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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 8/22/19

August 22, 2019 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Time is ticking for practices that haven’t completed the full transition to the new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier numbers. Claims submitted with the previous numbers will be rejected starting January 1, 2020. At this point, the new MBI is only being used for 77% of Medicare fee-for-service claims. Given the duration of the transition period, I’m surprised to hear that nearly a quarter of claims are still going out under the old numbers.

Telehealth is of interest to many young active patients, but clinicians are concerned about how well it might work for older patients for whom technology might be a challenge. A recent research letter details findings on video visits that were used with homebound geriatric patients. Physicians in New York state piloted the program from June to December 2018 as they sought to identify cost-effective ways to care for older adults. The authors labeled the program as “not yet ready for prime time” even though most patients and medical social workers involved in the study felt that when a video visit was successful, it met their needs and was preferred over long wait times for in-person visits. The difficulty apparently stems from inability to successfully complete the visits, with only a 49% completion rate. Installation of the telehealth app was performed by researchers after patients were identified from a pool of enrollees in a home-based primary care program.

Of 500 eligible patients, only 56 were enrolled. Patients were assessed to ensure they were cognitively and technologically capable of conducting a visit and that there was a family caregiver willing to participate as well. Even with those controls, there were a number of technical and equipment compatibility issues, with only 39 patients completing at least one video visit with their medical social worker. The average visit length was 18 minutes. The average patient was 85 years old and issues cited included failure to remember their Apple ID or passwords. Another issue involved two-factor authentication, where patients had to receive a code to access the app before they could enter the video conference.

There are significant shortages for home-based primary care for the frail elderly who want to remain in their homes. I’d argue that even with the challenges, if we could manage a percentage of patients via video, that might be better than the current state of affairs. Using technology that doesn’t require an Apple ID (especially since Apple is no longer the darling many people once thought it was) and relaxing the need for two-factor authentication might increase the percentage of successful visits. The authors next plan to pilot a device that connects via a patient’s home television and allows use of a TV remote, which might be a better option for the target population.

There are so many publications from CMS and other governmental entities that I occasionally miss something interesting. Apparently deep within the interoperability proposed rule is a provision that requires hospitals to inform primary care physicians about patient admissions, transfers, and discharges. Although Accountable Care Organizations want access to the data, hospitals are pushing back. One stumbling point is the need to inform physicians of these activities electronically.

Another is the requirement of this notification as a condition of Medicare participation for the hospital. It also would require hospitals to determine which physician might be the most appropriate to notify. I’ve worked with the attribution issue for several of my clients and it’s never straightforward, especially when patients might have recently changed primary care physicians or when they might be admitted for a problem that is primarily under the care of a subspecialist. Patients and patient advocates are also wading into the discussion, claiming that notifying physicians without express patient consent is a violation of privacy. The comment period on this particular proposed rule closed in May, so we’ll have to see what changes might be made.

For those of us who closely monitor Medicare spending, not only professionally but personally (hoping there will still be some money available when we get to the magic age), take a look at this piece on wasteful drug spending. One of the tricks commonly used by pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend their revenue streams is the creation of drugs that are nearly identical to existing drugs, but that are different enough to have their own patent. A recent study looked at spending on these drugs and found that Medicare could have saved nearly $17 billion from 2011-2017 by substituting 12 older drugs for the newer agents. There is little clinical evidence that these newer drugs deliver better outcomes than their older generic precursors. Researchers used the Drugs@FDA database to identify drugs that had been approved and analyzed both Medicare and patient out-of-pocket spending on the drugs. The out of pocket spending by patients could have been reduced by $1.1 billion on top of the Medicare savings.

Healthcare IT could be positioned to help educate prescribers and patients about this issue through a variety of strategies. One might be displaying relative cost at the point of prescribing. Another might be showing therapeutic equivalents as a part of clinical decision support. Payers are already trying to stem the tide by putting the higher-priced drugs on higher formulary tiers, which are easily identified in some EHRs. I wonder if the development of some of this functionality in current EHRs is being stymied by the vendors’ engagement with pharmaceutical companies, since several are selling patient data behind the scenes.

Another option would be to use clinical decision support to prompt lifestyle interventions before prescribing some of the drugs and enrolling patients in care management programs to ensure they can be successful with lifestyle change. Those are more high-touch options that are less popular in our US culture, however. It’s easier to take a pill and many patients find taking the latest and greatest drug to be desirable regardless of the cost.

Mr. H scooped me with his report on the Patient Record Scorecard, which grades hospitals on how effectively they respond to records requests from their patients. I had heard about it in a different context, when a reader clued me in to a site called MedRxiv (prounced “med archive”) which describes itself as “The Preprint Server for Health Sciences.” Essentially, the site is publishing manuscripts that are preliminary in nature and haven’t yet been through a peer review process. The site was founded by non-profit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Yale University, and BMJ and operates as “a platform for researchers to share, comment, and receive feedback on their work prior to journal publication.” I hope the authors of the Scorecard can ultimately get their findings published since they seem consistent with what many of us are experiencing.

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