Our EHR implementation team is in full swing again, thanks to a mad rush of acquisitions. Like many health systems, we’ve been frantically snapping up practices as we try to tighten our grip on market share.
Although it makes sense that we’d want to build the membership in our accountable care organization, it doesn’t mesh with the quality of some physicians we’ve decided to employ. At this stage in the game, if you’re not employed, you generally fall into a handful of groups: successful independent practice; member of an IPA or other group bargaining arrangement; renegade individualists (such as direct primary care providers); or disasters.
Although we’ve purchased a couple of the former, we’ve apparently acquired some of the latter. It’s easy to see why these disasters would want to be employed in the current economy. The medical group takes over credentialing, HR functions, operational management, billing, marketing, managed care negotiations, and the all-important provision of medical liability insurance. In return, the medical group stamps out competition and gets a captive patient population to add to its ancillary services pipeline.
Usually when practices are acquired, it’s a race to get the physicians migrated to employed status as well as to bring them up on our EHR. For the more savvy practices that have already been on an EHR, we’ve gotten pretty good at conversions. As long as there is data integrity in the source system, we’re able to do a fairly seamless transition. In this round of acquisitions, though, we’ve had a disproportionate share of practices coming off of paper or transcription.
As we race to get them started in our system, there is often little involvement by the operational teams to really look at the practice’s workflow and habits. The EHR implementation team is often sent in as the shock troops with the assumption that they’ll get the practice in line. I’ve fought for years to try to get operational management to understand that you can’t use the EHR as a weapon to beat physicians into submission. If there are serious issues with their office processes or habits, those need to be addressed first. At the current breakneck, pace those concerns are consistently being cast aside.
What do you do, then, when an EHR implementation uncovers serious problems in a practice? I joked to my CEO that if I could file as a Medicare whistleblower, I could retire on my share of the recovery for what I’ve seen this year. Although some of them are “typical,” such as phone messages on sticky notes and passwords taped to the monitor, others are much more serious:
- A provider with over 1,000 un-dictated visit notes over a 90-day period (all of which were billed out already).
- Lab tests and medication refills being ordered by unlicensed phone receptionists and front desk personnel without standing orders or a verbal order (otherwise known in many states as “practicing medicine without a license”).
- Paper controlled substance prescriptions being signed by staff (otherwise known as forgery).
- Loose pills in a desk drawer (gross as well as inappropriate).
- Inappropriate web surfing (and it wasn’t online shopping).
- Inappropriate office relationships (leading to one of my trainers, for the first time ever, abandoning a training session due to the behavior taking place).
I continue to be amazed that district practice managers and other leaders expect us to not only look the other way when we find these issues, but also to figure out how to successfully implement a practice where these happenings are commonplace and accepted.
Just dealing with the first example of un-dictated charts – if the provider was 1,000 charts behind using dictation, there is no way he is going to be able to document visits in the EHR in a timely fashion. I know if I don’t finish my charts as I go, I can barely remember some visits by the end of the shift. There would be no way I could try to dictate a day or two later, let alone three months down the road.
I am also amazed (although I guess I shouldn’t be) that our hospital organization is willing to stoop this low, acquiring practices that are known to have issues just because they want the market share. It’s not like these offices are hiding these behaviors. Even a casual observer could have uncovered them. I can’t imagine someone doing due diligence before purchasing a practice would have missed them.
We’ve also had to work recently in a practice that has what I would consider basic hygiene issues – trash not being emptied regularly in patient care rooms, exam tables not being sanitized, filthy physician white coats, food in the lab, things like that. If a practice is that cavalier about the basics of patient care, it would be difficult to assume that they’re going to be star performers when we start applying standardized workflows and patient care algorithms through the EHR.
I met with our senior leadership to discuss strategy for these situations. Although everyone was wringing their hands and making the right statements, no one agreed to take action. Essentially, the EHR team was told to figure out how to deal with it and to get them live and ready to attest prior to October 1.
In the past, we’d have jettisoned these practices after a year or so, but now that they’re part of our MU payment base, I wonder how it will play out. I can’t imagine them being successful attesters on such a short timeline, so maybe their lack of performance will help them out the door.
It’s no secret at my organization that I’m job hunting. It’s challenging enough to be a CMIO, living in the middle ground between the CIO, CMO, and CEO, all of whom have opinions about how you do your job. It’s another thing entirely to be asked to overlook (if not enable) fraud, illegal activities, and poor patient care.
I know from chatting with colleagues that I’m not the only one seeing these issues, although I may be in the minority in that my organization refuses to take a stand.
Are you a CMIO on the brink? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.