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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 4/19/18

April 19, 2018 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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So many things are going on in the healthcare IT world that it’s impossible to keep up. I came across an article about the telehealth program at New York Presbyterian, which has been implemented in the emergency department to reduce wait times. The Express Care program is credited with a significant impact, moving the needle on low-acuity patients from a more than two-hour wait to one that sits closer to 30 minutes. The patient care flow is integrated into the existing emergency department care path. At the time of the initial nursing examination, patients who meet criteria are asked if they want to participate in a virtual visit in a private room rather than waiting for an in-person visit. Patients are seen by the system’s existing emergency physicians, which is said to reduce potential patient concerns about quality of care.

New York Presbyterian is known for some of its other virtual programs, including a second opinion program that is delivered through an online patient portal. They also have an inter-hospital consult program for system physicians to collaborate along with a digital urgent care service. Virtual visits can be done in lieu of some office visits, and they also staff a mobile stroke unit.

I did some additional research into telehealth, looking particularly at the demographics of patients who gravitate towards the services. One might be tempted to assume that it would be millennials and Generation Y. I found some data from an Advisory Board survey of close to 5,000 patients that indicated that although more than 75 percent of patients said they’re open to a virtual visit, only 20 percent have actually experienced one. Of those who have used the services, nearly 60 percent are under age 50.

This might be due to payment policies more than affinity for technology, due to the Medicare restrictions on telemedicine services. It could also be due to employers providing telehealth services as a way to offset declines in employer-paid coverage and rising deductibles. A good number of parents would consider using a virtual visit for a sick child, and I suspect this is not only a function of accessibility and wait times but also one of convenience as workers struggle with leaving work for medical visits.

There are some variations in how medical providers want to approach telehealth. I was approached at HIMSS by vendors in two different models – one which was third party and another which hoped to leverage a client’s existing physicians to deliver services. As a provider, there’s a certain allure to having your patients cared for by members of your group, but that arrangement still requires providers to take call and provide services after hours. That arrangement is less appealing to physicians who see medicine more as a business than as a calling. Telemedicine visits tend to skew around a couple of key areas – acute care needs, and routine requests such as medication refills.

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Lots of conversation in the physician lounge this week about Amazon exiting the pharmaceutical business before it even really got started. The company has spent the last year soliciting approval from state pharmacy boards so that they could become a wholesale pharmacy distributor. They completed the process in just 12 states and apparently discovered that it’s harder to recruit large hospitals away from their existing suppliers and contracts then they thought. In my experience, hospitals tend to be locked in with either McKesson or Cardinal Health or tend to be part of larger group purchasing programs that don’t make it easy to change suppliers. According to some reports, Amazon also failed to fully appreciate the complexity of fulfilling medical supply orders when some of the items must be refrigerated or frozen. That’s a wrinkle that certainly doesn’t fit smoothly into their well-oiled logistics and warehousing process.

Some of my procedural colleagues in smaller organizations had been hoping Amazon would be able to make a go of it, to enable speedy deliveries of smaller-scale orders so that they don’t have to deal with the larger vendors. The ability to ask Alexa to ship you a couple of cases of normal saline or some assorted suture materials certainly might be a draw when you’re already using her to order your coffee and restock your household supplies. Amazon may still head in this direction, delivering medical office supplies such as gloves and other consumables to smaller organizations such as independent ambulatory surgery centers and physician practices. For that book of business, they’re already approved for licensure in 47 states plus the District of Columbia. There is still a fair amount of speculation that Amazon might be entering the retail pharmacy or direct to consumer spaces. It would be interesting to see how they tackle some of the rebate issues that exist in the retail space and add confusion to the price of medications.

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A reader reached out regarding my recent comments about groups that compensate providers based on RVUs as opposed to making the transition to value-based compensation. She recently did some compensation analysis research and noted that the majority of physicians are compensated largely based on productivity, with potentially 10 percent or 20 percent being paid relative to quality metrics, patient satisfaction, or access. She found an interesting trend with groups that are moving towards paying physicians a guaranteed salary in order to account for time spent on non face-to-face activities such as chronic care management. Guaranteed salaries are also cited as a way to help smooth out access issues in group practices, where one provider might create bottlenecks because he or she won’t allow patients to see a colleague due to fear of lost income. Guaranteed salaries may also hold potential for reducing burnout and increasing collaboration. These goals are typically aided by structures which might pay bonuses based on group growth rather than individual productivity. New models of compensation which include guarantees typically include a performance threshold to ensure physicians maintain a minimum level of activity.

These new compensation models may lead to increased reporting needs for organizational leaders, which translates to requests for IT teams to generate data for compensation analysis. Several of the practice management systems I work with struggle with functions like capitation and prospective payment management, so they may also be ill-equipped to handle this level of productivity reporting. If you’re on the technical or support side it might be tempting to ignore trends in provider compensation, but it might be worth following if those trends are going to start sending more work your way.

Is your organization structuring compensation to encourage collaboration? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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