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Readers Write: Buy or Build: SaaS Can Make Sense for Meaningful Use Reporting

April 12, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Buy or Build: SaaS Can Make Sense for Meaningful Use Reporting
By John Hotchkiss

4-12-2013 5-41-22 PM

The trials and tribulations of Meaningful Use (MU) have given new meaning to the lives of many of us in IT, and often not in a good way. An average 250-bed community hospital submitting its 90-day attestation report must process roughly 3,000 records covering approximately 13,250 patient days, using nearly 300 data elements per record for core and menu measures with up to 600 data elements in each record in support of the clinical quality measures. That’s a tall order.

With a demand for codified and structured data, clearly MU attestation is a different animal than your typical federal report. As a result, most hospitals inevitably face the question of whether to build or buy an MU reporting system, with the possibility of a vendor SaaS-based system taking many of the headaches out of the process.

As a technology professional, I have had exposure to both solutions, and thought I would shed some light on the issues for those still searching for an answer.

Whether for a homegrown or vendor supplied solution, the first steps in report set up are choosing the measures to report and deciding between the various reporting options. To make informed decisions, every data element for Core, Menu, and Clinical Quality Measures has to be reviewed by staff to determine how the hospital wants information to be captured and presented.

Consider, for example, the base population for core and menu measures. Which method will the hospital use for selecting the Emergency Department (ED) patients to include with inpatients in the population? The choices include the Observation Services method, which uses only patients admitted for observation with the appropriate HCPCS code, or the All ED Visits method, using all patients admitting to the ED in the reporting period. The EHR capabilities available in each location inform this decision and drive many others that follow. For example, if the hospital chooses the All ED Visits method, is the ED actually documenting the required BMI and other data elements for all the measures? Must hospital staff be re-trained to do so?

Here’s the fork in the road: to create an in-house solution, IT folks must create a data map to see what fields the MU report needs, determine if those fields currently exist within the modules of the EMR, and then confirm that they are in the required MU format. Very often, IT needs to create new fields or modify existing ones.

Also, multiple modules must be examined because fields often span multiple system components. Without exaggeration, managing that initial data mapping to support the attestation report could take months, not to mention enduring the headaches of ensuring care management staff comply with appropriate data input.

Now finally, your reports are generated. Unfortunately, the first time around, data often fails to meet thresholds. So it must be determined whether this is a problem with the data or whether caregivers are simply not entering the required information in the correct format. This forces IT staff into detective mode to identify and fix the problems.

Applause, applause – the final report is created and filed. Not so fast. This leads to the nightmare of storing hundreds of thousands of auditable data elements and estimating MU storage requirements going forward. Estimates are that a 365-day attestation requires 3.6M to 7.2M data elements. Where will IT store all that data? And, how will the security issues surrounding sensitive patient information be managed? These are the types of issues that keep IT staff up at night.

A SaaS-based MU solution may be a good choice for many hospitals, particularly smaller community facilities without the bandwidth to support all of the above. With multiple challenges, offloading some of that burden makes sense.

Many hospitals will have already determined on their own the measures and reporting options they will use and the information format that required. With that behind them, some SaaS vendors have sophisticated data mapping guides to help hospitals analyze data right from the system itself to identify reporting gaps, to ferret out the problems and to determine information to be added or modified.

Some SaaS vendors can also extract the hospital’s data directly from all system modules to leverage data that the care providers are already entering, thereby eliminating duplicate data entry – a benefit that cannot be overemphasized. Also, some vendors cannot only identify whether measures are in compliance, but can also determine why measures may be failing and help the hospital take steps to correct the issue. As a result, patient care and hospital processes see immediate improvement while the patient is still in the bed.

Of course, with the SaaS solution, users enjoy all the model’s inherent benefits including elimination of software and hardware management, simplification of interface and upgrade management, and unlimited scalability for storage and computational capacity. Obviously some hospitals are just more comfortable with building MU reports themselves and retaining complete control over their data and the process. But for others, SaaS may be just the answer they seek for MU reporting and attestation.

John Hotchkiss is chief technology officer of IHM Services Company.

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