds and sports team shirts for teen patients. If you’re looking for an opportunity to give, please also consider Mr. H’s Donors Choose program. I’m amazed by the generosity of our readers, and as the daughter of a retired teacher, I know how much those donations mean not only to the students, but to the educators.

I would love nothing more than to have my next piece be full of stories of holiday giving.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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