The Office of the National Coordinator continues to advocate for strengthening the health IT workforce. The September 6 webinar will review workforce training materials that were available to the more than 9,000 people who participated in recent programs on population health, care coordination, interoperability, and analytics. Registration is open, and as a participant in one of the educational programs, I’d say it’s worth a look.
In other government news, the Medicare Quality Payment Program hardship application for the 2017 year is now available. Applications must be submitted by October 1, 2017 to avoid payment adjustments in 2018. I continue to run across providers that aren’t sure if they qualify for a hardship exception or not, so if you’re in the practice management or operations space, do your docs a favor and make sure they understand.
Physicians who are in the know have been very happy with the CMS final rule that makes the use of 2015 Edition certified EHRs optional for Medicaid Meaningful Use in 2018. Depending on vendor status, many practices were looking at having to upgrade their EHRs prior to January 1 so they could complete full-year reporting on a 2015 Edition system. The requirement now calls for a 90-day reporting period for Meaningful Use measures. Although Clinical Quality Measure reporting is still full-year, providers can now use 2014 Edition, 2015 Edition, or a combination of Certified EHR Technologies. It’s a welcome reprieve for organizations that are suffering from change fatigue and who may lack the resources to manage an upgrade along with other clinical and business initiatives. Although that change was documented in a final rule, unpublished guidance seems to indicate that practices that are part of the Next Generation ACO program can use either 2014 Edition or 2015 Edition CEHRT.
It’s been a relatively busy time in governmental circles, with the Department of Veterans Affairs also announcing their new telehealth project, “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care,” which will permit VA providers to treat patients across state lines using telehealth technology. Providers can practice across the country within their designated specialty scope of practice. They also released their new VA Video Connect app. Veterans can use their mobile devices to access 250+ VA providers at nearly 70 sites across the country. Although solutions like the app have the potential to reduce travel hardships for veterans, they assume adequate capacity. If providers don’t have adequate time for patient care, simply shifting away from in-person encounters isn’t going to be a solution.
There’s also been action in the Senate to authorize a CMS Innovation Center project to boost use of certified EHRs in the behavioral health space. Psychiatric hospitals, community behavioral health centers, clinical psychologists, and social workers would be encouraged to expand EHR use along with residential and outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities. The 2009 HITECH Act didn’t apply to many mental health treatment organizations, which may help explain low rates of information sharing between behavioral health and other providers. A parallel bill has already been introduced in the House. Hopefully both will begin to work their way through the House and Senate committees soon.
One of the exciting parts of being in the healthcare information technology space is watching researchers come up with innovative solutions to difficult problems. Laboratory medicine is a big part of clinical informatics, so I was glad to hear about a new technology for Zika virus testing in the field. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are using nanorods to develop a test that can provide results without electricity or refrigeration. Proteins attached to the nanorods change color when exposed to Zika virus-containing blood. Although the initial study was very small, it shows a great deal of promise. I was also glad to see the varied affiliations of the authors – mechanical engineering, anesthesiology, and biochemistry/molecular biophysics. The engineering and biophysics fields are expanding rapidly and make great areas of emphasis for premedical students who aren’t sure about their future in patient care.
Speaking of laboratory medicine, LOINC is looking for experts to join four new special topics workgroups. The groups will meet monthly and provide recommendations to the LOINC Committee. Workgroup topics include: Document Ontology, which looks at the framework for displaying clinical results; LOINC ShortName for addressing situations where LOINC codes need to be stored or exchanged but the ShortName is not appropriate; Cell Marker Naming for review of ambiguous terms; and High-Sensitivity Troponin, which will look at the best way to model cardiac assays in LOINC. Workgroups start August 30 and more information can be found on the LOINC website.
I haven’t been able to attend the MGMA conference in years, the last time being when it was in San Antonio. For those who can’t make it to Anaheim for MGMA17, there is an opportunity to attend remotely via MGMA 2017 Monday Live. Registration is $350 for MGMA members and includes access to the general session and several breakouts. Advertising collateral mentions the opportunity to not only listen to sessions but to “network with your peers,” which might be a little challenging given the virtual environment.
Virtual environments are less of a barrier for the one-on-one contact of telehealth. Employers are gravitating toward inclusion of telemedicine services in employee benefits plans. The Large Employers’ 2018 Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey estimates that nearly 96 percent of employers will offer telemedicine services in states where it is permitted, with more than 50 percent including behavioral health as part of the offering. More employers are also offering on-site health centers. My local school district is piloting an on-site employee clinic that received a fair amount of traffic in its first year. They haven’t made a decision to expand, but will continue to pilot during this academic year.
Do you have access to an employer-based health center? Have you had the occasion to use it? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.