Every time I am invited to present at the hospital’s quarterly medical staff meeting, I feel like I should wear personal protective equipment. No one is hurling rotten tomatoes when we talk about EHR, but the verbal assault can be equally messy.
I was asked to present at the recent meeting with the goal of discussing our ICD-10 transition plan. Despite previous mistakes by our (now-disbanded) ICD-10 Task Force, our new team is confident that our vendor is ahead of the pack. I thought I would escape without too much drama. Thoughts of melting snow and approaching spring weather must have tricked me into forgetting the tendency of my colleagues to go completely off the agenda.
When we implemented EHR, we carefully audited the coding/billing functionality to make sure that not only did it adhere to CMS guidelines, but to the stringent standards of our auditors. We manually audited behind any computer-assisted coding for a period of time until we were comfortable that the algorithms were appropriate. At that point we discontinued full audits, but continued spot audits on high-dollar or high-risk episodes of care. We also continued our regular audit protocol where each physician had a set of charts audited each quarter with coding feedback delivered from our teams.
When the EHR was initially deployed, we saw a shift in the distribution of ambulatory Evaluation and Management codes, but this was expected. It also matched with published data that showed primary care physicians tend to under-document the care they deliver. We were happier with our increased documentation of the care we were appropriately providing.
Over time our EHR has matured and has had added to it a variety of individualized order sets, care plans, patient instructions, and documentation macros that allow our users to personalize their notes. Our coders have stayed on their toes, making sure visit documentation continues to be individualized despite these labor-saving features. We definitely don’t want to fall victim to the problems that can arise from cloned documentation or any other inappropriate use of the EHR.
Since we’ve been live so long and our medical staff has grown so much, many of our newer colleagues didn’t go through this initial auditing process and don’t understand the ongoing auditing that is in place. Without this comfort level with the EHR, they are extremely nervous about what will happen with ICD-10. Our EHR is moving to a new level of assisted coding to aid with the transition.
People are, for lack of a better description, freaked out. The question and answer period following my ICD-10 presentation spiraled into paranoia and outright fear.
Providers have long been worried about audits that would demand large repayment sums based on a sampling of charts. Now they are worried about criminal prosecution on top of financial penalties and potential exclusion from federal health care programs. Several more vocal colleagues demanded that we go back to 100 percent chart review by certified coders, which is just not tenable given recent budget cuts. Others asked the medical staff to consider endowing a legal defense fund.
Fear of law suits has led to exorbitant health care costs through the practice of defensive medicine. Fear of audits will lead to more spending on non-patient-facing services such as chart reviews and coding audits. I for one would rather spend my healthcare dollar lowering the patient-to-nurse ratio and decreasing preventable harms. What do you think about the increase in audits related to the increase in EHR documentation? E-mail me.