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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/9/17

February 9, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Several readers asked whether I saw this article about Obamacare vs. the Affordable Care Act, so I feel compelled to respond. I don’t know about the exact statistics, but we’re having lots of conversations with patients in the office about their coverage and their concerns about what will be changing. Usually it’s in the context of their being grateful for our transparent pricing and low costs, but a lot of people are genuinely worried about pre-existing conditions and whether their insurance will still cover preventive services.

When patients complain about rising premiums or changes to insurance plan offerings, I typically mention that while the laws regulate doctors and hospitals, there hasn’t been much done in the way of insurance regulation. Whether or not you think enormous bonuses for insurance company CEOs are warranted, the sheer economics dictate that the money has to come from somewhere.

On the payer front, Centene’s recent report showed quarterly revenue and profit ahead of expectations, helped by growth in the individual coverage market and by Medicaid expansion. Net earnings for Centene were $261 million for the fourth quarter of 2016. Based on 11.4 million patients covered, it’s a small margin, but when you couple it with the administrative costs of running a health plan, it represents a tremendous amount of premium and tax dollars that are not being spent on patient care.

I’ve been inundated by requests from HIMSS for their corporate member focus groups. Some of the sessions are pretty drab sounding and others don’t work with my schedule, so I probably won’t make it to any this year. I was a little aggravated, though, that they can’t figure out how to blind copy the invitation – seems like a basic email skill.

Some of the sessions are vendor-specific and it’s obvious who you will be talking to or about, but others are a bit more vague. I was tempted by one that advertised discussion of precision medicine solutions, but I figured it would just irritate me. As a preventive and public health curmudgeon, I have a hard time talking about spending millions of dollars on focused gene-based therapy when we can’t fund the basics of health promotion and disease prevention.

I attended a service launch webinar for another consulting company this week. They’re not in the same space as me, but they’re a fun bunch of people, so I wanted to see what they’re up to. They’ve partnered with a third-party vendor for the tool, although they didn’t say it. If it’s not totally white labeled, I think it’s better to say you’re at least “powered by X vendor” rather than having prospects or vendors see “copyright X vendor” at the bottom of the screen and wonder what’s going on. The presenter also seemed nervous. Even if you’re a presentation pro, I’d definitely recommend a dry run when you’re launching something new or presenting in a new format.

For weird news fans: I stumbled across an article about a patient who lived for six days without lungs. She had been waiting for a transplant but developed influenza and sepsis along with organ therapy. After concluding that death was likely imminent unless there was intervention, physicians removed the source of infection – her lungs. She was placed on an external oxygenation device (Novalung) with rapid improvement and received donor lungs several days later. Four months later, she’s breathing normally on room air, although she does still have to have dialysis following kidney failure. Hearing about physicians pushing the boundaries and having success reminds me of the excitement of medical school, when it seemed like our faculty was making history on a weekly basis.


CMS has extended the submission deadline for 2016 clinical quality measure reporting required by eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals participating in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program or the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting program. Electronic clinical quality measures are now due March 13 rather than February 28. For 2017 reporting, CMS plans to start a rule-making process looking at modifications to the final rule. It’s always fun to wait for the rules to be finalized after you’re already playing the game.


The AMIA Mentor Match program is looking for informaticists willing to spend an hour a month for the next 11 months working with mentees. I’m thinking about signing up, but struggle with how to describe my experience and areas of expertise. Somehow I don’t think “Sassy former CMIO turned consultant seeks idealistic mentee to remind me how idealistic I used to be, before corporate healthcare and chaotic vendors drove me over the edge” is what they’re looking for. Some days I wish I had a mentor of my own to give me perspective on the bizarre work situations in which I often find myself.

I’m spending some extended time in the patient care trenches due to a colleague’s medical leave. We’ve started seeing some EHR performance issues during the times of peak patient volume. It’s bad enough when you’re overwhelmed with patients, but having your system fail you makes it intolerable. At times, the system is at a crawl.

I was spoiled when I was a CMIO because our EHR vendor had a SWAT team they would send out for issues like this. Even if you had strong resources in house, you could leverage the team to review performance and monitoring tools and make recommendations. My current vendor is on the smaller side and not terribly helpful when it comes to helping us manage the issues.

We use a third party to manage desktop and wireless solutions, so as you can imagine, there is a bit of finger-pointing between the access crowd and the application support folks. It always unnerves the IT team when you have a physician who starts asking about latency and Citrix load balancing, but I’m happy to give everyone a nudge to stop the blame game and get about the business of finding solutions.

The HIMSS mailings have started rolling in. Every year it seems like the marketing themes and giveaways get a little goofier. Physicians have long been scrutinized for regarding gifts from industry, but there’s no reporting for the majority of healthcare IT professionals. I hope the Open Payments system has fields available for tracking giveaways such as virtual reality goggles, scooters, art pieces, and more.

What’s the best trade show giveaway you’ve ever seen? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/6/17

February 6, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I’m playing cleanup for one of my clients this week. They’re dealing with one of the most common management challenges I see – lack of redundancy for key positions or functions.

Due to some leadership personality issues, individual contributors were allowed to become “experts” on a variety of topics without any thought to backup, collaboration, or shared responsibility. When issues came up, it placed the experts in a position of being able to swoop in and solve the problem using their sacred knowledge, further solidifying the idea that only the rescuer had full command of the information. Instead of raising appropriate red flags about why only one person could solve a problem, previous leadership continued to groom these expert resources.

In reality, what some of the experts were doing was front line customer support, but because no one else had visibility into what they were doing, it appeared that they were doing a lot more than was actually going on. Now that a couple of them have left the organization, it has become apparent that some of them were doing very little, and others were doing work that could have been handled by appropriately training the practice call center employees who interact with the internal customers on a daily basis.

When I came into the situation, the organization was in a tailspin trying to figure out how they could possibly replace these people. The reality was that we were able to outsource it pretty quickly, along with selling them some consulting services to document the process, educate others, and prevent this from happening in the future.

In looking at the broader structure of the organization, however, there are much larger cultural factors at play that allowed this behavior to continue. There is a history of promoting individual contributors to management positions because there was no other career path for them. When you take people with no management experience and plop them into a management role, it often feels very uncomfortable. That can lead to the new manager withdrawing from those responsibilities and instead to try to create new individual responsibilities that are more in their comfort zones. Couple that with upper management that is too crisis-oriented and doesn’t budget adequate time to develop these new managers and you have a recipe for a mess.

My task with these folks now is to evaluate the depth and breadth of the experts and figure out what they were actually doing. Some of them have been doing obscenely little given their titles and pay grade. Others were trying to do more than anyone could possibly do well because of wheel-spinning and inefficiency. Once we identify the core body of knowledge and the tasks that need to be completed, I assign an external resource to first cover the acute needs, but second, to document everything and create a training plan to build out multiple resources to cover the needs moving forward. I’m unfortunately seeing a lot of resistance as members of the organization figure out that the emperor has no clothes and begin to worry that they might be next in being exposed.

This fear of being exposed leads to all kinds of bad behavior: information hoarding, siloing, manipulation, maneuvering, and more. People feel threatened when they’re worried others will figure out they have been operating outside accepted boundaries and will do anything to protect themselves.

My favorite strategy is blaming the consultant, who has clearly been brought in by the leadership to fix something that has been identified as a problem. There’s a certain level of trust (and money on the line) when you bring in an outsider and give them carte blanche to realign resources and shift roles and responsibilities. Complaining about it or pitching a fit only makes you look bad and potentially tees you up to be “realigned” outside the company if you are uncooperative enough. Couple that with the fact that the consultant was able to replicate your job duties at a fraction of your cost, and it might just be better to keep your head down and cooperate.

I’m on site this week doing stakeholder interviews, trying to sort out what people think about their role in the project and how the project is going overall, vs. what others have to say and what the leadership thinks is going on. It’s not looking good for some members of the management team who are behaving like cornered animals. Although downsizing was not an original goal of this consulting engagement, how they’re handling it is making it seem like losing a few people might be a good idea.

I enjoy doing stakeholder interviews and organizational assessments. Sometimes they can be enlightening, but often they’re fascinating journeys into the underlying psychological baggage that people carry around with them. Some of my standard interview questions involve the team, its goals, what people think about their participation, the overall health of the project, and how they think they’re contributing.

I conducted one interview this morning where the participant raved on and on about a colleague and how helpful she is, how much of an asset to the team, how she enjoyed working with her, etc. A few hours later, I met with the subject of the glowing commentary, who went on and on about how she thinks my previous interview subject hates her and is trying to undermine her within the company. This client has a fair number of “you can’t make this up” scenarios that I have to figure out how to deal with. I’m thinking I need to bring in a therapist in addition to subject matter expert consultants.

The leadership is not without blame here. Although they’re relatively new and inherited the bulk of the mess, they’ve been complicit in allowing some of the craziness to continue without stepping in earlier. They’ve allowed the process of making people managers because there’s no way to promote people in various job classes, which has compromised people’s effectiveness and weakened the organization.

Members of the leadership also project the air of being too busy to help the little people sort it out, which is going to be a long-term issue. They’d be much better served by at least appearing that they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in to build the organization rather than making it clear that their main goal is to continue acquiring physician practices and everything else is secondary. Adding more practices (many of which are distressed when they’re acquired) when they’re struggling to support their existing practices doesn’t seem like the best strategy, so I’ll continue to work on that piece as well.

What’s your current project? Does it make you want to crawl back in bed every morning? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/2/17

February 2, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the literature when there is so much coming out and the pace of change is so rapid. This article in PLOS One regarding influenza vaccination for healthcare workers caught my eye. It looked at vaccination statistics in long-term care facilities and whether the “number needed to vaccinate” in order to prevent patient death was in alignment with what had been predicted based on previous data. Rather than the previously predicted number of eight vaccinations needed to prevent a single patient death, the number was calculated at somewhere between 6,000 and 32,000. Authors concluded that the four studies supporting enforced vaccination for healthcare workers “attribute implausibly large reductions in patient risk to healthcare worker vaccination, casting serious doubts on their validity.”

This is a great lesson in small data vs. big data and the need to keep questioning and keep researching as the healthcare knowledge base continues to expand. Through the magic of eBay, I once purchased a set of medical student notebooks from the 1920s. They’re half-legal sized bound notebooks that flip at the top, and it’s amazing to see what is written and what we knew then. My favorite page starts with the statement, “There is so much we still do not know about the thyroid.” I wonder what that medical student would think of our current knowledge base? Those notebooks also make me wonder what physicians will think of us 80 years in the future, especially given the current wrangling over whether we as a nation are committed to ensuring medical care for all.


I recently posed the question to my readers about what would their ideal jobs would look like.

From Sunshine State: “An optimal role would be leading several business units from a COO or similar position, with a focus on solving problems in our industry in a fast-paced and dynamic environment. A level of risk is attractive — as John Paul Jones stated, he who will not risk cannot win. How do we shrink an industry and not put people out of work while advancing care? With a generalist background, a greater contribution is possible with coordinating resources and goals across groups rather than leading a specific business unit or department requiring specialized skills.” I agree that the idea of having more than one business unit at your disposal might make it easier to solve problems creatively without the distraction or bottlenecks that occurs with more siloed organizations. There’s a temptation for leaders to protect their own rather than stepping out of their comfort zones in an effort to solve the bigger problem. Certainly figuring out how to reduce cost, increase quality, and maintain jobs is a challenge, even more so when you have limited financial or personnel resources.

From At Bat: “Funny you should ask about the perfect job because I happened into it several years ago. I worked at a large hospital for 30+ years in direct patient care, managed care, the physician organization, the health plan, patient safety, and at the last part of my career in evidence-based medicine. I’m not technical, but was involved system-wide in various projects. I was contacted by the executive for our data warehouse asking if I would speak at a conference on a particular topic. I replied, ‘No problem, any opportunities?’ and after a whirlwind of phone interviews and a quick meet-up at HIMSS, I was offered my dream job helping health systems with analytics initiatives. I have to honestly say that if you gave me a pencil and paper and said to write down the perfect job, this would have been the result. I work from home when I am not traveling, and while I do get a tad lonely, it is the most rewarding job I have ever held. I am slowly getting used to working in the for-profit vs. non-profit world.” The ability to wear fuzzy bunny slippers to work cannot be underestimated. It can be a drag, though, when you realize you’ve been wearing pajamas all day and have been so busy working that you’re not even sure you brushed your teeth today. I’m always happy to hear when people find something that really clicks and hope that it lasts for them.

From What The?: “I wrote you a couple years ago about the perfect job and thought you might appreciate an update. I had decided after being a healthcare IT consultant that I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a doctor. I have a liberal arts degree and zero science background, but seeing how people like you approach healthcare convinced me that this was something I needed to do. I was accepted to my medical school of choice last fall and am doing contract HIT consulting work to save up money until I start classes. I just got an email about my white coat ceremony in July and could not be more excited about the opportunities ahead.” This put a big smile on my face. Although sometimes those of us in the profession knock it due to the hours, the stress, the external pressures, and more, being a physician is still one of the greatest privileges any of us can have. For patients to trust us in their times of vulnerability and weakness is truly something special. Even though there are tens of thousands of “healthcare IT people” who never go anywhere near a patient, we need to continue to remember why we are doing this. It’s about our grandmothers, brothers, sisters, and everyone else who relies on the systems we use to make decisions and deliver care.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/30/17

January 30, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I’ve finally started getting excited about HIMSS. On Friday, my MagicBand arrived, personalized and ready for Disney to start transferring cash directly to their coffers. After learning hard lessons in the past about the need to book hotel rooms early, I was able to get a room at my hotel of choice. I planned to spend most of HIMSS with a good friend, but she tried to book a couple of days after me and wasn’t able to get a room. She does, however, have connections at Disney, where we were able to get significantly more posh accommodations for a fraction of what we would have paid at the official HIMSS hotels. Sure, we’ll have to deal with parking and traffic, but I’m looking forward to spending time with friends and getting away from the craziness of the show each night.

I was also excited to get my HIStalkapalooza ticket. Even though I’m guaranteed an invitation, I do have to register for a ticket just like everyone else and it’s always exciting when that email arrives. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to wear and of course find the right shoes, so that will be on my to-do list for the next couple of weeks. It’s nice to have a project to work on that doesn’t involve federal regulations, frustrated healthcare organizations, burned out physicians, or medical practices struggling to survive.

Things have also started to slow down at my clinical practice, with the near-epidemic of influenza finally easing up. Our fiscal year runs with the calendar year. Even though we monitor the numbers closely throughout the year, once we close the books, it triggers detailed accounting reviews and the beginning of discussions on our strategy for managed care and occupational health contracting negotiations. That dovetails with planning exercises and review of our recent growth and whether we should continue with our plans for opening new locations or whether we need to re-evaluate. Fortunately, our price transparency and the boom in high-deductible insurance plans continues to support our planned expansions. We have nearly triple the locations we had when I started, with several hundred employees.

I had an opportunity to sit down with our chief operating officer this week. Part of the meeting was a review of my personal metrics. It’s nice to work at an organization that understands the role of metrics and how to use them drive organizational goals. It’s a bit if a luxury to be able to set our own metrics and not be stuck with what CMS and other governmental bodies think we should use, regardless of whether they impact our internal or community-based goals.

We look at a variety of metrics that impact patient satisfaction, such as wait time, treatment time, appropriate referral for advanced imaging, procedural complications, survey results, and response to clinical follow-up outreach. Those metrics vary month to month, and in this cycle we saw a pretty significant impact due to the rate of influenza, norovirus, and other infectious diseases. At one point in December, we were seeing 50 percent more patients on a daily basis than we had ever seen, so it’s not surprising that patients would be a little less satisfied about wait times or congestion in the office.

We also look at quite a few financial metrics, including charges per encounter and the distribution of E&M codes among providers. As you would expect, most of our visits fall under a subset of codes, but there are some outliers that occasionally over- or under-code, so we have to decide how to deal with them. Is it just a blip or part of a larger pattern? Does it increase our risk for audit? Is someone trying to game the system by getting their charges up without appropriate justification?

We know that the cost of care at our facility is about one-eighth that of care at the area’s emergency departments, so it might be tempting for some providers to upcode. We also look at what the EHR suggested the code be, vs. what the provider or scribe actually clicked, vs. what the internal coders think. There is always some wiggle room depending on whether documentation elements were captured as free text or discrete elements, and our visits occasionally move up or down the E&M code spectrum after coding review.

Not surprisingly, I tend to fall at the lower end of the pack as far as charges per encounter, which makes sense with my primary care roots and all of the managed care red tape I’ve had to deal with. I tend to be less free with prescriptions as well, which is understandable given the risks of polypharmacy with patients you don’t know well. It was interesting to see the comparative data and what some of my colleagues are doing though – I average 0.64 prescriptions per patient encounter, where some of my colleagues are in the 1.6 and 1.7 range. Most of our group is in the 0.85 range, so I’m not that far off the mark. Given the range, though, I recommended that next month we slice that data a little differently and look specifically at newer vs. established colleagues, moonlighting residents vs. midlevel providers vs. supervising physicians, full vs. part-time provider status, and distribution by location.

We look at a lot of our data in aggregate, which makes it interesting when you know you have outlier data. Since we have our own in-house ultrasound and CT scanners, we look at the timeliness of referral for those modalities. Since I only work part time, any fluctuations in my practice patterns show up a bit more acutely than my peers who see many more patients each reporting period. My “timely referral for diagnostics” metric was significantly off from last month, and the COO got a kick out of the fact that I could recite the clinical situations of the patients whose visits drove the numbers. I had a flurry of cases that had to be transferred to the emergency department for higher acuity care (and in two cases had to go straight to the operating room) and let me tell you, those are the shifts you don’t forget.

The urgent care keeps trying to lure me into a full-time role, and it’s getting more difficult to resist its call. We agreed to talk again in a few months. In the meantime, we’ll have to see if HIMSS brings any new and exciting opportunities to light my informatics fire.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/26/17

January 26, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

CMS rolls out the MIPS red carpet for small, rural, and underserved practices with a webinar on February 1. CMS will be discussing eligibility, 2017 participation, data submission, performance categories, scoring, and resources available to practices falling into these categories. Figuring out a MIPS strategy is hard enough for large practices who have relatively greater resources, so I can’t imagine how a small independent rural practice might struggle. I’ve done some engagements with that demographic and many of them can’t even figure out how to afford a reasonably priced consultant given their payer mix (lots of Medicaid) and the challenges of treating the medically underserved.

Whether you’re a cash-strapped practice or not, CMS has also given some confusing messages when discussing the Medicare volume threshold for excluding practices from MIPS. There have been questions about whether providers have to meet the charge threshold AND the volume threshold, or whether it should be an OR function. The answer is that it depends on how you ask the question. If you’re asking who is excluded, it’s providers who Medicare Part B allowed charges are less than or equal to $30K OR if they see fewer than 100 Medicare Part B patients annually. If you’re asking who is eligible, it’s providers who meet the charge threshold AND see more than 100 patients. For those who think proper sentence construction is antiquated: case in point.


I just took a long-term assignment with a client whose basic business processes are in total disarray. They haven’t been looking at their staffing or expenses for months and have dug themselves into a deep hole. Originally, they thought there was some kind of embezzling or theft, but after a thorough investigation, it points to a total lack of management.

Looking at the “at your fingertips” reports available in their online payroll system, I identified a handful of employees who have been logging overtime daily for more than a year. In interviewing the employees and their direct managers, no one has ever noticed it, let alone discussed it or taken steps to mitigate it. When assessing one employee’s daily assignments, it turns out she has been doing various tasks that belong to three other employees and that has been eating up a good chunk of her time. It never occurred to her to discuss this with her manager, which is one issue, but the manager’s failure to notice the overtime is another. And accounting’s failure to notice a significant budget variance is a miss as well as practice leadership failing to notice that accounting didn’t call it out.

We discussed sitting down with the employees and working through their daily tasks to find out what was generating the overtime, but they were uncomfortable leading the discussion. I agreed to work with them, taking the “watch one, do one, teach one” approach to get them to a point where they were at least minimally capable of managing their own resources. It was a painful few days of discussions, coaching, reviewing, role-playing, and revisiting, but we at least stopped the bleeding with a new policy to prevent employees from logging overtime without a direct manager approval that is documented in writing. Although many of the overtime-inducing tasks were administrative, several of them were clinical in nature and we had to make plans to ensure that work didn’t fall through the cracks.

The bigger point here is that if a practice can’t handle Office Management 101, how are they going to handle the increasing data-gathering and reporting demands required as healthcare evolves? And if they can’t figure out how to resource current tasks or how to eliminate non-value-added processes, will the patients suffer? How will they create processes for team-based care, increased coordination with external providers, management of transfers of care, and more? There are plenty of vendors out there pushing technology solutions that will only automate bad processes and it’s challenging to have these hard conversations with organizations about how they do business. If they’re not managing their human resource overhead, they may not be managing their supply overhead, either. And it’s a safe bet that if they’re not on a cloud-based EHR, they’re not managing their servers and hardware, either.

Ultimately some of these practices aren’t going to be financially viable. My primary care physician’s practice recently disbanded. The partners had very different ideas about what “productive” looked like, which resulted in one partner carrying the lion’s share of the overhead. Over time this became untenable, and his aging partners weren’t willing to work harder or longer hours.

My PCP grew increasingly disillusioned and his partners couldn’t afford to buy him out, so they agreed to close. It’s been a culture shock as he moves into the ranks of employed physicians. Fortunately, he didn’t have to join a big health system group, but became an employee of a small independent practice. Based on all the things he no longer worries about, he has more time for patient care, but it’s been an adjustment. We’ve been friends for a long time, so I did a therapeutic intervention and used some of his free time for dinner and a movie. I think we’ll be able to get him through this.

It was interesting watching the wind-down from the patient perspective, however, since I had gotten used to having access to the practice’s patient portal for all my needs. I was glad to see that my records still remain on the vendor portal. They didn’t disable all the features, though, so it still allowed me to send an appointment request, a refill request, and a message to the physician, but I know for a fact that no one is monitoring it because the practice’s servers have been decommissioned and are in a box in his basement. I found the notification that the practice was closed and where patients should contact the physicians, but it was buried three screens deep in an “about our practice” area of the site.

I had taken advantage of their personal health record download functionality after my last visit so I already had what I needed, but it was good to know my records live on with the vendor. My new physician uses the same vendor, so hopefully it will all connect and be good to go.

How portable has your PHI been with system migrations and practice mergers? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/23/17

January 23, 2017 Dr. Jayne 11 Comments

I wrote last week about a real-world curbside consult from my IT colleague, Jimmy the Greek. As promised, here is the second installment of Dr. Jayne’s Journal Club, where we will continue with our patient case presentation.

When we last left Jimmy, he had been referred from the physiatrist to an orthopedic surgeon. I didn’t go into detail about insurance or how much this has been costing him, but since it’s a new year, I’m betting he’s facing a new (and most likely daunting) deductible. When I was a CMIO at Big Health System, we always saw a dip in business during the first month of the year, but things picked up in February as people met their deductibles. I don’t have access to that kind of performance data any more, but I wonder what those curves look like given the expansion of high deductible plans.

At the end of my last piece, I had just made an appointment to review my MRI results with Dr. Professional himself. I arrived at the appointed time (15 minutes prior to the appointed time, actually) and after I explained why I was there, I received a terse “ID and insurance card” along with the outstretched hand of the front desk attendant (who, for reasons unbeknownst to this author, was the only one in the office wearing scrubs.)

After a considerable wait, I was shown to an exam room, where I met a physical terrorist … err, therapist. She took down the same history I had provided the doctor in previous visits, so either my records weren’t updated or she didn’t bother to read them. Finally, the doc comes in and pulls me out into the hall, where he has my MRI results pulled up. Yep, in the hallway, where anyone walking by can take a look. So much for HIPAA.

Dr. Professional explains that he sees some osteoarthritis and he wants me to consult with an orthopedic surgeon to see about laparoscopic surgery. I’m given a referral and sent on my merry way.

A friend of mine is an orthopedic surgical nurse at Big Hospital System, so I asked her about the guy who might shove soda straws into my hip joint (Yes, I watched the YouTube video. Yes, I now know I should not have done that.) She asks around and comes back with a consensus from the docs she asked: “He’s competent.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I’m planning on a second opinion anyway, so I set up an appointment to see Dr. Competent.

Being a savvy healthcare consumer, I obtained Dr. Competent’s new patient forms from his practice website, printed them, and filled them out ahead of time. Confidential to all of you CMIOs and practice managers out there – fillable PDFs are a thing now, and if you don’t have them available for patients, you should. If you can’t figure out how to do it, I’ll do it for you – contact me through Dr. Jayne. I promise my rates are as reasonable as the amount of time I spend in your waiting rooms.

Upon arrival at Dr. Competent’s MegaOrthoMart Practice, I handed in my homework, forked over my ID and insurance card, and was promptly handed two additional forms to fill out, which requested much of the same information that I had provided on the phone when making the appointment and on the forms I filled out ahead of time. Then I got to wait until a registrar became available, and she more or less walked through the forms and asked me if each line item was correct. It’s now 35 minutes past my 8 a.m. appointment time and I’m still stuck in the lobby.

Someone finally comes to get me and the first thing they want to do is take x-rays. Remember the last installment? I’ve had x-rays and an MRI. Despite the fact that I brought the imagery with me, MegaOrtho insisted on doing their own because they “can’t be certain of the technique used to obtain [my] existing films.” I tend to believe the real reason they wanted to take more x-rays was more along the lines of, “This way we can bill your insurance company for more services.” When I get my explanation of benefits, I’m sure I’ll see an office visit from Dr. Competent, a facility fee from MegaOrtho, and imaging fees from MegaRadiology. At least MegaOrtho is independent and not part of Big Hospital System or they would be after their piece of the pie, too.

At 9:15 AM (a full 75 minutes past my appointment time), I finally get to see Dr. Competent in all of his frat-boy glory. Without introducing himself (what is it with doctors just assuming you know who they are?), he proceeds to explain what’s wrong, explains that surgery is an option, but a cortisone shot and physical would be a better first step. I’m all set to get the cortisone done, but he explains that he doesn’t do that for Dr. Professional’s patients. So now I get to make another appointment with him for an ultrasound-guided cortisone injection.

At this rate, I’m going to need to take a second job just to fund my co-pay habit (see “fillable PDF” offer above). The cynical part of me can’t help thinking that this is just a scheme to extract as much money from me and my poor, innocent insurance company as possible. I don’t begrudge anyone the ability to make a living, but this just seems excessive. (For those of you keeping track at home, we’re up to three appointments with Dr. Professional now.)

The one bright spot in this adventure has been the staff at the physical therapy place. Everyone there is friendly and efficient. Here’s to a speedy recovery and success in physical therapy. If I have to have the hip scoped it, it’s a longer recovery than I’d like, so keep those patient information forms coming my way; I’ll apparently have lots of time on my hands to create fillable PDFs.

Looking at this entire saga through my CMIO lens, the element of the story that strikes me most is the fact that we’ve spent billions of dollars trying to make healthcare better and we still haven’t solved the basic problems that patients face. Let’s look at customer service. In some situations, customer services has gotten worse as front desk staff are under increased pressure to ensure collections. Staff members are also encouraged to maximize throughput even if it doesn’t make sense and patients are filling out duplicative information. We haven’t mastered basic technology such as fillable online forms and practices are often reluctant to fully leverage patient portals, especially to collect information on new patients.

We still have clinicians who are too busy to read (or don’t trust) the history in front of them, so they ask redundant questions. We haven’t spent money transforming our office spaces to increase patient privacy or comfort and still show images in the hallway. Despite the advent of provider ratings and online reviews, patients still have limited information to judge a physician’s competency. We’ve also pushed providers and health organizations to the edge of financial viability, leading to increased reliance on provider-based billing and facility fees to get as much money out of the system as possible.

Despite the ability to exchange data or having images on CD in front of us, we repeat testing because we don’t trust our peers or are too pressed for time to look at the films before we decide whether the outside radiology group’s technique was adequate. Or maybe we’re just after the money. We have handshake professional agreements where a consultant doesn’t provide a service to a patient when he could, and instead sends the patient for another visit to the referring provider (and another co-pay and another day off work). I hope our patient’s cortisone injection and physical therapy does the trick because I would hate to see him panhandling for contract PDF work outside the next medical staff meeting.

Unfortunately, the continued push for more use of EHR technology and more metrics and more data points isn’t going to change human behavior. It seems like it’s getting harder to find organizations willing to spend money on the so-called “soft skills” or on truly transforming healthcare. They’re too busy trying to figure out how not to be penalized or worrying about when their vendor is going to release the next version of Certified EHR Technology.

What’s the answer to making healthcare something we can be proud of? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/19/17

January 19, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

CMS announced today that over 359,000 providers are confirmed for four CMS Alternative Payment Models in 2017. This includes over 2,800 primary care practices participating in the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus initiative.

Although CMS is celebrating this as a victory for improved quality and reduced costs, there are a couple of things to note about the numbers. First, CPC+ was originally opened for up to 5,000 practices and CMS recently expanded that to 5,500. The cohort is barely over half full, which could mean a couple of things.

First, it could mean that practices aren’t exactly clamoring to participate in these models, which require more documentation and increased compliance requirements in exchange for higher payments. Practices might be nervous that they can’t recover the increased outlay needed to participate. Second, it could mean that practices applied but weren’t qualified to move forward, which would be a sad commentary on the state of value-based care transformation. One would expect that at this stage in the game they’d be able to do better than half capacity.

The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program attestation website is open for business. Participants have until the end of the day February 28 to attest to Medicare 2016 program requirements. State deadlines for Medicaid programs vary. There are plenty of resources out there and a handy dandy Attestation User Guide that I wish more of my prospective clients would read before they call me. It outlines the process in gory detail with lots of screenshots and answers a good number of the questions I frequently receive.

Lots of chatter around the physician lounge about Atul Gawande’s recent piece. His premise, that the US health system rewards “heroic” care at the expense “incremental” care is an issue that I’ve written about in the past. We’re always looking for the newest, most high-tech interventions, but we neglect to really advocate for (or fully fund) things like public health, disease prevention, cancer screening, and more. It’s not glamorous to sit in an exam room and have the same discussions over and over with patients about weight loss, smoking cessation, moderation in diet, and increased activity.

Gawande lays it out like it is: “As an American surgeon, I have a battalion of people and millions of dollars of equipment on hand when I arrive in my operating room. Incrementalists are lucky if they can hire a nurse.” That’s the unfortunate reality for many primary care and non-procedural specialists in our healthcare system. Technology and incentive programs are supposed to help us better manage patients and level the playing field, but for some physicians, it’s too little, too late. Two more of my favorite physicians retired at the end of the year and I think we’re going to continue to see attrition in the generalist ranks.

The biggest chatter, though, has of course been about the upcoming inauguration and the pending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. One rumor making the rounds is that MACRA will also be repealed, which is an entirely different situation. It doesn’t help that plenty of people don’t understand the difference between the two, which adds to the confusion. Patients are also extremely worried about the potential loss of insurance coverage and increased premiums, regardless of whether their coverage is through employers or individual purchase.

The HIMSS17 invitations have started rolling in, but I happened across the Salesforce Trailblazer Party at BB King’s Blues Club on Tuesday night. I’m guessing I might be out of touch with some pop culture phenomenon, but I’m not following what is going on with the character in scrubs with mittens and an animal suit. There are also plenty of one-off marketing emails coming in. Pro tip: please make liberal use of spell check and grammar check. The plural of customer is “customers” not “customer’s.” Don’t just say you’re revolutionary – tell me why and what you do.

An informatics colleague handed me an article about the new Forward clinic in San Francisco. They’re advertising “AI and doctors working together to better manage your health.” Billing it as a “Health membership” they charge $1,800 a year, which they cleverly market as “$149/month billed annually.” Although they say they have a world-class medical staff, I didn’t see any names listed on the website. They do have a body scanner to give a “rapid picture of overall health.” One article about the practice has some interesting premises. It talks about the ability to re-engineer the user experience at the physician office. One example is a “hidden alcove for urine samples in the bathroom, and no need for an embarrassing walk down the hall.” Many physician offices (especially those that perform a lot of urine testing) already had those, so not revolutionary.

It also mentions the body scanner: “a machine that takes a few cents of electricity to run replaces the traditional 20-minute examination for blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs.” I hate to tell the Silicon Valley folks, but if 20 minutes was their baseline, that’s terrible. Very few primary care physicians (at least those of us working on the hamster wheel) would tolerate a staffer that took 20 minutes to perform basic patient intake. The efficiency nut has already been cracked by vital signs monitors that integrate to the EHR and smart beds that perform weight when the patient sits down. The article does include a comment from a physician and former venture capitalist who notes that the complexity of the healthcare market is often underestimated and I would tend to agree.

Another article mentions that “people with longer term issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, or skin problems will go home with sensors that can transmit data back to Forward.” I get the obesity and blood pressure hook, but skin problems? What are they sensing? And is it evidence-based? Has it been peer reviewed or approved by the FDA? Or is it digital snake oil? Health policy expert Paul Ginsberg is cited in the piece and notes the risk of unnecessary tests being triggered by use of sensors: “The notion of scanning people who don’t have a problem has been very solidly dismissed by the medical profession for a while.”

What do you think of Forward? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/16/17

January 16, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

In the hospital, a curbside consult is an informal consultation between physicians that avoids the sometimes cumbersome request and documentation requirements for a “real” consultation. Of course, without the request and documentation piece, it also avoids the billing and payment piece, so it’s essentially a freebie given between colleagues.

Most of the time you never know who the patient is. It just starts out along the lines of, “I wanted to pick your brain about this guy…” Doctors get curbsided by their friends and family members as well, usually about a test result or a visit to the doctor. Most of the time the requests I get from friends are easy to answer. This week though, my IT colleague Jimmy the Greek asked me to translate his MRI and I was digging deep to find anything in my memory about a “pistol grip deformity” of the hip.

Thank goodness for eOrthopod, who was able to quickly answer my question so I could talk intelligently about his situation, which I had been following tangentially over the last few months. As we go boldly where no one has gone before with a new president and the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, I thought it was worthy of sharing and discussion. So get your popcorn, wine, tequila, or other beverage of choice and sit back for the first installment of Dr. Jayne’s Journal Club, where we will review a patient case presentation.

A year ago, I injured my hip in martial arts class participating in kicking-for-height competition with a 15-year-old whose flexibility would make Gumby green(er) with envy. I’ll have your loyal readers know that I won that contest, despite the fact that I seem to have lost the war, and have now been set adrift in the murky waters of consumer-driven healthcare. For months, my hip would hurt, so I’d rest it, but then go take another martial arts class, where I’d aggravate the injury again. I finally quit taking lessons in August and I assumed that without the thrice-weekly strain I was putting on the injury, it would heal quickly. Finally, in October, I couldn’t take it anymore and went to see my chiropractor. (Being a savvy consumer of healthcare services, I didn’t want to go see my orthopedist right off, as that’s like asking my barber if I need a haircut).

After a few weeks of adjustments, home exercise, and K-Tape, my chiropractor referred me to a physiatrist. I was warned ahead of time that, “He and his office staff are . . . a bit quirky.” My first impression of this highly-regarded doctor was formed when he blasted the exam room door open, pointed at me, motioned toward the hallway, and said “You – come out here.” While his bedside manner (and as I learned later, professionalism) left quite a bit to be desired, he seemed knowledgeable and capable, and really, that’s what’s important.

I was sent for an x-ray to rule out anything skeletal and told that the office would receive the results electronically and call me to discuss next steps. After completing the x-ray, I left a voice mail in the practice’s general mailbox to let them know. The outgoing message admonished me to wait at least 48 hours for a reply and not to call back before then, as doing so would drop me to the end of the line. I waited a whopping four days for a call back and finally decided to risk my place in line. The not-so-cheery voice on the other end of the phone told me that no, I would not get a call, and no, I did not need an appointment. All I had to do was show up on the practice’s doorstep, imagery in hand, and the doctor would see me immediately. I agreed to come in the next week, as I was on vacation from work.

Fast forward to Monday morning, when I darkened the aforementioned doorstep with my presence. Sadly, that’s all I could darken because the door was locked. It seems that this paragon of all that is good and right with the practice of medicine decided to take Monday off. The desk staff was working, however, and when I bent their collective ear about better communication with patients, I was (quite literally) screamed at for my trouble. For those of you keeping track at home, I had already been given two conflicting pieces of information about how to get my test results, neither of which I would later find out was correct. Dr. Professional reviewed my x-ray early the next morning and decided I was in need of an MRI with contrast agent.

This morning, I dutifully arrived 15 minutes early for the procedure so I could fill out the exact same paperwork I had filled out before the x-ray, despite the fact that I was merely at a different location of the same imaging firm run by the same hospital system. I was told by the technician who was getting me prepped for the procedure that the radiologist performing the arthrogram is notoriously late. When she finally arrived (15 minutes after her scheduled start time), she approached me with a needle that looked like a cross between a whaling harpoon and the drill bits that arctic researchers use to take core samples. Once the lidocaine kicked in, though, it didn’t matter. The staff tried valiantly to get me to use the standard MRI machine, but in the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, a man’s gotta know his limitations. Mine happen to include enclosed spaces. Off we went to the “open” machine, which, much to my chagrin, is about as open as Internet access in North Korea. I only required one break from my incarceration in the evil machine.

Instead of going straight home, I decided to drop in on Dr. Wonderful (CD in hand) to get his take on my MRI. While en route, I called the office to make sure he was there. It only took me three tries to get through to a human. When I told her why I was calling, she was astonished that I would ever think to just drop in, because as everyone knows, an appointment is required to review imaging results with the doctor. So now I wait until next week.

I am familiar with the physician in question, but hadn’t had any patients in common for nearly a decade, so decided to do some Google stalking. He’s on staff at Big Medical Center, so would have access to the clinical data repository at a minimum and most likely would have direct access to the PACS due to his specialty. He’s been recognized multiple times by his peers as one of the community’s “Best Doctors in Town” which can be confusing since patients don’t understand how those honors are usually bestowed. Our city’s magazine that runs the feature every year solicits feedback from other physicians, but many of us think it’s a joke because one colleague had moved away three years prior but continued to be on the “best doctors” honor list.

He’s got four stars on Healthgrades with 28 reviews and no disciplinary actions by the board of healing arts. But it sounds like his practice is disorganized and doesn’t take advantage of patient-friendly technology solutions like a patient portal or secure messaging, even though they have a portal link on the practice website. There’s no information on the website about the processes and procedures that didn’t work so well in this case, so a patient looking to do things the “right way” would have trouble confirming.

Of course, in consumer-driven healthcare, the patient’s main recourse is to vote with his feet, which is sometimes challenging to do when you’re partway into a course of treatment or into a diagnostic process with another provider. Fortunately, our patient has his imaging studies in hand, which sadly not every patient has. Our patient is also a well-educated IT guy with the flexibility to make time during the day to call offices and run down results, and many patients don’t have the ability to do those things, making their diagnostic and treatment course even more fragmented.

When I hear about situations like this, I think about whether technology would have made anything better. There were definitely some opportunities here, but the real issue isn’t something that the current focus of regulation or rulemaking is going to address, other than patient satisfaction scores, which I hope were appropriately low in this case, if they were even solicited.

Our patient has since been referred to an orthopedic surgeon, so we’ll have to check in with him down the line to see if the brave new world of high tech healthcare has done any better for him. As a consultant, I see these situations all the time, and typically the physician is resistant to change as are the members of the office team, who seem to be part of the problem here. The worst cases are often the hardest to fix.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/12/17

January 12, 2017 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment


The American Board of Preventive Medicine announced the retirement William Greaves, MD, who has been its executive director since 2012. Greaves helped guide the Board’s inclusion of the Clinical Informatics subspecialty. Benson Munger, PhD will serve as interim executive director. Munger was deeply involved in the creation of the AMIA Clinical Informatics Board Review Course and the informatics community is enthusiastic about his role as the ABPM begins its search for a permanent executive director.

Speaking of physicians considering retirement, Massachusetts General Hospital has a 100-year-old physician who is still coming into work after 65 years. Dr. Walter Guralnick spends his time teaching residents rather than seeing patients. With a strong belief in equal access for all, Guralnick led the charge for dental insurance and founded what became Delta Dental.


ONC has released the updated Certified Health IT Products List. In addition to the list of products on the “nice” list, there are now two pages for products that are no longer certified and developers who are blocked from certifying health IT products. The “developer ban” page is blank and the “decertified products” page has a lot of 2015 edition software, so it’s hard to know what you’re really looking at.


Lots of reader mail this week.

From Daredevil: “Re: E&M coding. My hospital made an interesting choice to bill facility charges but no professional fees in its busy (hospital-owned) pediatric urgent care. As such, the providers were not burdened with counting elements in their documentation. We could simply document items required for clinical care and/or general risk management. This made it easier to focus on managing the patient, especially during high-volume times. The providers were compensated based on covered hours and procedures performed. The providers were eventually incentivized for throughput and had plenty of opportunities to work extra hours at a reasonable rate, so things seemed generally equitable. I would love to see E&M billing go away. The surgeons have it right with global billing. Their notes — at least in the hospital setting and for post-op visits — while seemingly sparse, stick to the facts. There is no endless scrolling to see what they are thinking.” This flat-fee approach is similar to what many cash practices do and what my urgent care does for self-pay patients. It’s not hugely profitable, but it keeps the lights on and allows the staff to deliver valuable and often much-needed care. It’s an interesting approach and I will be interested to see what some of my local colleagues think.

From End of Shift: “Re: complexity of the patients at the end of a shift. I found more than once that the last patient on a Sunday evening was the most perplexing or complex for the day. The tendency to want to expedite that patient who made it in right before the doors locked was also met was often met with the reality that this patient / family was the one who was home all day debating whether their concerns warranted a visit to the urgent care. I saw more than a few who needed a trip to the emergency department. It doesn’t seem to matter which setting we are practicing medicine in these days, but there seems to be constant pressure to do more in less time. I think we would all be better clinicians with better outcomes if we had the chance to slow things down a bit.” Thinking about patients debating whether their condition is significant enough for a visit certainly puts a different spin on things. We’re also seeing patients holding off on care due to rising copays. Last year, most urgent care copays were at $50 but we’re seeing a lot this year that are $75 and $100, which means their ED copays are probably $150 or $200. The price point alone is going to have an impact in shifting where care is delivered, even if it doesn’t change the nature of the care required.


Illinois healthcare organization Presence Health has been fined $475,000 for lack of timely breach notification. The fine centers around an incident in October 2013 where paper operating room schedules went missing from a surgery center. They didn’t notify OCR until January 2014 and the investigation showed that patients were not notified within 60 days of discovery as required. Over 800 patients were affected, so a media notification would also have been required. Details of the investigation reveal similar notification delays from breaches in 2015 and 2016.

The new year seems to be bringing new jobs for many, at least according to my LinkedIn updates. I’m also seeing people update their profiles, potentially in search of new jobs. Pro tip: disable notifications before you start doing a bunch of updates so you don’t look like you’re getting ready to jump ship. I’m helping a client try to expand their EHR support team so I can offer some other job hunting tips based on the resumes I’m seeing:

  • Be sure you meet the minimum qualifications listed in the job posting or explain what equivalent skills you have that make you an attractive candidate. I’ve had more than 40 people apply for a physician informaticist position who are not physicians. My client might consider a nurse or pharmacist, but these folks had literally no clinical credentials. Similarly, if the posting requires five years experience, you might squeak by if you’ve been in the field for four, but if you have never worked in the field, it’s a better idea not to apply and waste people’s time.
  • Spell check your resume and have someone else review it for flow, consistency, and whether it makes sense. One candidate’s “summary” paragraph took up half a page and was a rambling incoherent explanation of why they appeared to job-hop every 18 months. Another’s was riddled with typos. Some include every job the applicant has had since high school, which just adds clutter.
  • Don’t expect clients to relocate you if the posting doesn’t mention relocation assistance. I have an ambulatory client in a small Midwestern city that is looking for a full-time billing office manager. Several people have applied from across the country. Since they were good candidates, we did phone screens, hoping to hear stories about people looking for jobs because they were relocating to be close to family, move with a spouse, etc. At least two of them asked about relocation packages, which is out of character for a 10-doctor practice. Understand your audience and your potential employer.
  • Make sure your contact information is professional. Your email address mustdrinkbeer@domain.com might have seemed like a good idea when you were in college, but it’s a terrible idea when you’re trying to be a professional adult.

What’s your best employee recruiting story? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/9/17

January 9, 2017 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

I spent most of this weekend seeing patients and generally being crushed by surging influenza cases. Increasing family togetherness led not only to the spread of infection, but to families coming together to the urgent care for testing and treatment. When multiple groups of three or four are arriving at the front desk at the same time, it makes for a high-pressure work environment. Fortunately my staff rose to the challenge and we were able to call in some reinforcements as well.

My EHR has some fairly decent template features as far as being able to set standard defaults for physical exam findings. In reality, many influenza patients appear clinically similar, so this was a great opportunity to put those features to the test. Tired-appearing male/female in mild distress, normal eye exam, clear to yellow nasal discharge, normal oropharynx, normal ears, etc. The lung exam differs from person to person, but my template was generally accurate throughout the surge.

Unfortunately, at the end of my last shift, I had a surge that templates wouldn’t help. Four people came in within 15 minutes of closing time, all needing lacerations repaired. Every one of those patients has a unique story and unique exam, although I skipped a lot of the documentation at the time so that I could get the wounds repaired, the patients home, and my staff off the clock.

That left me this morning with charts left to complete. Although that usually doesn’t happen, it gave me a chance to reflect on how tedious some of the documentation requirements are. E&M coding requirements have been around a long time, much longer than Meaningful Use or MIPS. In looking at an era of increasing requirements and mandates, it leads one to reflect on where we might be in 10 or 20 years, or if we’ll ever get it right.

Having come out of a couple of fairly conservative training programs that were pretty good about teaching physicians how to control costs and use resources efficiently, the need to document certain exam findings and history elements in order to be paid for my services is aggravating. The requirements are higher for new patients vs. established ones. Although the information can be easy to gather (think patient history questionnaire), the requirements are often clinically irrelevant.

My training programs taught me not to order tests that weren’t going to change the management plan and not to order procedures that weren’t necessary, but E&M coding requires me to collect a host of information that may or may not be relevant. That might make sense in a continuity practice, or in the light of a second opinion consultation where every fact might contribute, but it doesn’t make sense when you are an urgent care physician with a two-year-old in front of you who split his head open on the dresser.

Meaningful Use, MIPS, PQRS, and other federal incentive programs involve data collection on steroids. Providers are so afraid of missing something and being penalized that they try to gather all the information on all the patients, much like we have been doing with E&M coding. We’ve been conditioned to this by decades of regulation, and many physicians can’t afford to say no.

In the situation of the child with the cut on his forehead, I need to know what happened, if he got knocked out, if he’s generally healthy, if he’s allergic to any medicines, if he’s ever had a reaction to local anesthetic, and whether he’s up to date on his tetanus immunization. I don’t need to know his complete family history and whether there are smokers in the home, because there is no information that can be provided that would change whether I stitch him up or not. I’m repairing his wound regardless.

Unfortunately, the EHR is configured out of fear, so this information is required to ensure we don’t miss something. Multiply this times the four patients that came in at the end of shift, and the level of tedium increases. Vendors have been so focused on making sure providers can document the federally required fields that they miss the ones we really need.

I have yet to see an EHR with a checkbox for “smell of alcohol on breath” even though that’s something we see fairly often in the ED and urgent care setting. I had to document it at least twice yesterday, one time being with the gentleman who somehow stabbed a chef’s knife into his palm but couldn’t detail how he actually got hurt. I described the wounds in narrative detail, even though a picture would have been a better way to document. But you don’t get credit for having a picture in your note — you have to have discrete data.

It’s only going to get worse as the programs get more complex. Regarding the flexibility in MIPS, providers are stymied by the large number of activities from which they can choose. Flexibility is a blessing and a curse, with many of my clients asking me to just tell them what they should do. They don’t want to look through a list of 90 different potential selections and make choices — they just want to know the path of least resistance to making sure they don’t get penalized. They want to know how they can check the box with a minimum of cost and minimum of staff effort. And of course, a minimum of risk that they’ll miss something or get penalized.

I’ve had several clients ask me about opting out of Medicare entirely. Although that seems like a solution, it may not be for everyone depending on your volume of Medicare patients. Additionally, many commercial payers follow Medicare’s lead for these sorts of things (including the above mentioned E&M coding) so opting out of Medicare doesn’t guarantee you won’t have to do it anyway.

I’ve had several discussions with clients about moving to a cash-only practice, which is becoming increasingly attractive to physicians. Given the increase in high-deductible plans and narrow networks, more patients are incurring out-of-network costs. Seeing a cash physician is more attractive when you’re paying out of your own pocket than when you’re being insulated from the cost of care by insurance.

In the end, I documented all the checkboxes because I do like being employed and don’t want a nastygram from our billers. Being rebellious and not documenting an office visit code isn’t going to be a positive career move, so I did it. I gave in just like physicians across the country have done with the expanding mess of programs.

I did my charts after I went home, like many physicians have started doing since the advent of electronic documentation and remote access. The patients were all seen, I hit a new personal record for cases in a single shift, and I also tied more stitches than I’ve ever done in a single day. But I still can’t help but wonder about a future state where data isn’t a thorn in my side.

Are you surviving influenza season? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/5/17

January 5, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Going back to work in 2017 was more difficult than I expected since I’ve been either completely off or working a drastically reduced schedule for more than two weeks. It’s been a good break, spending time with friends, de-cluttering in preparation for the new year, and of course seeing patients.

Cold and flu season has hit with a vengeance, and several of our offices had to call in additional providers to handle the surge. We’re in a good position to deal with situations like that because we have a large number of part-time providers who are willing to work an extra few hours here and there to help move patients through more quickly. We had patients calling from the waiting rooms of other urgent care and hospital facilities asking what our wait time was, which was a new experience for some of our reception staff. Hopefully what’s going around will start waning, because it’s hitting people hard and making them pretty miserable.

Consulting has been busy, with quite a few potential clients calling for Meaningful Use attestation assistance. I’m glad they’re reaching out early in the cycle instead of waiting for the last minute. About half of the people I’ve talked to have their materials largely in order, but the rest of them are trending more towards the train wreck category. If you’re not even sure how to run your quality reports, and haven’t been running them throughout the year, you need a little more than just some attestation help.

For those folks, I’m requiring them to engage for 2017 in a comprehensive way along with the engagement for 2016. We’re happy to help, but I’m not going to enable next year’s fire drill. It may cost me some business, but I’ve reached the point where I’m happy to make less money rather than being part of someone’s disaster.

The rest of the healthcare IT world seems slow, which is typical for this time of year. Vendors are holding their major releases and announcements until closer to HIMSS, which is sad because then they are lost in the hustle and shuffle along with everyone else’s supposedly big news.

I received an email from HIMSS regarding corporate focus groups, which I’ve participated in from time to time. One of the items in the email struck me (and not just because it was in bold font and highlighted in yellow). They’re limiting attendance at each focus group to the first 12 people who show up, even if they’ve invited more than 12 people. I get the fact that they want to manage around no-shows, but it just seems strange. Maybe it will pit potential attendees against each other gladiator style as they wrestle for the last chair left in the room. We can only hope for such entertainment.

I’ve been to some focus groups that have been lackluster, but last year attended one where the presentation team was imploding. Apparently one of their key participants had resigned before HIMSS and was pulled from the trip, without management acknowledging that there was no one else who knew anything about the topic or who was prepared to run a focus group. How do I know this? Because the remaining presenters aired their laundry in front of the group, expressing their frustration as they apologized for the fragmented content. It was painful to watch, and I felt for the survivors, but it would have been more humane to just cancel.

I’m also starting to make preparations for my annual booth crawl traditions with some of my BFFs that I only see once a year. I’m heading to Orlando a day early for some preparatory downtime with a friend who lives on the coast, which will make for a much more relaxed start to HIMSS than last time it was in Orlando. I was delusional enough to run the Disney Princess half-marathon on the opening day of HIMSS, which is a choice I wouldn’t make again. It’s exhausting enough without starting out tired, so I think this year’s plan is much more solid.

A few people have asked what I’m going to be looking at in the exhibit hall and the answer is I’m not sure. What I am sure of though is that there will be plenty of buzzwords such as population health, with everyone using it differently. My favorite part of HIMSS is visiting with the smaller vendors, who often have some real innovation. I’ve got a couple of EHRs that I’ve been following over the years, and I’ll check in with their websites from time to time to see if they’re still around or where they’re focusing.

I was sad to see that one of them recently dropped its multi-specialty focus, but was pleased to learn that they’re focusing on the behavioral health space where good platforms are definitely needed. There are challenges with group visits, enhanced confidentiality, and data sharing that some larger vendors don’t do a great job with. I noticed also that they’re no longer certified, which I’m sure factored in to the change.

There are a couple of changes to the HIMSS agenda. A designated exhibit floor social hour on Monday promotes sampling drinks while touring the exhibit floor. I’m not sure how that’s really different from the booths that historically sponsor happy hours, other than they’re probably paying more for conference-level promotion rather than doing it themselves.

Another special exhibit area is the Population Care Management Knowledge Center, which proposes to help attendees “discover the answers you need to design and implement a successful care coordination and care management programs for your unique populations.” Although most of the session offerings do center around population health, there are some others included that make me wonder if they didn’t have anywhere else to put them: “Helping Patients Find NCI-Supported Cancer Trials” and “Building Consumer Loyalty.” I also noticed one offering that may not be new but I certainly haven’t noticed it before, and that’s registration being offered at the airport. Since I’m staying off the main convention drag, I’m hoping to take advantage.

What are you looking forward to at HIMSS? Email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/2/17

January 2, 2017 Dr. Jayne 8 Comments


It’s the time of year when many of us are making resolutions around how we want to change things in the coming year. I was struck by a recent Washington Post piece about “busyness” being a new status symbol. It mentions that marketers have picked up on the concept as a hook to push items that promote multi-tasking or help people continue to manage time constraints. One Columbia University profession who researched the issue found that people with leisure time were not perceived as having as high a social status as those who worked more.

I see this playing out in a couple of different ways in my consulting work. One is the way mentioned in the article, where people embellish their busyness as a way of trying to look like they’re working harder or more than their colleagues. I recently had to do a workplace intervention with a client whose employee would repeatedly take vacation time, then work on his vacation, and expect it to be credited back to him. (It still surprises me that they needed a consultant to help with that conversation, let alone a physician consultant, but it does pay the bills.)

The employee had a somewhat misplaced sense of loyalty to his customers, defining his worth by his ability to be at their beck and call. He also exhibited a lack of trust in his peers and also his supervisor, refusing to list anyone on his out-of-office message and therefore forcing himself to be permanently on call. He also had no sense of work-life balance and didn’t understand that the company values people taking time off to recharge and refresh.

As someone who has done a fair amount of employee counseling, I have to say it was a pretty bizarre conversation with this guy. He was certainly at the extreme, but I see all kinds of examples of people on this spectrum. Many people have convinced themselves that they’re the only person who can possibly handle a client. As a student of human (and client) behavior, I would argue that if you have clients that fall into that bucket, there is a certain amount of co-dependency going on and a team approach is going to be helpful for everyone and likely better for the client long term. Others tend to fall more into martyrdom mode, keeping toxic projects, clients, or co-workers on their own radar so that they don’t impact others. Although this kind of busyness seems altruistic, it can be harmful in the end.

Another way I see this playing out is when people really are hyper-busy, mostly due to poor management. I have one client who constantly cranks out executive status reports listing how far off the mark their projects are, but there is never any mitigation. When 60 percent of your teams are not meeting production goals due to resource constraints, it might be a good idea to address those constraints.

I see some groups throwing more bodies at the problem without understanding that sheer numbers might not be the answer. I see other groups who won’t add more personnel because of a perception that it would take too long to ramp up workers who can take on the totality of the stalled tasks. So they choose to do nothing, instead never catching up or sometimes falling farther behind. The morale in the trenches on these teams is abysmal because they’re being constantly told they’re not meeting expectations, but they are largely powerless to create change given their current corporate culture.

With as lean as healthcare organizations are trying to be in the face of constant downward payment pressure and regulatory burdens, I continue to be surprised at the lack of accountability of management in many organizations. If a manager can’t articulate his or her resource constraint along with a request for mitigation, then they don’t need to be managing. As companies reduce head count, I see people given management responsibilities who have no business being there and no support to try to learn how to manage.

Just because you’re the best on a team doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a manager. And often people thrust into those positions try to continue doing their previous jobs because they’re not comfortable managing, which puts things even farther in the ditch. It’s not the employee’s fault, though – the people above them put them in that position, and that’s where the accountability needs to live.

I see people routinely working 50- and 60-hour weeks because they have to in order to keep up with the demands placed upon them. Given the job market for many workers, employees are not empowered to say no to ongoing demands. I have a good friend who works for a global company and works in multiple time zones, which translates to a 15-hour work day much of the time. His company has had multiple layoffs in the last few years and he’s a single parent to kids approaching college age, so his willingness to say no is directly proportional to his perceived ability to find an equivalent position should he be let go. Especially in healthcare and with companies supporting healthcare, this should not be acceptable.

I also see people working those types of hours because they’re cobbling together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. Maybe they’ve had a medical bankruptcy, are dealing with family members impacted by drugs or incarceration, or have other significant challenges. Maybe they lost their job and are trying to stay out of debt while getting their kids through school. There should be no negative thoughts on that level of busyness and the rest of us that aren’t in that situation should consider ways in which we can steer our society to reduce the need for it.

I’ve written before about the work habits in different countries and some of our uniquely American work habits. Interestingly, the Columbia University professor did a similar study looking at the perception of busyness by Italian subjects. They ranked being busy at work as having less status than being able to have leisure time.

Having lived in the stress of a high-productivity physician culture and then in the corporate culture and now in the self-employed culture, I’d definitely rank the ability to have more leisure time as one of the key reasons I left traditional practice. They money I made as an employed physician wasn’t worth the fact that I had no life and was constantly on call. Not everyone has the opportunity or ability to make drastic changes, however, especially at mid-life. But we can support each other in making small changes that enrich our workplace and help each other out.

For those of us that are working crazy hours because we can (not because we have to), let’s not fall into the trap of equating busyness with self-worth. Let’s look at how we can address workplace culture, strengthen management, and raise accountability to improve our working environments. For those who have figured out this workplace equation, let’s see how we can improve our communities and our country to meet the need of our fellow humans. Here’s to a 2017 where we’re not busy just to be busy.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/29/16

December 29, 2016 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

I’m happy to report that organizations seem to be getting the message that it’s a bad idea to wait until the end of the year to prepare for quality reporting. I’ve already had nearly a dozen clients sign contracts for assistance with quality reporting and similar initiatives in 2017. That’s a big change from last year, when many of my clients didn’t start getting serious about it until after the end of the first quarter.

One of the barriers in 2016 was lack of vendor readiness. It’s hard to get excited about working on metrics when your vendor hasn’t released their reports yet. Even though the changes are usually small and it’s possible to use the previous year’s reports as a proxy, there seems to be a psychological barrier to doing so. Regardless, most of my clients are on systems whose vendors are already prepared for 2017 reporting, so I’m grateful.

For those clients eager to wrap up 2016, CMS released its attestation worksheets for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals. The attestation system opens January 3 and will be accessible through February 28. If you haven’t started gathering your data, it’s time to start, and the worksheets allow organizations to make sure they have dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s before accessing the online registration system. It’s also a good time to test your logins as well as make sure your registration information is correct.

Even if you don’t plan to complete your attestation until the end of February, fixing issues early is definitely the way to go, although the system will be down this weekend for updates prior to the opening of the attestation period.

Still, many organizations aren’t ready to go quietly into 2017, with the American Hospital Association calling for President-elect Trump to put an end to what is still being referred to as Meaningful Use 3. The organization cites concerns over hospitals spending significant amounts of money to upgrade their systems to the point of compliance. They also requested support in avoiding anti-kickback provisions in the event that providers compensate each other as part of value-based care initiatives. Any modifications to the anti-kickback rules would require Congressional intervention.

The hospital trade association is also seeking a streamlined process for reviewing hospital mergers. The current process has different review criteria for the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to challenge mergers or acquisitions and there is hope that Trump’s past business deals will set the stage for a relaxed climate in the future.

A friend who works in the process improvement space sent me this LinkedIn article by David Feinberg, president and CEO of Geisinger Health System. It discusses his goal to eliminate waiting rooms in the next two years. It’s a fluffy piece with a lot of discussion of patient-centric care, which aids in getting people on the bandwagon. But as a practicing ED physician, I think it misstates some issues or misses them entirely.

“A waiting room means we’re provider-centered – it means the doctor is the most important person and everyone is on their time. We build up inventory for that doctor – that is, the patients sitting in the waiting room.” Sometimes having a waiting room means that many patients showed up at the same time, or that patients are too sick to be quickly dispositioned. Maybe there just aren’t enough rooms for the patient demand. But the mere status of having a waiting room doesn’t mean we’re not patient-centric.

My current practice situation is the most patient-focused organization I’ve ever been in. Nearly 95 percent of our patients are treated and released in less than an hour, including pharmacy services. Nearly 98 percent of our patients are roomed immediately on arrival. But yes, we have a waiting room, and sometimes it is full. Recent weather events prevented patient travel during a 12-hour ice storm, which led to tremendous volume once the roads became passable. You can’t necessarily design processes around mother nature, but we had some in place. We flexed staffing and worked as quickly as possible with scribes and other supports.

“For starters, treatment will start the moment patients enter the emergency room because remember, it’s an emergency.” This statement is a great emotional appeal, but it’s not the reality of what many of us are seeing in emergency facilities around the country. I would wager that nearly 80 percent of the patients I see do not represent a true medical emergency.

I understand that the nature of an emergency is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but having the sniffles for one day is not an emergency. Nor is being sunburned while drunk in Cabo San Lucas and then coming to the ED two days later when you arrive back in the States. Also, “I can’t be sick for the holidays because I have 20 people coming over” is not an emergency, either. But it’s the reality for many of us in the trenches. And if you have five people that arrive at the same time, I’m going to treat the one with chest pain or a stroke before I treat the person who cut their finger two days ago and is just now coming for stitches because their mother told them they had to. Yes, my comments are emotional appeals also, but hopefully the point is made.

He goes on to say “our industry is ripe to be disrupted,” which jumps on the overused disruption bandwagon.

Let’s talk about what else the patient care industry needs. First, we need to sink resources into greater patient education and health literacy so patients know what is and is not an emergency. I spent some time in the UK, and they’re really great at this, running ad campaigns to educate patients. They have multiple versions of the same theme and make it clear that people who don’t need to be in Emergency are causing delays for those who do need to be there. We don’t see that in the US because we’ve swung the patient-centric bar too far in some cases as we continue to pursue patient satisfaction scores, sometimes at the expense of quality.

We need more primary care physicians who are compensated at a level where they want to stay in practice and not retire or go part-time or switch to urgent care. We need to incent them to provide after-hours care and keep their patients out of the ED. We need to help them put systems in place that protect them from burnout. We need to reduce the burden of legal-driven care interventions so that physicians can trust in multidisciplinary teams without the constant threat of lawsuits. We need to incent them to deliver low-intervention care when it’s warranted, and help them educate patients away from the “you have to do everything” mentality.

We also need streamlined data exchange so that the ED isn’t in the dark because a rival health system is engaging in information blocking. You know who is responsible for ALL the information blocking in my area? The hospitals and health systems themselves. Not the EHR vendors. Every system in town has great exchange capabilities, but the hospitals put up faux HIPAA blockades around my ability to find out whether the patient has just had labs drawn.

They’re also engaging in care blocking, as I recently learned when they refused to accept the printed labs and CT scan on a CD that I sent with my patient during his transfer, instead requiring everything to be repeated in-house for liability reasons. That is insane and needs governmental regulation more than EHR vendors do. The same hospital also removed a patient’s IV and stuck her again after transfer because they “couldn’t trust the sterility of the original vascular access.” Again, it’s insane to cause a patient discomfort and remove a perfectly viable IV because you’re afraid of the lawyers.

We definitely need change, but it’s more than hiring more doctors or building more exam rooms. We need cultural change that addresses not only patient attitudes, but the reality of resource constraints in the US healthcare system. But “don’t go to the hospital because you are afraid of being sick, but are not in fact sick” is not a sexy, attention-grabbing campaign.

It will be interesting to see where Geisinger is in two years and whether they meet their goals.

What are your organization’s goals for 2017? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/22/16

December 22, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

There has been a lot of information coming out of CMS over the last couple of weeks, and I’m sure some organizations are missing it in the holiday rush. I know I missed some of the announcements when they came out last week. Sometimes I’m not sure whether subscribing to multiple news feeds and aggregators helps me or adds to the issue.

Some of the hottest debate is around changes to the CMS bundled payment programs, including two new mandatory programs for heart attack care and bypass surgery. The other changes are to the hip and knee replacement program. The new programs will qualify as Advanced Alternative Payment Models for the purposes of MACRA. Within the Acute Myocardial Infarction Model and the Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Model, flat fee payments will occur instead of line-item payments for procedure-related services.

These models will launch on July 1, 2017 and run through December 31, 2021. Hospitals from 98 metropolitan areas were selected for participation, which again is mandatory. Any savings during the first two performance years can be kept by the facilities, but starting in the third year, hospitals will be required to repay a portion of the extra costs with a gradual increase in that repayment portion. Bonuses for demonstration of defined quality metrics will be available, starting at 5 percent in the first three years and moving up to 20 percent in the fifth year.

There is also an incentive for providers to refer heart attack patients for rehabilitation under the Cardiac Rehabilitation Incentive Payment Model. Hospitals will receive $25 per service provided to patients post-MI or bypass for up to 11 services per patient. After that, the payment goes up to $175 per service. Cardiac rehabilitation has proven value in the clinical realm, so it’s nice to see CMS putting money in play to incent desired behaviors.

Bundled payments under the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model are also expanding, adding hip and femur fracture care. The Surgical Hip and Femur Fracture Treatment Model will also count as an Advanced APM under MACRA. CMS webinars are forthcoming and will detail the new payment programs and the hoops that providers must jump through to qualify for bonuses. As is usual for new CMS programs, there will be a flurry of fact sheets and open forums where providers and organizations can ask their questions. Response to the announcement has been mixed, with the American Medical Association in support and the American Hospital Association against, largely due to the fact that participation is mandatory.

Hospitals in the impacted regions have a little over six months to prepare, which isn’t a lot of time when you’re talking about the need to analyze current state and apply interventions to support a new paradigm. Those of us in the consulting space would encourage everyone to start thinking about this, even if you’re not in one of the mandated performance areas, to start making changes as well. It’s highly likely that these programs will expanded and the sooner you prepare, the easier the transition will be.

CMS also announced two new Accountable Care Organizations, one of which is tantalizingly named “Track 1+.” It has less downside risk than the existing tracks in the Medicare Shared Savings Program and is designed to bring smaller practices into the risk-assumption fold. It is set to launch in 2018 and the hope is to bring up to 70,000 providers on board. Smaller or rural hospitals could have less risk than their larger counterparts, which could be attractive to those organizations who are on the fence about being an ACO. Interested groups can submit an intent to apply as soon as May 2017. Whether they’re admitted to the track or not, there is good reason to start preparing now.

The second one, the Medicare-Medicaid ACO Model is designed to address the needs of dual-eligible beneficiaries who are covered under both programs. Although these patients could previously participate in Medicare ACOs, there was no financial accountability for the Medicaid spending for these patients. The new ACO allows for management of both sets of costs. States can submit letters of intent to work with CMS to design the state-specific requirements. Up to six states will be selected with priority given to states with lower Medicare ACO participation. Once states are identified, applications will be released to ACOs and providers.

Regardless of the proliferation of new models, some analysts have suggested that they may not be fully rolled out or may be significantly changed after new leadership hits HHS after the inauguration. That’s exactly the same kind of thinking we’ve seen intermittently over the last decade, where providers wait to take action because they think there’s a chance of change. For some, that has caused a lot of angst when they realized that their watch-and-wait attitude only served to cause a flurry of activity later. I sympathize with their hope that a new administration will come in and wipe the slate clean, but given the continued escalation in healthcare costs and the political pressure to drive them down, it’s not entirely realistic. I still would love to see regulation in the health insurance space but that’s not entirely realistic either.

As of early 2016, nearly 30 percent of Medicare payments were tied to quality and value and the next milestone is to try to tie 50 percent of payments to those parameters by 2018. We’re going to continue to see a proliferation of new programs that can be confusing and maddening. I hope those in the trenches are considering New Years’ Resolutions that promote serenity and relaxation, because it’s going to continue to be a slog.

Have you started thinking about your resolutions yet? Email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/19/16

December 19, 2016 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

Winter roared across much of the US this week, reminding many people that no matter how good we think our technology might be, mother nature sometimes has the last laugh. Our region’s weather went way beyond what forecasters expected, bringing the transportation infrastructure of several metropolitan areas to a complete stop. Conditions went from bad to worse right before the evening rush hour, stranding people in their cars for hours. It was bad enough throughout the weekend that fire trucks were skidding off the road and airplanes were sliding off the runways.

Unfortunately, that kind of weather doesn’t stop those of us in healthcare who are responsible for manning the patient care trenches and for supporting the systems that make our work easier. Sometimes that means getting up an hour earlier than usual to make sure that the car is defrosted and there is plenty of extra time to get to the hospital or office. Other times it means staying late to make sure everyone is taken care of, regardless of what might be going on in our own lives.

I was seeing patients this weekend and we had several rushes, seeing nearly 50 patients in the first few hours we were open. One of my staff was uncharacteristically attached to her cell phone, as she worried about her son heading home on the icy roads from his first semester at college.

In patient care, though, we’re expected to be “on” all the time. We don’t necessarily get a break to check in with our kids or family and make sure they’re OK, especially when we have dozens of needy patients in front of us. And in this era of consumer-driven healthcare, there doesn’t seem to be much room for the caregivers to be human.

Normally our center delivers high-quality care in an efficient manner, but this weekend we were just swamped, as were the rest of the centers in our group. Normally we have some providers who float between the locations, but there was no room for that as patients tried to be seen between the freezing rain and the impending snow. Patients were calling from location to location checking out the wait times. My scribe and I scurried from room to room as fast as we could, with him literally finishing one patient’s visit documentation as I started our introductions in the next exam room. Despite our efforts, there was still an hour wait at one point, with a couple of patients leaving without being seen.

Regardless of the wait, we’re still significantly faster than the emergency department. This was confirmed by the patients who arrived in our waiting room after giving up elsewhere first. At least at our practice, patients generally wait in their own private space, with cable TV and comfortable chairs.

As a physician, I feel awful when patients leave without being seen, whatever the reason. It means that we missed an opportunity to treat an illness or maybe to just provide reassurance. Sometimes those missed opportunities can have life or death consequences, and that possibility is always on our mind even if most of what we’re seeing is colds or sniffles. I’m glad my patient who had an acute appendicitis decided to brave the weather and come in and to take me up on the CT scan I offered to confirm it. For a while, he had debated not seeking care, which could have been disastrous.

Due to the ice, we saw a fair number of people who slipped and fell, sometimes hitting their heads. Especially with elderly patients or those on blood thinners, we have to be vigilant about evaluating them since the margin for head injuries can be small. I know the weather created chaos in many people’s schedules, but I don’t think I’ve seen as many patients trying to talk me out of an appropriate workup as I saw this weekend. On the other hand, there were quite a few patients trying to talk me into treatments they didn’t need, such as antibiotics for their viral illnesses or the illnesses they are afraid of catching.

No amount of embedded clinical decision support in my EHR is going to help me through those conversations. I can give the patient an antibiotic and lower my clinical quality metrics, but raise my patient satisfactions scores. Or I can hold the line against antibiotic resistance and risk bad reviews. Despite a patient mix that was similar to my last few shifts, my patient satisfaction scores were lower than usual. Comparing them to the patient wait times, though, showed a trend – regardless of the care, patients who waited longer gave lower scores.

When I first got into informatics, I worked on projects that involved preventable harms and straightforward, evidence-based medicine. The data often helped identify situations where a change in behavior could improve patient outcomes and where the interventions needed were clear. Those were my bread and butter, and I have to admit I feel completely unprepared to deal with the kind of data that is now in front of me. It’s not just the data in our system that I have to address with our providers, but the public-facing reviews. When potential patients see the low scores and negative reviews for today on Yelp, they’re not going to know that it was in the context of a major ice storm and below-zero temperatures.

Patient engagement is supposed to be a good thing, but sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. There’s enough to learn in medical school and residency already, and adding the need to learn how to manage social media and online patient reviews is something that feels foreign to many clinicians. Add the stresses of managing EHRs that can be less than cooperative, the usual staffing and office dramas, insurance headaches, and more, and you have a recipe for burnout.

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for continuing education courses or informatics presentations that discuss dealing with this situation. I know that good rapport with the patient along with empathy, discussing the situation, etc. can help avoid low patient satisfaction scores when we err on the side of clinical quality. But in the pressure cooker of most care delivery organizations, those discussions can be hard to execute.

I’m hoping some of my CMIO and CMO readers will have some suggestions because I’m somewhat at a loss here. I know I’ve written about this before, but it is definitely weighing heavier on me after this weekend. Although being at the forefront of a new specialty’s growth can be exciting, it’s sometimes maddening especially when you’re not connected to an academic center. As clinicians, we’re focused on getting to the root cause and trying to fix things. When we don’t have the answers, we tend to dig in and keep investigating until we find them, or at least something we can test drive.

How do you react to low or decreasing patient satisfaction scores, especially around events out of your control? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/15/16

December 15, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Lots of vendors are sending holiday greetings. Although I appreciate the sentiment, there’s a lot of noise this time of year and I think a lot of the messages get overlooked. I’d like to recommend that vendors consider sending friendly greetings throughout the year. Perhaps cardiovascular solution vendors might consider National Tap Dance Day on May 25. Geriatrics vendors may want to consider As Young as You Feel Day on March 22, where storage vendors may want to consider World Backup Day on March 31.

I was glad to have a couple of extra days off the road this week since several of my clients are still struggling with how they’re going to wrap up their reporting for Meaningful Use attestation and other quality programs. I know organizations are busy and healthcare is a crazy changing place, but there’s no reason for leaving things until the last minute. I have two clients who have yet to select their clinical quality measures for the year. They can’t seem to understand that if their numbers haven’t improved throughout the course of the year, there is no magical force that is going to get them to the desired threshold with only 10 patient care days left.

I mentioned this phenomenon before. A reader shared his experience with using LogicStream to measure adoption of workflow best practices down to the clinician level. Designed to reduce unnecessary variation in care, it sounds like a great way to track compliance with specific clinical protocols and alerts. However, there are a lot of physicians out there who still struggle with the idea of “variation in care,” especially in the ambulatory space.

Let’s face it, we have a lot more compelling studies from the inpatient arena, and given volumes at many acute facilities it’s much easier to see when a specific clinical pathway is superior than it is at the average physician office. I have a lot of physicians that fight me about the EHR workflow being “contrary to how I practice medicine” and it’s always a battle to try to explain that the way they are practicing might just not be best practice. Most of the top-tier EHRs are designed with best practice and evidence-based workflows. I know I’ve mentioned in the past the physicians who argue about reconfiguring preventive care guidelines to match their own personal practice that isn’t supported by the US Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society, or anyone else who actually has data.

I feel for the organizations that have to try to rein these physicians in. On the other hand, the organizations are to blame because they allow this to go on. I’m not going to say it’s easy to get rogue physicians under control, but it can be done. Sometimes they will respond to targeted interventions and sometimes it takes a change in their contract to elicit the desired behavior. But if you can’t get a physician in line even with a contractual agreement, I would argue that it’s better for the practice to consider making them available to the workforce. In the new world of transparency around quality, the viability of keeping someone around because they’re productive or popular is less every day, especially if they’re doing something squirrely related to established protocols for patient care.

Another project taking a lot of my time this week is a strategic planning engagement for a midsized, hospital-owned provider group. For the past couple of years, they have been running on fear and adrenaline, acquiring as many small practices as they could in hopes of solidifying their referral base. Now they have a provider organization that looks like the Wild West. The only referral metrics they’ve been tracking are hospital admissions and surgical cases, leaving physician-to-physician referrals completely unaddressed. I’m not even sure the physicians know who their peers are since the acquisition strategy didn’t include much internal marketing to other members of the group. Some members have been migrated to the enterprise ambulatory EHR and some were allowed to stay on their own office systems, so interoperability isn’t what it needs to be, either.

Because they were so focused on building their provider base, they lost focus on other key projects such as staying current with EHR upgrades and making progress towards patient-centered medical home recognition. The coding and compliance staff was focused on onboarding the new providers and stopped their regular audits of existing physicians. Rather than having quarterly audits like they’re used to, some physicians haven’t had a coding audit for more than a year. If someone’s gone off the beaten path with their coding, that’s not the kind of thing you want a delay in uncovering.

I had several calls with them this week, trying to prepare an agenda for a strategic planning retreat in January. They’re struggling with their end-of-year ACO and PQRS reporting, however, and all they wanted to talk about was the perceived issues they’ve having with their vendor. I say “perceived” because I have other clients working with the same vendor who are doing just fine. They say they can’t give the quality reports to their providers because they’re not granular enough and the providers don’t understand them. I’ve seen the reports, and they’re extremely clear – they have the name and number of the measure and a brief synopsis. The providers can drill down into the individual patients to see why someone is passing or failing. It turns out the organization has been printing them out, so of course they’re not as impactful as delivering them electronically so they can be used interactively.

The reason for the printed reports is so the office managers can use highlighter on them and sit down and discuss them with the providers. I’m not sure why the red-yellow-green display in the EHR report package isn’t good enough or why they can’t sit down in front of a screen instead of a piece of paper. This is a classic case of “blame the vendor” for an operational problem. I said as much, trying to steer them back to the agenda at hand, but they continued to try to return again and again to their “pressing issues.” I’ve been working for months to help them understand that they have to get out of the weeds and start looking at the bigger picture and not continue to be ensnared in “pressing issues” because it’s simply a classic case of avoidance behavior.

They need to decide who they want to be when they grow up. Do they want to be a big fish and keep growing? Or are they happy where they are and ready to make the most of their provider membership? Are they ready to start working on quality in earnest and remediating any poor performers? Until they set some direction, they’re going to continue to struggle.

I’ve got another call with them tomorrow to try to continue to nail down the agenda, but it’s slow going. They “forgot” to invite the CFO to today’s call and I wasn’t willing to move forward without the right players on the call. I’m planning to bring a second facilitator with me to the onsite planning meeting because I can see already that it’s going to take a village to keep them corralled. Sometimes these clients make me want to give up, but once in a while, one starts to really get with the program and those bright spots keep me going.

Does your organization have a strategic plan for 2017? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/12/16

December 12, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

As we approach the end of the year, things continue to be a flurry with clients who didn’t plan well screaming for services. I’ve reached the limit of what I can deliver with my small team since this is the last week my partner and I are spending on site with customers. We’re willing to let some business go because we’re not willing to run ourselves ragged trying to be everything to everyone. That’s the perk of owning your own business, although it’s sometimes challenging when you have to agree to disagree with clients.

For those clients that we would like to be able to serve but just can’t, we have larger consulting firms that we can refer them to when it’s crunch time. You would expect that some of them might elect to stay with the group that met their needs when we couldn’t, but a good number of them come back to us because they appreciate the fact that we knew our limits and steered them into capable hands.

One of the prospective clients that I steered to a colleague was one who wanted to hire an external help desk because they felt that their vendor’s help desk wasn’t meeting their needs. They feel the vendor’s Tier 1 support is passive-aggressive, doing things like intentionally calling the office after hours so that they can say they called back and didn’t reach anyone. The vendor offers a discount on maintenance if clients provide their own Tier 1 support, so they did the math and decided to outsource to a third party if the price was right. My colleague happens to be a former reseller for the vendor in question and was happy to take their business, so it was a win for everyone.

Since this is my last week on the road, I plugged in a post-upgrade go-live for myself so I could work Monday through Thursday and start my holiday travel a bit earlier than last year. It meant that I had to fly on the weekend, which is always interesting given the change in mix from business travelers to family travelers. I was pleased to see Chicago’s Midway Airport decked out for the holidays, with lots of twinkle lights and giant ornaments. There were “take a sweet treat” stands with bowls of Skittles. As I made my way down the B gates, there was even a man on stilts dressed as a toy soldier handing out boxes of candy. It was unexpected and made me smile so, kudos to the folks that put it together.

The mood didn’t last long once I reached my destination and had frantic voice mails from my customer that their upgrade wasn’t going as planned. I had encouraged them to start the upgrade on Friday night so that if they had issues, they would have time to resolve them. Instead, they insisted on starting it Saturday afternoon, citing staffing issues. This is the challenge of scheduling major projects around the holidays, because people want time off and to be with their families and weekends are challenging if they’re not scheduled well in advance or if your teams don’t have a lot of backup. They had done a dry run of the upgrade and theoretically should have had enough time, but ran into some issues.

Whenever I give training on an upgrade, I reinforce (and reinforce, and reinforce) how important it is to follow the upgrade playbook line by line. There is zero room for the kind of errors that result when steps are performed out of sequence or missed. Certain applications are finicky, and their pre-upgrade scripts are looking for specific criteria to be met in the client environment before they proceed. Depending on where a missed step occurs, it can cost hours to get the timeline back on track. Although I provided some high-level project management for the client, they were running the upgrade process themselves and I wasn’t supervising them as closely as I do when I am personally responsible for the upgrade event.

There is a step in their upgrade plan that requires them to disable their disaster recovery solution a certain way, and an enterprising DBA decided to do it a different way than what was documented. The result was the failure of the upgrade package, which wasn’t finding the conditions it needed. Instead of rechecking the plan and following it, the DBA restarted the upgrade two additional times expecting a different outcome. By the time I landed they were significantly off the timeline, and it took a couple of calls to figure out what had gone wrong and how to fix it.

The relative comedy of errors pushed on through most of Sunday evening, when they still hadn’t brought the upgraded system back up because data integrity checks were failing. We spend several hours on the phone with the vendor’s team trying to figure out what went wrong and weren’t able to isolate a cause. At that point, we had some decisions to make. We could either keep working on it and prepare to open the offices on Monday using downtime procedures, or we could restore the system from a backup and move forward. As we were weighing the choices, there was a question of whether users had been accessing the system during the backup that took some investigation and stalled things further.

We needed to make a decision as we approached midnight, and ultimately my client opted to restore from the backup and try the upgrade again at a later date. I was crossing my fingers that their backup process was solid since we all know clients who never test their backups or go to restore from one and find out it’s corrupted, or even worse, blank. Fate was smiling on us because the backup restored not only without a hitch but in less time than anticipated, which allowed us to get the users back on the system without too much of a delay.

Of course the end users were disappointed at their inability to use the new features, and the organization has to reschedule. We spent several hours today in a post mortem discussion of the event and what went wrong, and they appear to have learned some important lessons about following the playbook exactly and in asking for help when you run into a problem rather than just repeating the same steps over and over.

There wasn’t much go-live for me to support, so I am headed back to the airport. Although they failed, they made a smart decision and can try it again either after the first of the year. These are the hard lessons that most organizations learn at one time or another, and now they can join the club with the rest of us who have been there and done that.

What’s your worst upgrade story? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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