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Readers Write: Interoperability and Standards Will Be Areas of Focus Through Year End

October 9, 2017 Readers Write 4 Comments

Interoperability and Standards Will Be Areas of Focus Through Year End
By Michael Burger

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Michael Burger is practice lead, EHRs and EDI, for Point-of-Care Partners of Coral Springs, FL.

While there are many uncertainties in healthcare, interoperability and standards will undoubtedly be areas of focus through the end of 2017. To that end, the government and industry will continue to refine existing standards and address interoperability challenges. This involves activities by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and ongoing efforts by standards development organizations (SDOs) and electronic health record (EHR) vendors.

Despite potential severe budget cuts, ONC says it is committed to interoperability and standards as main areas of emphasis. For example, ONC is putting the finishing touches on its Proposed Interoperability Standards Measurement Framework, the final document for which will be issued this fall. It also is accepting comments through November 20 for the Interoperability Standards Advisory, which is a stakeholder-informed catalog of the standards and implementation specifications that can be used to meet interoperability needs in healthcare. The newly created Health Information Technology Advisory Committee will also be influential with regard to standards and interoperability. Its recommendations to ONC doubtless will be translated into rulemaking and policy.

The next few months also should see continued progress by SDOs in refining standards for interoperability with a focus on practical use cases by EHR vendors.

One example is FHIR (Fast Health Interoperability Resources), which is one of the newest standards from Health Level 7 (HL7). Vendors are beginning to embrace the most recent iteration of the standard for various clinical use cases and FHIR is being used to extract relevant clinical data from EHRs.

Also, the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) is refining the SCRIPT standard to facilitate the transition to electronic prescribing of specialty medications. Today, specialty prescribing is largely a manual process that isn’t easily adapted to existing electronic prescribing workflows. An NCPDP task group is looking at ways in which new data elements could be added to the SCRIPT standard to handle enrollment for specialty medications, which accompanies the prior authorization that is required for nearly all such medications. The goal is to enable enrollment and electronic prior authorization (ePA) for specialty medications. Changes to the standard will enhance the ePA functionality, which EHR vendors have already built for non-specialty medications.

There are still obstacles that must be overcome to move health IT interoperability down the field. Three come to mind:

  • Lack of a national patient identifier. One of the biggest interoperability challenges is the lack of a national patient identifier. While industry solutions are being developed, they are one-offs that are not totally standards based. True interoperability cannot be achieved unless this problem is solved.
  • Changes in business models. There is much talk around data-blocking by EHRs, but this is not so much a technology challenge as a business one. The competitive nature of healthcare delivery is primarily what prohibits the exchange of clinical information, as competitors don’t want to make it easy for patients to seek care outside of their networks. When there is demand among customers to connect systems, software vendors respond by building and selling connectivity solutions. The most successful of these solutions rely on standards that have been created and vetted through SDOs.
  • Variations in standards implementation. Other interoperability challenges are created by variations in how standards are used in application program interfaces (APIs) with EHRs. Sometimes these APIs rely on technology that is not standardized, thus adding to the complexity and inconsistency in how data are exchanged among EHR platforms. The goal of using standards to achieve interoperability can only be met when standards are interpreted, implemented, and used consistently.

These are but some of the opportunities and challenges we see in the waning months of 2017 when it comes to standards and interoperability. These issues are not going away anytime soon and will continue to occupy stakeholders’ attention in 2018.

Readers Write: The Untapped Data That Can Improve Lives and Lower National Healthcare Spending

October 9, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

The Untapped Data That Can Improve Lives and Lower National Healthcare Spending
By Kurt Waltenbaugh

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Kurt Waltenbaugh is founder and CEO of Carrot Health of Minneapolis, MN.

Ask 10 mechanics which costs more — preventive or corrective maintenance — and each will likely give the same answer. It’s cheaper to change a car’s oil regularly than to repair a seized engine. The same principle holds true for healthcare.

In 2015, US healthcare spending reached $3.2 trillion. More than half of that went toward hospital care and physician / clinical services, which increased by 5.6 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The surge in payouts for these services was due to “non-price factors,” specifically an increase in “use and intensity of services.”

This makes sense given that the coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) gave more Americans access to healthcare than ever before. But at a time when the public and healthcare professionals have centered their focus on reducing insurance premiums and the cost of care, there is one question missing from the debate. Could the need for some of these services have been prevented?

The answer lies in a well of big data that has, until recently, been untapped by the healthcare industry.

In the health insurance market, there exists a disconnect between medical costs and an individual’s health quality. Behavioral and socioeconomic factors determine roughly 60 percent of their overall health, yet 88 percent of the country’s healthcare spending goes towards medical services, which impacts merely 10 percent of a person’s healthiness.

A study entitled “Health and social services expenditures: associations with health outcomes” compared spending by 11 nations on medical care against social care and the impacts on health outcomes. The findings showed that not only was the US the only country to spend more on healthcare than social services as a percentage of GDP, but that a higher ratio of spending on social services was also associated with better outcomes in infant mortality and life expectancy.

Access to this socioeconomic and behavioral data gives payer organizations a clearer picture of a member’s health risks. For example, detailed knowledge about where a person lives — such as neighborhood crime rate, average household income, and availability of healthy food — provides more predictive information than higher-level information on the coverage region, data that delivers far more accurate insights into quality of life. Environmental factors like “walkability” can help determine how easy it is to exercise, while air quality can indicate a person’s risk for lead exposure. For individuals living in a low-income, high-risk area, education and local job opportunities can determine their probability for upward mobility and, by extension, how likely they are to improve the socioeconomic factors impacting their health.

On the surface, proponents of data privacy might argue that these companies would push to use this information to raise premiums for those whose socioeconomic and/or behavioral patterns make them more susceptible to life-altering medical conditions. A deeper examination, however, reveals an opportunity for payers to cover more individuals with less-costly interventions without losing any competitive ground. By connecting these individuals with services that help address social and behavioral determinants of health, payer organizations help them improve their lives while also reducing the potential need for higher-cost care interventions, such as emergency room visits or hospitalization.

In fact, this approach has the potential to change the way insurance operates throughout the country. Rather than balancing enrollment with enough low-risk members into a health plan to cover the care costs for high-risk members, a strategy centered on preventive care through social and behavioral interventions means payers become more invested in their members’ total quality of life, thereby creating a healthier population.

Readers Write: Sepsis Risk Intervention: You May Be Doing It Wrong

October 4, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

Sepsis Risk Intervention: You May Be Doing It Wrong
By Jennifer Knapp

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Jennifer Knapp is director of strategic partnerships and solutions for Vocera of San Jose, CA.

September was Sepsis Awareness Month. Many hospitals and health systems, propelled by CMS penalties for avoidable hospital-acquired infections, have made important investments in sepsis risk intervention. But these efforts have introduced new challenges.

As nurses are put on high alert for a growing number of risk factors—including falls, drug interactions, etc.—they are struggling to attend to and prioritize all of these different alerts. For long-term success against the scourge of sepsis, the health IT industry must work to mitigate and manage the negative impact of alarm fatigue on our frontline healthcare providers.

Sepsis is an important target of hospital quality and safety programs. It is a leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 750,000 lives annually. With $24B spent annually, it is the costliest medical condition to treat in this country. Luckily, strong evidence shows that early, tailored intervention can significantly reduce the likelihood of sepsis-related complications and death.

To this end, many hospitals have deployed EHR-based pop-up advisories to identify patients at risk for sepsis. But there are three problems:

  • Nearly half of these alerts are false-positives.
  • They get mixed in with the routine pop-ups nurses have learned to quickly click through.
  • Nurses will only see these alerts if they are working in the EHR. Since nurses can walk up to five miles a day during a 12-hour shift, they are often away from the EHR.

Sepsis rates will not fall dramatically unless risk intervention alerts are accurate, reliable, and actionable. Alerts must give nurses the right information at the right time in the right way.

The algorithm used to detect sepsis must include nursing and provider documentation, in addition to data from the EHR, to improve the precision of risk determination. Alerts should only be delivered when they provide new information to the staff or when appropriate treatment steps have not been completed. Sending only actionable alerts will significantly reduce alarm fatigue.

Move sepsis alerts out of the routine flow of EHR notifications where they are likely to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, deliver them to caregivers on mobile devices at the point of care. The bottom line is that if you don’t use a mobile alert solution, you are leaving sepsis detection to chance because caregivers may not check the EHR for long periods of time.

Don’t just tell the nurse there’s a septic patient in Room 101. Provide more detailed information about the level of his or her condition (such as severe sepsis), why the alert was triggered (for example, hypotension), and what to do next. Consider functionality that would automatically alert another group, such as the rapid response team, after the alert is accepted by the frontline nurse on duty.

Hospitals are more committed than ever to reduce sepsis rates and intervene early to save lives. Health IT solutions should support, not stymie, these efforts. Deploying the right workflows and technology, driving care team engagement, and managing performance improvement against goals are keys to a successful sepsis program. Do it right and you can significantly improve patient outcomes.

Readers Write: Centralized or Decentralized Revenue Cycle After an Acquisition? Maybe There’s Another Option

October 4, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

Centralized or Decentralized Revenue Cycle After an Acquisition? Maybe There’s Another Option
By Jim Denny

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Jim Denny is founder and CEO of Navicure of Duluth, GA.

According to a recent AMA survey, for the first time, there are as many hospital-owned providers as there are physician practice owners. As this acquisition trend continues to grow, health systems are evaluating the best way to coordinate and consolidate revenue cycle management (RCM) across the entire organization. Typically, to streamline patient billing, healthcare data analytics, and reporting, organizations take one of the following approaches:

  • A centralized approach. All RCM processes are combined across all entities into a single revenue cycle with a central billing office.
  • A decentralized approach. All billing remains separate across all entities.

The path chosen often varies depending on the organization and its structure.

However, in many cases, neither option may be the perfect approach. Instead, organizations may choose to employ a customized billing approach, leaving a majority of each acquisition’s processes, technologies, and best practices separate and in place, which are evaluated over a defined time frame.

A short-term, slower, methodical approach allows the health system and acquisition time to get to know more about each other and can be much less disruptive. A slower integration, perhaps a year or year-and-a-half, allows both to understand how the other works and to work as a team to come up with a plan as how to grow together.

During this period, it is important to establish a common electronic data interchange (EDI) solution so data and reports can be standardized and summarized across all organizations. Then, the health system can review standardized performance data to better understand each acquisition’s approach to RCM, working to identify each one’s uniqueness, strengths, and challenges. From there, they can determine the best way to proceed for the long term. A customized approach is considered a hybrid because it allows the health system to decide whether centralization or decentralization is the right option, and choose from the best of existing RCM approaches, or determine that it’s time to incorporate new ones.

Here are three reasons why a customized approach can make sense for your organization following an acquisition:

This hybrid approach provides time to assess the acquired practic.e

Customized RCM can give leadership the time needed to evaluate the success of a newly acquired practice, while enabling the practice to maintain productivity and conduct business as usual. Questions to ask can include the following:

  • What’s working and what’s not?
  • Does the practice need guidance to improve their efforts? This includes looking at the statistics – days in accounts receivable (A/R), denial rate, and success in patient collections.
  • What IT systems and vendor relationships are yielding the best results across claims management, patient payments, and reporting?

A customized approach allows a health system to choose from best-in-class vendor partnerships.

It benefits both the practice and the health system by allowing practices to maintain their own systems without having to conform to a billing office’s mandate immediately, while enabling the health system time to evaluate a number of systems and vendors and then making a best practice recommendation that fits the health system’s strategic roadmap. This is the time to assess what’s involved in streamlining and integrating technology from a process, people, and data perspective, regardless of whether the organization ultimately chooses a centralized or decentralized strategy.

This method provides breathing room to evolve over time while establishing a strong foundation for future growth.

Using a hybrid model for the short term can offer an organization the opportunity to mesh with other groups in an optimal way. With this approach, health system leadership does not need to force physician practices within the system to conform to the organization’s existing processes immediately. Instead, practices are given flexibility at a critical time that can ultimately lead to a successful merger. Even more importantly, it allows for necessary breathing room for the health system so it can prepare to adapt to industry shifts – such as building a bridge to move from fee-for-service models to value-based care, or in defining the best ways to evaluate when and where to participate in taking on risk-based contracts.

Choosing a short-term hybrid approach yields the opportunity to create a transition plan based on thorough evaluation to help ensure the health system capitalizes on the right processes, technology, and vendor relationships. And while there’s no easy answer, ultimately, the decision to centralize or decentralize an organization’s revenue cycle can be made together with buy-in from each organization, which is the best way to ensure long-term success.

Readers Write: Value-Based Healthcare Drives “Left of Bang” Approach for Risk Management and Compliance

October 4, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

Value-Based Healthcare Drives “Left of Bang” Approach for Risk Management and Compliance
By Mark Crockett, MD

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Mark Crockett, MD is CEO of Verge Health of Charleston, SC.

In 2007, the Marine Corps deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan had a problem: how to identify an enemy that blended in with the population. They developed a behavioral approach to helping teams sharpen their tactical awareness skills to remain “left of bang,” or to fend off hostile actions before they culminate in the “bang” of conflict. In 2017, healthcare needs to deploy the same approach to managing risk and improving outcomes.

Healthcare is currently focused on right of bang, or the future correction of adverse events. Too much effort is expended to react to problems that have happened, and aren’t directed to preventing failure. The military (and other industries) expect that more than 80 percent of efforts should be spent left of bang to reliably prevent failure. A shift to a balanced approach is beginning to happen in top health systems for the first time, and it’s critically important for healthcare leaders to understand the how and the why.

How we got to the current right of bang problem is pretty clear. As a physician, I see failure all the time. Kidneys fail, hearts fail, and ultimately people fail. Dealing with that compassionately and professionally is part of the territory. Financial models have not helped at all. Under straight fee-for-service medicine in the past, if I gave someone an infection, it was quite possible I could bill them for a follow-up visit and perhaps even the antibiotics. In that kind of model, preventing failure is working against your economic model, making success in prevention just that much harder.

Times are changing fast. In the last few years, an array of accrediting bodies, regulatory entities, and payment model changes have made failure punishing to a health system’s finances and reputation. It’s now possible to see quality and adverse events on a dozen web sites, and more every day. Readmission prevention, Healthcare-Acquired Conditions, MACRA, MIPS, etc. are all ways of demanding reliable and efficient care. Health systems fail to execute on quality and safety at their risk: competitors across town that are doing it well are looking to expand and acquire patients and even facilities.

For one California-based hospital system, their timeline-oriented thinking – and solutions – needed to become left of bang. One of their hospitals had implemented a Six Sigma plan to reduce central line infections. Six Sigma is a popular methodology that takes a data-driven approach to eliminate defects in any process. The approach aims for six (or fewer) standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit.

Using Six Sigma, the hospital system found a catheter that was superior in their opinion and a skin sterilization technique they knew worked. That single hospital then worked through the purchasing process, the stocking of the catheter, the sterilization procedures, and finally, implemented a process that ensures no one touches the catheter until the surgeon is ready to insert it into the patient. These improvements eradicated central sepsis at that hospital for more than five years. It was an amazing feat compared to industry standard. This completely redefines the concept of “expected complication” to “zero complications,” and unequivocally saved lives.

It’s a great thing when you can eliminate sepsis in central lines. But five years later, the multiple-hospital system still had a small number of hospitals using the technique. They had no means of assessing system-wide compliance with the Six Sigma process design, which at best was being implemented inconsistently. They simply have not organized left of bang. They admitted they lacked the ability to bring about system-wide change from what was learned at one hospital.

“We know how to prevent central line infections,” said one team member. “But without strong leadership, and the technology to implement the safety procedures system-wide, we find ourselves fixing the same problem every three years. We get serious about a problem, design a solution, and implement it. Then institutional inertia takes over. Two years later we are seeing adverse events, or worse, and ask ourselves ‘Where is that folder on the way we prevent catheter infections?’ It’s just not good enough.”

Getting hospitals to look for patterns in identifying adverse events, and working to identify them before they occur, keeps clinicians and staff in perpetual left of bang mode. But process improvement through Six Sigma isn’t going to enable this essential shift to a safety-first culture. Neither will the latest software or the best management training. It’s going to take all of these approaches – and more – for healthcare to truly see the results and outcomes that payers demand from providers.

Readers Write: Why Healthcare Organizations Take So Long to Make Buying Decisions and How We Can Fix It (Part 2 of 4)

September 27, 2017 Readers Write 4 Comments

Why Healthcare Organizations Take So Long to Make Buying Decisions and How We Can Fix It (Part 2 of 4)
By Bruce Brandes

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Bruce Brandes is founder and CEO of Lucro of Nashville, TN.

As any industry observer knows, health systems continue to consolidate in an attempt to ensure their viability given unprecedented financial and operational pressures.  Many organizations struggle to fully leverage their scale post-merger. Most often the difficulty is to align focus, priorities, internal knowledge. and industry experience across the expanded team as they integrate.  

Misalignment is usually the main contributor to the length of the sales and purchasing process. Too often people fall in love with a PRODUCT without first clearly defining the PROBLEM they seek to solve. This challenge is exacerbated by complex purchasing decisions that require collaboration across multiple stakeholders to make the right choices.

My 16 year-old daughter, Lily, recently got her driver’s license and immediately spent lots of time and energy looking to buy a car (product). Much to her chagrin, the head of home operations (my wife) and the economic buyer (me) defined the problem as our daughter needing transportation, and buying a new car was only one of several options for us to address this issue. As we considered how to best solve her transportation problem weighed against other family priorities, we decided to simply get Lily an Uber account and an extra key to use our cars when available.

The same disconnect happens every day in healthcare. So much sales activity and investment are squandered on potential buyers who are only empowered to say no — not yes — to an actual buying decision. With the best of intentions, they may not be aware they are wasting time pursuing deals that will never come to fruition. Just like the sales guy at the car lot with my daughter.

By first defining the problem and enabling appropriate enterprise visibility, we can avoid projects that are misaligned with organizational priorities.  Further, we may also discover that due to poor or fragmented communication, we are pursuing a project where:

  • An organizational decision on how to address this problem has already been made.
  • Others within the same organization are already pursuing a similar project in parallel.
  • The organization already owns existing products, best practices, or internal resources that should be compared as an alternative to buying something new

In working with many health systems to design a solution to this common inefficiency, we borrowed concepts from established solutions we all now use to make buying decisions in our personal lives (Amazon, Airbnb, Yelp, Angie’s List, Pinterest, TrueCar, Zillow, etc.) Healthcare organizations need a better, digital way to define and share the ideas or projects they are considering, to detail objectives, success measures, categories, budgets, timelines, etc. to promote transparency and alignment. 

Additionally, while vendors use a CRM like Salesforce to track their sales activity with prospective and current clients, health systems do not have a similar system to capture and coordinate buying activity with the vendor community (and Salesforce is too complex to serve that purpose for buyers). Gaining visibility into past and current interactions and assessments of vendors and their products is essential to unify knowledge across diverse stakeholders.

As we focus as an industry on important topics like care coordination, healthcare organizations must also apply coordination to implement modern tools and processes that achieve the efficiency and alignment needed to make better decisions faster regarding vendor partners.

Readers Write: The Treatment for BCD (Big Company Disease): How to Streamline EHR Decision-Making

September 27, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

The Treatment for BCD (Big Company Disease): How to Streamline EHR Decision-Making
By David Butler, MD

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David Butler, MD is associate CMIO of the Epic/GO project of NYC Health + Hospitals of New York, NY.

I’ll never forget it. I was presenting to a large group of physicians about how we need to implement, adopt, and standardize the EHR to meet quality metrics and decrease total cost of ownership. Before I could finish stating the “S-word” (standardization), a more senior physician looked over his glasses and declared, “Son, I’ve been in healthcare for over 30 years and I can tell you for a fact that this is simply not going to work.”

I had to agree with a portion of his statement. I also had a degree of skepticism about whether this would work or not. However, the former part of his statement caused me to pause and ask, “With all due respect, Doctor, have you been in THIS healthcare for 30 years?”

While I’m not sure he appreciated my Gen X retort, what I said was true. No one has been in today’s healthcare environment for 30 years. A senior executive mentor from McKinsey once told me, “If someone tells you that they understand healthcare today, they’re either lying or just have not been paying close enough attention.”

How We Got into This Mess

The US has wrapped technological advancements in healthcare around an antiquated legal and compliance system that was designed for the long-gone days of paper-based record keeping. We have essentially paved the cow path. Years after these technical infrastructures in healthcare have been hardwired and codified, we are now asking the question, “How can we unwind this and do it the right way?”

Unfortunately, much of the capital dollars and funding that attained the EHR are no longer available to optimize the EHR (understatement of the year). Very few practicing physicians have the time or legal prowess to navigate a fleet of internal compliance, risk, legal, and information technology “experts” who have all agreed that “x should not be turned on.”

All is not lost, though. We have figured out ways to map and execute the transition to digital healthcare, but we must do it together. EHR optimization starts with governance. In this article, I will share three guiding questions that physicians and physician executives can use to assure that their voices are heard and prioritized when EHR decisions are being made. Just as we do not triage a patient with a cough prior to one with chest pain, we must use this same approach when we collectively request changes to the EHR software.

BCD: Big Company Disease

Rule of thumb: The bigger the healthcare system, the slower it is to change.

At one large multi-hospital facility that shared a single instance of the EHR, a physician stated that it took three months for their EHR team to fix a misspelling on the after-visit clinical summary that we give to the patient. The road to EHR optimization is not a straight one, and you need a team to decide what you’re going to do every time you encounter a fork or a bend. Who makes decisions about EHRs in health systems? If you’re like most, this is a staggeringly complex and confusing process (and calling it a process at all might be generous). You’re likely suffering from BCD, or big company disease.

BCD is an epidemic. Hospitals and health systems must implement technology that helps them meet the goals of 2017 healthcare, Value-based purchasing, consumerism, MIPS/MACRA, ACOs … the list goes on. These goals require change in clinical and technology operations and this change must occur rapidly — or at least much more rapidly than the current pace at most organizations — to meet them.

BCD is fraught with complex requirements, departmental silos, poor stakeholder representation, and highly-educated and well-intentioned leaders whose decision-making authority has been stretched much further than their own comfort zones (and pay grades). As we’re working on the cure for BCD, these treatment options will alleviate many of its symptoms.

Three Questions to Establish Governance for EHR Optimization

1. Who makes the decisions about the EHR?

The first step of governance for EHR optimization is determining who the decision-makers are. If you employ a democratic philosophy of governance, then you must first decide what is your constitution (some call it a mission statement). This constitution drives every decision that you make, including who needs to be at the table from the key stakeholder groups: operations, clinical, and IT. These three functional branches of government compose the three-legged stool governance model. If you’re a large system, you’re also going to need three levels of stakeholders: site/local leadership, regional leadership, and corporate/system leadership. No matter how you answer this question, your governance model must be clearly defined and communicated throughout the organization.

2. What are your priorities?

Everything can’t be a priority. All optimization efforts, requests, and enhancements are certainly NOT created equal. After asking the two most critical questions—“can we?” and “should we?”—I often use and recommend adapting an impact effort matrix to determine the clinical impact and resource requirements for EHR project request prioritization:

  • Quadrant 1: The “Just do it” quadrant. High clinical impact, minimal resources.
  • Quadrant 2: The “Get the geeks, the execs, and the checkbook” quadrant. High clinical impact, high resources.
  • Quadrant 3: The “That’s cool” quadrant. Low clinical impact, low resources.
  • Quadrant 4: The “Diva” quadrant. Low clinical impact, high resources.

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Before you do anything, make sure you know what quadrant you’re working in! Many organizations have found success building upon this simple framework with Lean or other process improvement methodologies.

3. How are we going to make this happen?

You have your governance model established with balanced representation or your three-legged stool. Now, how do you get these people together to actually use the framework to make critical EHR optimization decisions? This is one that plagues virtually every organization I work with. “I didn’t know WE decided that” or “when are the meetings even held?” are common stakeholder grievances.

When the governance group can’t all come together, you end up making decisions based on time constraints instead of thoughtful ones with the right people around the table. Keys to recovering from BCD include:

  • Clear roles and responsibilities. What is each committee responsible for accomplishing at the end of the day? (Oh, this is called a charter.) These obligations should be fully defined and every committee member should know this for their committee, as well as the others in their organization.
  • Effective meeting management and tools. Before each governance meeting, tackle these items. Determine which decisions, if any, can be made without meeting. Pre-plan the meeting – set the agenda for this meeting by highlighting what was discussed at the last meeting and the action items/decisions to be made at the meeting. Meeting polls — If your governance committee is large, this is a great way to determine consensus quickly. Virtual meeting tools exist that make interaction and measurement much easier.
  • Transparent decision-making and prioritization. You have to share information and you have to share it often. Send out a post-meeting debrief to the committee and the other committees within your organization. Make sure everyone knows how the decision was made and how they can escalate an issue. IT should not be the first place to go to get an EHR solution fixed—physician leadership should determine this. Remember: EHR optimization is a clinical project, not a technical project.

Large-scale EHR optimization starts with an effective, mission-aligned, and accountable governance process. Nagging symptoms of BCD may linger longer than you care for, but with the treatment plan I’ve prescribed above, you’ll be in a much better state to move your organization forward.

Readers Write: The Problem List is the Problem

September 27, 2017 Readers Write 6 Comments

The Problem List is the Problem
By Sam Bierstock, MD

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Sam Bierstock, MD is president and founder of Champions in Healthcare, LLC. He developed and trademarked the concept of Thoughtflow.

For years we have heard that the goal is for complete interoperability of electronic health record systems (EHRs). While this must certainly be achieved in the ultimate attainment of confluent data availability, it is important to be sure that exchanged data from differing systems is consistent. In this regard, we have a huge problem – problem lists.

As an interesting exercise, ask any physician the difference between a diagnosis and a problem. It will readily be seen that very few know the difference, and those that offer an explanation of the difference will provide a wide variety of definitions. As a result, problem lists are loaded with a combination of current and inactive complaints, symptoms, and diagnoses, and generally are a mess. They are inconsistent, unmaintained, confusing. and vary between systems for the same patient. A patient who has been admitted to different hospitals using different EHRs will have a different problem list at each hospital, not to mention any problem lists that may exist in EHRs of physicians that they have seen as outpatients.

While I am unaware of any actual studies to assess the cost of inconsistent problem lists to the healthcare system, these costs must be enormous. Medical record departments and coders spend hours sorting out diagnoses since problem lists frequently populate discharge summaries from which billing data is extracted. Active and inactive problems must be identified and separated out. For instance, “Status Post Myocardial Infarction 1999” may be on the list but is not billable. Symptoms frequently appear and may confuse or diminish reimbursement or be entirely non-reimbursable. Productive cough for three days for instance is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and yet is typical of the types of problems currently listed.

In 1970, I was a medical student at the University of Vermont when a dynamic, energetic, brilliant, and visionary physician who had recently joined the university staff brought his radical ideas about computerizing patient histories and findings to the attention of the industry. His name was Larry Weed, MD, and his system, “The Problem-Oriented Medical Record”, was rapidly changing clinical documentation across the country. A level of logic and thinking that had been missing in the assessment, planning, and treatment of patients’ conditions was being recognized for its enormous value. Problems included medical diagnoses as well as social issues and all matters that need to be considered to treat patients in their entirety.

But Dr. Weed’s system got sidetracked in the ensuing years by the introduction of independent electronic record systems designed by corporate vendors. In general, these system designers had a very poor understanding of the Problem-Oriented Medical Record, and as a result, all tended to handle diagnoses and problem lists differently (if they had them at all). As a result, decades later, few physicians can differentiate between “problems” and “diagnoses” and problem lists have degenerated into a morass of confusion.

For more than a decade, I had been advocating an approach to EHR design that differed from the standard approach of existing systems which were based upon reproduction of text-book clinician “workflows.” Although they frequently followed the textbook workflows, these designs were inefficient and had nothing to do with the way physicians think and work and have historically been abysmally received. Most physicians use EHRs today primarily because of legislative mandates and Meaningful Use requirements, but there is almost universal agreement that they are cumbersome and reduce efficiencies.

Since 2003, I have advocated a different approach which I call (and have trademarked) Thoughtflow and which I first described in the literature in 2004 – supporting the way physicians access, assess, prioritize, and act upon data. In other words, how they think and act.

One of the areas that can be addressed using this approach is the Problem List. As a first step, I had to decide what made it to the list in the first place, what constitutes a “problem.” I picked up the phone and I called Larry Weed. Now well into his 90s, Dr. Weed was as brilliant as ever, and I quickly learned the answer to my question about the difference between a problem and a diagnosis.

A problem, Dr. Weed explained, is the highest level of the current diagnosis. Understanding this basic principal provides a path to cleaning up problem lists, keeping them consistent and updated and maintaining active and inactive problems. EHR system designers do not understand this any better than most physicians do, and as a result, each has a different approach to the construction of problem lists in their systems.

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Consider the following scenario:

A patient is seen in the emergency room with a five-day history of abdominal pain and constipation of unknown origin, and subsequently admitted for evaluation. The diagnosis is constipation and abdominal pain, which may appear as a combined problem or two separate problems on the admitting history and physical.

Problem #1: Abdominal pain x 5 days
Problem #2: Constipation

The admitting doctor orders a GI consultation and some baseline studies including a flat plate x-ray of the abdomen. On the first day of admission, the x-ray shows an abdominal mass. The Problem List may now look like this:

Problem #1: Abdominal pain x 5 days
Problem #2: Constipation
Problem #3: Abdominal mass

On day 2, the patient has an exploratory laparotomy and is found to have carcinoma of the colon.

Problem #1: Abdominal pain x 5 days
Problem #2: Constipation
Problem #3: Abdominal mass
Problem #4: Carcinoma of the colon

At this point, and at the sole discretion of the attending physician, Problems 1, 2 and 3 may be removed entirely from the Problem List, may be moved to inactive problems, or may stay on the list. They may stay there for some time or be moved by a future physician providing care for a different problem. There are no fixed rules.

However, if Dr. Weed’s dictum is applied, consistency is attained.

On day 1, when the x-ray shows an abdominal mass, “Abdominal mass” becomes the highest level of the current diagnosis, and therefore replaces both “Constipation” and “Abdominal pain X 5 days,” becoming Problem # 1. In my system design, clicking on the updated Problem #1 “Abdominal mass” resulted in a drop-down menu showing, in chronological order, the previous problems leading to the most current and the dates. So clicking on “Problem # 1 Abdominal mass” produced a drop-down that looked like this:

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On day 2, after a diagnosis of Carcinoma of the colon, Problem #1 is further updated:

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Clicking on each drop-down menu reveals configurable granular data dependent on user preferences.

Consistent with the concept of Thoughtflow as opposed to workflow, the design minimized any requirement for the user to update the problem list. Using vocabulary standards, clinical decision support software, language processing, and automated ICD-10 coding, the Problem Lists can be automatically updated. They can also automatically exported to an evolving discharge summary from which the automated coding provided billing and reimbursement data. The potential savings in time spend scouring charts by coders can be appreciated, as well as the accuracy of coding and assurance of reimbursement.

In addition, updated and current Problem Lists can also populate any medical summary screens which may have displayed overall summary data such as medications, allergies, past surgeries, etc. This assures an accurate, consistent summary of past maximally updated problems, or in other words, the highest level of current diagnoses. Symptom and other extraneous data will then not appear to congest the list and add to assessment and billing confusion.

Rapid maintenance of the list can be attained by simply dragging a problem that was inactive or resolved to the corresponding list. A problem “Myocardial Infarction 1990” could be moved at a physician or coder’s discretion to an Inactive or Resolved Problem list, while “Atherosclerotic Coronary Vascular Disease” remains as an active problem. Problems could be prioritized in order by simply dragging them to the desired position, and numbers changed automatically as the new position was attained or as
problems were added or removed.

The inconsistency of Problem Lists is an inadequately discussed, but universally recognized issue with enormous costs to the healthcare system, both financial and with respect to quality of care. The issue also generates an enormous challenge to EHR design and to the assurance of interoperable, consistent patient information across the spectrum of healthcare systems, physician offices, disparate hospitals, and payers.

Readers Write: Malware Lessons Shared: Seven Key Questions for Health Leaders to Ask About Cyber Preparedness

August 30, 2017 Readers Write 1 Comment

Malware Lessons Shared: Seven Key Questions for Health Leaders to Ask About Cyber Preparedness
By Joe Petro

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Joe Petro is SVP of engineering for the healthcare division of Nuance Communications.

As business leaders, we must confront a new reality: our organizations are facing an unprecedented threat from cybercrime. The number of cyber incidents is growing and the nature of the attacks is evolving. They are becoming faster, more sophisticated, and more potentially destructive. As the severity of incidents increases, the knowledge to address the technical aspects and manage through an attack has become essential to our skill set.

For those reasons, we think it’s important to share some of the lessons we’ve learned since we were affected by a global malware incident on June 27. Cybersecurity experts later identified the malware as NotPetya, highly sophisticated malware written to provide disruption and destruction rather than to demand ransom. It spread quickly, and unlike some malware, patching alone would not have stopped its propagation.

Our first priority was to contain the incident and protect our customers. This meant immediately commencing shut-down procedures across our global network to contain the spread of the malware. These actions affected our ability to communicate with our customers, employees, and other stakeholders, and we immediately sought alternative ways to alert them to the situation. To ensure they had up-to-date information, we hosted daily conference calls and corresponded via email with affected clients. We regularly posted updates to a dedicated Web page in addition to conducting a very large number of one-on-one client calls and meetings.

Importantly, we were able to tell them that NotPetya does not have the ability to copy or extract file contents from affected systems or allow any unauthorized party to view file contents on affected systems. In other words, no Nuance customer information was altered, lost, or removed by the malware.

After containing the spread of the malware, our focus turned to restoring our clients to full functionality. Our dedicated staff—along with third-party experts in cybersecurity and forensics—rapidly initiated restoration efforts. At the same time, we enhanced our security against similar future incidents to ensure we emerge from this incident with an even more secure operating environment.

We are committed to sharing the knowledge we have gained from our own response and recovery process. The more we know about malware like NotPetya, the more powerful we all can be in combatting future cybercrimes. Early lessons include:

  • Incident notification protocols should be as simple as possible, with multiple layers of redundancy to ensure stakeholder communication can continue at all times. This is particularly critical in the early days of response, when normal channels may not be viable.
  • Increase network segmentation, including adding micro-segmentation.
  • Even fully patched Windows machines remain vulnerable to certain exploits and vulnerabilities. We have deployed a hardening process that disables SMBv1, enables additional blocks on host-based firewalls including blocking unnecessary SMB ports, disables unnecessary usage of WMI and PsExec, disables unnecessary admin shares, increases logging levels, and validates that each system meets a minimum baseline of security measures.
  • Cyberattacks can occur very quickly, challenging even the best prevention systems. Thus, the best strategy is a combination of prevention, detection, and containment.

Healthcare and IT leaders need to ask the right questions now so that they can be better prepared for a malware incident in the future. Below are seven important security questions every leader should consider:

  1. Cybercrime is part of the new reality for every company, organization, and person. What can you be doing now to prepare for this scenario?
  2. How comprehensive are your security policies, and do those policies actually translate into deployed security capabilities?
  3. Have you developed a crisis and disaster plan and communicated it broadly throughout your organization?
  4. How would you communicate to your staff, your board, your customers, and your patients?
  5. What are your primary vulnerabilities? What measures are you taking to ensure patient data is protected?
  6. Do you understand and align with your vendors’ security policies and do you have the appropriate validation and/or risk assessment programs in place?
  7. Have you identified a team of outside experts to help in case of an incident, including cyber security firms?

    Readers Write: Response to Webinar, “3 Secrets to Leadership for Women in Healthcare IT”

    August 30, 2017 Readers Write 1 Comment

    Response to Webinar, “3 Secrets to Leadership for Women in Healthcare IT”
    By Helen Waters

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    Helen Waters is executive vice president of sales and marketing with Meditech of Westwood, MA.

    Recently, I was inspired by a HIStalk webinar, “3 Secrets to Leadership Success for Women in Healthcare IT,” hosted by two female executives of health IT companies, Liz Johnson and Nancy Ham. During the webinar, Ham and Johnson provided valuable advice to women who are interested in progressing in their careers to a leadership position, but who may experience unconscious or conscious gender bias.

    I wasn’t surprised to see that organizations experience higher profits when women represent at least 30 percent of their executive leadership teams. I believe when men and women rid themselves of gender biases and come together at the table, great things will happen.

    There are thousands of women in high-powered positions making a difference around the world every day. Still, as Ham and Johnson pointed out, the percentage of women in leadership positions — particularly in healthcare IT — remains low. In addition, there are thousands of women who are capable of so much more, who would make great leaders and heads of companies, but who lack confidence.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ham and Johnson’s three secrets  — mastering negotiation, closing the confidence gap, and the networking effect. However, if I could add one more key ingredient to the list, it would be to channel your passion.

    Climbing the corporate ladder and breaking the glass ceiling is no easy feat. It takes focus, drive, the belief that you will succeed, and the passion to make it happen. Not only have passion for what you do and your company, but for your customers and the industry you work in. If you don’t love the company you work for or enjoy your day-to-day life at work, then maybe it’s time for a change.

    When you love what you do and show up to work excited about what you will tackle and overcome each day, the confidence gap will get smaller and smaller. Why? Because when you’re passionate about something, it will be noticed by others. The enthusiasm and positive energy you bring to work and how you treat and communicate with others will have an impact on your ability to inspire and lead others.

    The determination and motivation that passion drives will set you apart, push you to produce your best work, excite others, build awareness, and lead you to your goals, whether it’s a position in management, the C-suite, or on the board.

    My passion, commitment, and love for my company and industry runs deep. My love of healthcare and technology has kept me intrigued and stimulated at my company for over 25 years. I believe in my case, knowing that what I do contributes to keeping people safe in one of their most vulnerable times in life (as a patient) is what keeps me going and gives a great sense of fulfillment.

    My goal is to help my company continue to grow and flourish, but more importantly, to help staff grow. I strive to develop the next generation of leaders who are as passionate and inspired as I am when it comes to healthcare. Hopefully during my tenure, I will have influenced a substantial number of people and contributed to the future of the company through them.

    In my personal life, my family is my passion. I’ve always wanted to show my daughters that anything is possible, to always be open to learning something new, to follow their passion, and do what makes them feel fulfilled.

    What are you passionate about?

    Readers Write: Why Healthcare Organizations Take So Long to Make Buying Decisions and How We Can Fix It (Part 1 of 4)

    August 30, 2017 Readers Write 3 Comments

    Why Healthcare Organizations Take So Long to Make Buying Decisions and How We Can Fix It (Part 1 of 4)
    By Bruce Brandes

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    Bruce Brandes is founder and CEO of Lucro of Nashville, TN.

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    Over my 28-year career selling to health systems, the most common “competitor” to which my companies would lose a deal was the same: Do Nothing. For decision-makers across the country, there are many reasons that deferring buying decisions was historically a wise choice. 

    Rarely was there a compelling reason to make a decision at all. In the past, the economics, competitive pressures, and the underlying business model did not change meaningfully enough to encourage risk-taking. Frequently, if you waited long enough, potential industry changes would often just go away.

    Further, vendors that sell “nice to haves” rather than “have to haves,” assume everyone in every hospital must want to hear their pitch. They create noise that is deafening to decision-makers. Plus, most purchases historically have not yielded the promised benefits or ROI and risk-averse buyers that have been burned before are hesitant to make the same mistake again.

    As a healthcare vendor, the results of all this doing nothing (while trying desperately to find the person who is going to do something) include unclear value from traditional sales and marketing investments and the consequences of unpredictable business forecasting.

    Moreover, there is real concern that the length of healthcare sales cycles discourages bright entrepreneurial minds and innovative investors away from our industry, despite the lure of “disrupting” a three-trillion-dollar annual spend.

    In partnering with long-time hospital operator Charlie Martin, I was heartened to learn that he and his peers also found the ridiculousness of the buying / selling process in healthcare equally problematic. In fact, we’ve spent the past two years collaborating with some of the largest and most influential health systems in the country to gain a deep understanding of their challenges related long decision-making cycles.

    One specific example was illustrated by the head of strategy for a large regional health system in the Southeast. Their organization had identified the need to be in the direct-to-consumer virtual care business. They followed their normal process to pick a partner — formed a committee, engaged a consultant, did an initial survey of the market landscape, sent out an RFI, had a lot of meetings, sent out an RFP, brought in a short list for demos, had more meetings, called references, and finally made a decision on a vendor partner for the project. The decision was made 24 months after they originally identified their business need.

    During the two years of their selection process, the hospital system found that three other healthcare companies (none of which were historically competitive with them) had successfully built and deployed their own direct-to-consumer virtual care platforms in the same market. The incumbent hospital system lost the opportunity to engage, with a modern care alternative, the very community they have traditionally served for decades.

    New industry forces (underlying financial models, competitive pressures, reduced volume, consumerism, etc.) in healthcare now dictate that organizations no longer have years, but months to make strategic buying decisions before the market may pass them by.

    Together with healthcare organizations that collectively operate 20 percent of all the hospitals in the US, we identified three key areas with opportunity for improvement:

    • Alignment
    • Trust
    • Process

    Over the next several weeks, we will detail the learnings that resulted in a new way for healthcare organizations to accelerate and de-risk their buying process.

    Readers Write: Moving the Adoption Needle on Electronic Prior Authorization: What Stakeholders Can Do

    July 5, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

    Moving the Adoption Needle on Electronic Prior Authorization: What Stakeholders Can Do
    By Tony Schueth

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    Tony Schueth is CEO and managing partner of Point-of-Care Partners of Coral Springs, FL.

    Prior authorization (PA) is a major pain point for both prescribers and payers (health plans and PBMs). That is because there are significant administrative costs and patient-safety issues associated with today’s antiquated paper-phone-fax PA processes. The number of PAs is increasing, causing stakeholders to look for a solution to keep ahead of the PA curve. The answer is electronic PA (ePA), which is available today. Yet, while headed in the right direction, uptake isn’t where we’d like it to be.

    Manual prior authorization and utilization review create burden on providers and payers alike. According to a recent article in Health Affairs, physicians spend $37 billion annually ($83,000 per doctor) thrashing out PA and formulary issues with payers. According to another estimate, doctors spend 868.4 million hours on PA each year, not counting time devoted by other staff members. Payers incur up to costs of $25-$40 per PA, plus risk to downstream CMS rebates and medical cost savings.

    Perhaps most importantly, the difficulties inherent in trying to obtain a PA significantly affect the quality of care and patient safety. According to a survey by the American Medical Association (AMA), most physicians experience a delay in excess of a week for their PA request to be processed. Some 70 percent of prescriptions rejected at the pharmacy require PA; of those, 40 percent are eventually abandoned due to the complex, paper-based PA process. The PA process impacts more than 185 million prescriptions each year and results in nearly 75 million abandoned prescriptions.  

    These issues will only be exacerbated as demand for PA increases. This is due to several factors. First is the robust pipeline of new specialty medications, the majority of which require PA. Second, the demand for specialty medications is rapidly increasing because, in large part, of the rising number of chronically ill patients who rely on specialty medications.

    Because of increased specialty medication utilization — coupled with the reliance on today’s antiquated paper-based processes — prescribers, pharmacies, and payers will be unable to keep pace with the anticipated flood of new specialty prescriptions and related PA requirements. Patients will have delays in obtaining needed therapies or will forego them altogether if prescriptions are abandoned due to administrative delays. Quality and patient safety are at stake.

    Now that the need for process improvement and efficiencies is imperative, stakeholders are beginning to coalesce around the promise of electronic prior authorization (ePA). This solution is in keeping with the trend toward automation of healthcare and the wide-spread adoption of electronic prescribing, which is used by 75 percent of ambulatory physicians. Standards to support the ePA transaction are in place. Vendors are emerging that can handle the transaction. States are jumping on the ePA bandwagon, with several requiring use of ePA in the near future and others expected to follow suit. It won’t be long before the federal government is expected to mandate ePA as well.

    That said, use of ePA is not to the point of bringing robust value for all stakeholders. Electronic health record (EHRs) can support the ePA process, but not all of them have that capability. Physicians may not know that their EHR supports ePA and it could be integrated into the workflow.

    What can be done to move the ePA adoption needle? Here are some things stakeholders can do now.

    Prescribers should:

    • Ask their EHR vendor about their system’s ePA functionality. If it is not available, push for it as an enhancement request.
    • If integrated ePA is available, start using it as a way to improve return on investment (ROI) in the EHR. Electronic PAs get adjudicated much more quickly than prior authorizations submitted on paper via fax. ePA also can reduce costs and improve the quality and safety of patient care. These metrics are increasingly important ingredients of value-based care, alternative payment models, and related reporting requirements.

    EHR vendors should:

    • Make prescribers aware of their product’s ePA functionality and how it is used. This educational component provides value to the buyer and also could be a differentiator in the market.
    • Get ahead of regulatory mandates by either the federal government and the states. Savvy vendors will not wait for the regulatory shoes to drop and then play catch up. This can be costly and affect market share.
    • Build competitive advantage. While some of the major EHRs have incorporated ePA, many of the small and medium-sized EHRs have not. Practices and integrated delivery networks are overwhelmed by the growing number of PAs. They are demanding relief, which can only be solved through the availability of ePA. This also is an attractive selling and retention point.

    Health plans and PBMs should:

    • Adopt ePA functionality that is beyond the basics. Research shows that many PBMs have minimal ePA processing capabilities. Improving ePA processes and question sets will improve efficiency, reduce costs, and add value.
    • Push prescribers to adopt and use ePA. A legitimate ROI can be demonstrated, but only if functionality is used.
    • Take full advantage of the feature set included in the NCPDP SCRIPT standard for ePA. Supporting more of the features available in the standard will reduce the need for attachments, thus reducing turnaround times and increasing efficiencies. This translate into cost savings.

    Advancing ePA requires focused effort by all stakeholders, but the time is right and the technology is ready.

    Readers Write: Why Daily Clinical Analysis May Be A Game-changer In Patient Outcomes

    June 28, 2017 Readers Write 3 Comments

    Why Daily Clinical Analysis May Be A Game-changer In Patient Outcomes
    By Benjamin Yu, MD, PhD

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    Benjamin Yu, MD, PhD is vice president of medical informatics and genomics at Interpreta of San Diego, CA.

    A missing piece in population health is real-time data and its real-time and continuous analysis. It’s a key ingredient that can help streamline health delivery, improve outcomes, and manage a dynamic patient population. Real-time interpretation is a keystone in many service industries, especially finance and e-commerce. However, its value is often overlooked in healthcare.

    Instead, the health industry typically relies on monthly or quarterly business reports to spotlight health needs (e.g., gaps in care, medication management, etc.) and to find regional deficiencies. Using this information, groups plan and carry out campaigns to target and improve care through a variety of outreach mechanisms such as care managers, call centers, and provider network contacts.

    However, during the laborious process of assessing static reports, millions of conditions change. It’s analogous to using turn-by-turn instructions for driving based on outdated information. Normally, turn-by-turn directions help the driver navigate through unknown roads and emerging traffic conditions in real time. However, if the system is not current, it might alert the driver long after he/she has missed a turn.

    Similarly, in healthcare, by the time an outreach takes place, the member’s medications may have changed, a new refill may have been missed, a vaccine or screening may have been completed without the knowledge of the campaign, or a patient could have become ill or hospitalized before discovery of his/her risk. Thus, in addition to being expensive, the discover-and-campaign approach can be disjointed and too slow to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of a patient population.

    Despite their potential benefits, real-time clinical solutions have been hampered in population health for several reasons. Many groups fear that real-time clinical data means too many alerts. While this may be true of some clinical information systems, it is not inherently true. In fact, the opposite may be true in that one of the major efficiencies provided by real-time data is reduced noise.

    Because data is up to date, resolved issues should quickly disappear from the clinical workflow. For example, when a health plan calls a patient, instead of reviewing a long list of care initiatives — many of which are already complete — the clinician or plan can focus on future needs that are of the highest priority. Using up-to-date information ultimately can reduce alert fatigue and provide a more satisfying and impactful patient experience. In summary, real-time analysis is a noise reducer.

    Indeed, the fear of ‘too much information’ often stems from the design of current health information systems, which rely heavily on clinicians and staff to sort through printouts, inboxes, notifications, and data reports to resolve issues in the clinic. Notably, real-time data should not be considered synonymous with an increase in graphs and decisions. Using the driving analogy, data is constantly changing in a turn-by-turn application. However, these applications natively interpret incoming data and only alert the user with upcoming turns or changes to the route. With respect to healthcare, real-time systems also need to be designed to interpret real-time data with actions and prioritizations of the clinician in mind.

    The value of real-time data is underestimated. While some inherently accept that real-time clinical information is better than outdated information, real-time data and its immediate interpretation impacts far more than today’s era of business reports. Real-time data and analysis enables feedback interactions and behavioral modifications that cannot be derived from periodic reports.

    In the consumer market, real-time responses enable end-to-end services such as ride share, routing, and many financial transactions. In healthcare, real-time clinical information enables better predictive technology and thus an ability to identify trends much earlier. In an increasingly connected world, new clinical services and technologies require instantaneous feedback and timely actions for members and users, enabled by real-time clinical information. If the rapid growth of consumer health devices like wearable monitors is an indicator of upcoming trends, real-time clinical data in population health is just around the corner. Leading healthcare institutions and technology providers need to make sure they don’t miss the turn.

    Readers Write: Procuring Sustainable Success with Value-Based Care Models

    June 28, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

    Procuring Sustainable Success with Value-Based Care Models
    By Dustyn Williams, MD

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    Dustyn Williams, MD is a hospitalist at Baton Rouge General Medical Center (LA) and founder of DoseDr.

    All healthcare providers want the same things: better health for their patients and lower costs. Conceptually, value-based care achieves this shared goal by creating the incentives for all involved to provide better care and secure improved outcomes. Yet this approach lacks the appropriate framework and tools that enable and equip clinicians to achieve value-based outcomes.

    Adding to this dilemma is the lack of an appropriate definition of “value” that would enable healthcare organizations to truly comprehend what constitutes “value-based care” and how to implement a successful, sustainable value-based model. True value is realized when efforts are focused on reducing costs and achieving enhanced outcomes rather than simply on attaining quality metrics.

    Although the utilization and achievement of these metrics is a step in the right direction to positively impact care quality and outcomes, it’s not enough. Checking off boxes indicating that best-practice protocols are being followed does not necessarily equate to better outcomes or improved financials. Closing this gap between incentives and outcomes requires clinical care to evolve to reflect proactive management of chronic disease and promotion of patient wellness. Incentives alone are not enough; clinicians must also have access to the appropriate tools to achieve those quality goals.

    The good news is that value-based payment models are providing the necessary impetus for the creation of radical disruptive practice patterns and new models of care. For instance, uptake of Internet-based care delivery that enable more proactive treatments is on the rise, particularly with chronic illness.

    Value-based care is also a significant catalyst of advancements in telehealth solutions. These interventions are effectively disrupting traditional care models by providing the necessary best-practice based infrastructures and tools needed to proactively and effectively address chronic health conditions while seamlessly integrating into provider workflows.

    Consider diabetes management. Despite the challenges faced with self-management of their condition, diabetic patients spend an average of just two hours per year with their primary care provider. Further, while physicians strive to provide patients with best-practice knowledge for controlling A1c levels, poor retention of medical information and rapidly changing effects of diabetes put patients at risk for serious health conditions and preventable hospitalizations. Clinical and financial impacts stemming from uncontrolled diabetes greatly influences the steep costs of the condition, averaging $176 billion nationwide each year. Patients and providers must have access to tools that enable enhanced collaboration and ongoing care monitoring to improve outcomes and expenditures for diabetes, as well as other chronic conditions.

    Telehealth solutions fill this gap. Features such as smartphone-enabled provider feedback loops can now rapidly deliver easily-understandable, actionable information to patients to facilitate engagement, compliance and sustainable improved outcomes. By empowering patients to effectively self-manage their chronic conditions, long-term care costs to health plans and risk based-entities are significantly reduced, along with the steep costs associated with emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

    Improvements in the health management of high-risk patient populations secure enhanced Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) performance measures and Star ratings for health plans, along with improved Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) outcomes for providers.

    Additional issues impacting the efficiency and success of value-based care include resistance to change and slow adoption of innovative care models. Industry laggards continue to stunt the progress made by early adopters of value-based care as they consume more resources than are saved. Ultimately, payers and providers must be willing to accept and adhere to new models, which will be helped along by the evolution of technology and processes, such as telehealth, capable of truly impacting care quality, outcomes and expenditures.

    When risk is shared and incentives are aligned, value-based care models can enable providers to ultimately reduce expenditures and enhance patient care. If healthcare facilities provide quality care and cost-effective treatments that yield optimal outcomes, both patients and the healthcare system, as a whole, will benefit. Conversely, if there is no alignment, value-based care will collapse under the weight of a reimbursement structure that continues rewarding utilization. For instance, hospitals may continue to benefit from prolonged lengths of stays, while patients are buried under a mountain of medical bills and struggle with uncontrolled chronic diseases.

    By delivering proactive, trusted information directly to patients, disruptive technologies fill a critical gap in population health and care management. The key is ensuring that information has been carefully vetted by a physician capable of making necessary adjustments based on the monitoring of a patient’s health in real time along with additional environmental factors such as food intake. This ensures that these interventions enable improved patient care outcomes while strengthening revenues by avoiding penalties and increasing profitability through performance-based bonuses.

    Readers Write: Why Online Provider Search and Referral Management Programs Demand High-Quality Provider Data

    June 28, 2017 Readers Write 2 Comments

    Why Online Provider Search and Referral Management Programs Demand High-Quality Provider Data
    By Thomas White

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    Thomas White is CEO of Phynd Technologies of Dallas, TX.

    Healthcare systems, like any business, are competing for customers (patients) and referrals. In many respects, this competition has increased as patients are either forced to, or opt to, take more control over their own healthcare. The rise of consumerism is pressing healthcare systems to improve their online presence. Physicians and healthcare systems must fully leverage web tools to grow their customer base by empowering patients with the high-quality information they need to make important healthcare decisions.

    The Internet has made it much easier for patients to search beyond their local area for the most qualified providers who meet their needs, participate in their insurance plan, and offer the highest-quality services. As a result of this new paradigm, healthcare systems must prioritize the quality and ongoing maintenance of the provider data that feeds their online “Find A Doctor” search and referral tools. Simply put, a poor search experience is a major turn-off. Patients may go elsewhere, referrals (and revenue) are lost, and reputation is damaged.

    Patients and referring physicians alike expect to have the same online experience they would with Google and other search engines: instantly and easily find what they are looking for. Healthcare consumers satisfaction grows (and referrals are gained) when they can quickly find a doctor via a simple process that gives them useful information in easily understood terms. Accuracy is assumed.

    Patients expect to see provider demographic, practice, insurance, and contact information with a few keystrokes. That’s a given. And when they are presented with more data than expected — such as the provider’s availability, ratings, languages spoken, clinical focus, research interests, treatments provided, and travel directions — even better.

    This search process can be further enhanced if the provider’s data includes videos and other multimedia information. Video profiles personalize information and instructional videos can simplify patient visits and improve customer satisfaction and engagement. It’s kind of like online dating and hoping for the perfect match. In both cases, as they say nowadays, a picture can be worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a thousand pictures.

    Patients are more likely to book an appointment if their search results direct them to a provider who meets their needs. High-quality data can seal the deal.

    Online providers search tools are not just for patients. Physicians use them to identify the most appropriate in-network referral options for their patients. If the information from a referral management website is inaccurate or out of date, it can result in referral leakage, lost revenue, and wasted time. If there’s a delay in the delivery of urgently-needed care, then patient well-being and satisfaction may suffer. This can hurt reimbursement, particularly in today’s value-based care environment. Value-based payments emphasize evidence-based medicine and efficient delivery of care. These basic tenets should be supported by the information from any “Find A Doctor” search tool by ensuring patients see the most appropriate care giver the first time.

    None of this, however, can be achieved without a holistic approach spanning the enterprise (clinical, financial, and marketing systems) to capture, manage, and share high quality provider data. A unified approach to provider data management is critical to meet the rising tide of healthcare consumerism and value-base care initiatives, never mind remaining competitive. Providing effective online provider search tools to healthcare consumers and providers is an investment that can quickly pay for itself through referrals that keep patients in network and improve overall satisfaction.

    While online provider search tools are certainly not new, they must serve the demands and expectations of increasingly savvy and demanding online healthcare consumers and harried referring physicians trying to balance conflicting demands on their time and attention. Healthcare system leaders should assess how well their organizations online physician referral and outreach programs are meeting these end-user needs and determine relevant ROI measures to improve their effectiveness with an enterprise provider data management approach.

    Readers Write: Top 10 Takeaways From the EClinicalWorks Settlement

    June 15, 2017 Readers Write No Comments

    Top 10 Takeaways From the EClinicalWorks Settlement
    By Colette Matzzie

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    1. The federal False Claims Act provides an effective way to hold EHR vendors accountable for failing to meet Meaningful Use standards.

    Many customers had complained to EClinicalWorks about major problems with its software, but little changed. It took a knowledgeable healthcare IT implementation specialist and the might of the US government to get the software problems fixed. They used a powerful whistleblower law known as the False Claims Act, which encourages whistleblowers to fight fraud by filing “qui tam” lawsuits, to force ECW to take action. Anyone who “causes” false claims to be submitted to the government is liable under the False Claims Act. Customers of ECW relied on representations that ECW’s EHR technology was properly certified and therefore, unknowingly submitted tens of thousands of claims for government incentive payments that falsely attested MU requirements had been met.

    2. The federal Anti-Kickback Statute forbids EHR vendors from paying or rewarding users to promote or refer others as customers.

    Many healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device manufacturers have been penalized for violating the Anti-Kickback Statute, but the ECW case is the first time it has been applied in the EHR industry. The government cited payments totaling almost $300,000 through ECW’s “referral program,” “site visit program,” and “reference program,” in addition to unknown amounts for consulting and speaker fees paid to influential users, as evidence of alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute. The law prohibits providing money, gifts, or other remuneration intended to get referrals for services or items paid for by federal healthcare dollars except under very limited circumstances.

    3. The accuracy of representations made to certifying bodies will be a factor when the DoJ reviews the liability of an EHR vendor under the False Claims Act.

    Certification by a government Authorized Testing and Certification Body has been a prerequisite to successful sales because buyers can obtain federal incentive payments only for certified EHR technology. The government cited EClinicalWork’s decision to modify its software to “hard code” the drug codes needed for testing without meeting the certification criteria as evidence that ECW had “falsely obtained” its certification. This gave rise to its liability under the False Claims Act. Accurate and truthful information will remain a requirement for certification, despite the debate over whether the certifications adequately ensure software reliability and patient safety.

    4. The Office of Inspector General crafted an innovative Corporate Integrity Agreement requiring ECW to fix deficiencies, notify its customers, provide customers with free upgrades, and permit customers to transfer clinical data without penalty.

    As part of the settlement, ECW signed an expansive, state-of-the-art Corporate Integrity Agreement that the OIG put together to ensure that providers and patients are protected going forward. ECW is required to take significant remedial steps, which included sending out a series of notifications and advisories to customers that advise them of patient safety risks with its software, giving customers an opportunity to obtain updated (and presumably remediated) software free of charge; and offering the opportunity to transfer clinical data to another vendor free of onerous penalties or other restrictions. Software vendors should consider the agreement a guide to understand the risks they will face if their software does not meet federal requirements or if other misconduct occurs.

    5. The government deems data portability and audit log requirements to be essential to proper EHR functioning.

    EHR systems are required by the government to be able to export clinical information on patients electronically, including by batch exports, and reliably and accurately record user actions in an audit log. In its complaint-in-intervention, the government faulted ECW for allegedly misrepresenting these capabilities, and made clear that these omissions from the software were not acceptable.

    6. EHR vendors need to respond in a timely and effective manner to customer reports of software defects, usability problems, or other issues that may present a risk to patient safety or that may violate federal law.

    The Corporate Integrity Agreement requires ECW to notify OIG of certain reportable events that involve patient safety, certification, or a matter that a reasonable person would consider to be a violation of law. The government wants all EHR vendors to report significant problems or violations of law, especially when patient health or safety may be at issue.

    7. EHR vendors should have persons and procedures in place to ensure compliance with federal law, just as healthcare companies do.

    ECW’s Corporate Integrity Agreement requires the company to establish a compliance program with a compliance officer and a written code of conduct, similar to what many healthcare companies have. That’s something all EHR vendors should consider doing, as it’s wise to offer employees clear avenues to report concerns internally. Most employees prefer to address concerns internally before blowing the whistle by filing a qui tam lawsuit – unless the company has shown it is not responsive to legitimate concerns or will retaliate against employees who speak up.

    8. The government will hold managers personally responsible for activities of the EHR vendor company.

    The ECW settlement holds both the company and its three founders (the CEO, CMO, and COO) liable for payment. The settlements reinforce the DoJ’s commitment to individual accountability for corporate decisions in a very tangible way.

    9. EHR vendors must ensure that all contracts and agreements with its customers do not restrict disclosures of information about the performance of the software or reporting of patient safety concerns (the “anti-gag” rule).

    ECW’s Corporate Integrity Agreement requires that contracts between the company and its customers do not restrict customers from disclosing concerns about the performance of its software. This includes concerns related to patient safety, public health, and product quality. Other vendors should consider adopting similar “anti-gag” practices.

    10. Whistleblower rewards may be paid for information that leads to successful resolution of a federal qui tam action against an EHR vendor.

    The ECW case shows the government welcomes whistleblowers who have information about significant problems with EHR software. Under the False Claims Act, the government will pay whistleblowers a reward of 15 to 25 percent of the proceeds recovered by the government as damages and civil penalties, if the government joins the “qui tam” case filed by the whistleblower. The government awarded the ECW whistleblower $30 million.

    Colette Matzzie is a whistleblower attorney and partner at Phillips & Cohen LLP, which represented the whistleblower in the EClinicalWorks case.

    Readers Write: Technology Can Lift the Veil of Secrecy on Drug Prices

    May 24, 2017 Readers Write 1 Comment

    Technology Can Lift the Veil of Secrecy on Drug Prices
    By Thomas Borzilleri

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    Thomas Borzilleri is CEO of InteliScript.

    The recent story about the rift over prescription drug prices between insurer Anthem and its pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts should anger — and frankly, befuddle — any physician or electronic health record (EHR) vendor. Providers and IT vendors should be fed up with payers and patients getting ripped off by inflated drug prices, taking a disproportionate share of the healthcare dollar. They also ought to be puzzled about why, with all of our advances, we are still living in a marketplace where no one knows what drugs really cost.

    It’s particularly absurd because technology exists that can put an end to the opacity, overpayment, and oligarchy that characterize prescription drug purchasing today. Providers deserve and EHR vendors can offer tools that deliver the prices for any drug at the five cheapest pharmacies nearby. Doctors can have this data at their fingertips, within a few seconds, at the point of care, integrated into their existing workflow. These technology solutions can also track prescriptions to make sure they are picked up and refilled on a regular basis to gain new insight into which patients are at risk for adverse events due to medication non-adherence.

    For years, insurers and patients have just accepted that the price they are getting is the best price, or the only price. However, allegations like Anthem’s — that Express Scripts overcharged the insurer by $3 billion — should make everyone in the healthcare ecosystem skeptical about the fairness of drug prices. But truly lifting the veil on drug prices will take a concerted effort by many stakeholders in the provider and IT vendor communities to take on the PBM juggernaut.

    Strangely enough, when PBMs gained widespread popularity in the 1980s, there was an understanding that they worked on behalf of payers to lower prices, both by securing discounts and by steering patients towards lower-cost drugs. The truth, however, is that PBM “discounts” have always included heavy padding in the form of ingredient spreads and per-prescription fees. In fact, while PBMs are typically paying manufacturers 96 percent off the Average Wholesale Price (AWP) —the “sticker price” for drugs —the prices they charge insurers and employers are between 70 percent and 85 percent off the AWP. PBMs are skimming 10-25 percent off each prescription.

    Insurers and employers have had little recourse, both because they did not know the true price of prescription drugs and because they did not have a way to easily shop around between competing pharmacies to get the best price on every medication. Instead, complex, opaque package deals with PBMs mean the payer might be getting good deals on some drugs and getting raked over the coals on others.

    Drug price transparency and shopping tools are essential for payers to rein in costs and keep both premiums and co-pays from spiking. The urgent need for this data has also intensified recently because an increasing share of prescription drug costs are borne by consumers themselves. Patients simply won’t take their drugs properly, or at all, if they are out of reach financially. Affordability is now the number one reason for non-adherence to medications, which leads to poor outcomes, including avoidable hospital readmissions. A lack of medication adherence is estimated to cause approximately 125,000 deaths, at least 10 percent of hospitalizations, and cost between $100 billion and $289 billion a year.

    In the past, some patients have looked to Canadian or other foreign mail-order pharmacies to try to lower drug costs. But these transactions are usually outside the doctor-patient relationship and may cause more harm than good to the patient, either by exposing him or her to dangerous drug formulations or by causing rifts in care continuity.

    Doctors and patients, together, must come to the best decision about the right drug for their condition and price must be a part of that equation. We need technology solutions that enable doctors to find the best price on any drug, at local pharmacies that are convenient to the patient. Tools exist to address these concerns. The key is to embed these tools into existing EHR systems. By doing so, we can avoid disrupting doctors’ workflow and can ensure that all e-prescribing information is captured in the patient record.

    These solutions must achieve savings for both the payer and the consumer. First, the solution must provide the lowest possible retail price while consumers are still paying off their deductibles, and then provide the lowest negotiated payer price to the insurer or employer once they start picking up the tab. These solutions can also be used to circumvent common PBM strategies, such as excluding low-cost brand and generic drugs from formularies to artificially increase co-pays on these cheaper drugs, which costs insurers and self-insured consumers billions of dollars each year.

    Typically, consumers don’t realize that the cash price is in many instances lower than their adjusted co-pay, with the excess going right into the pocket of the PBM. Drug price transparency and shopping solutions should crunch the numbers for the doctor and patient, letting them know when it’s better to pay the cash price and when it’s more cost-effective to pay the co-pay.

    Health IT solutions are typically geared towards one healthcare user: hospitals, doctors, patients, insurers, or employers. But drug price transparency technology is one of those rare innovations that will benefit each of those audiences. Doctors and patients, together, will be able to make the best decisions about medication management, at the point of care, during the prescribing process. Hospitals will enjoy better population health management through better medication adherence. Insurers and employers will be able to wring more value from each healthcare dollar.

    What we need now is a commitment from EHR vendors to adopt this type of technology. The bottom line is that we can’t succeed in bending the cost curve in healthcare if we don’t know what the costs are in the first place. That includes prescription drugs. We in the health IT industry have the insight and ingenuity to draw the curtain back on drug price secrecy and we have a real obligation to do so.

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