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HIStalk Interviews Jon-Michial Carter, CEO, ChartSpan

February 17, 2021 Interviews 4 Comments

Jon-Michial Carter is co-founder and CEO of ChartSpan of Greenville, SC.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

ChartSpan was founded in 2013. We were focused on driving patient engagement. Almost everything that happens in healthcare is built and designed for providers, with patients having the ultimate end experience. As chronic care management began to evolve in 2015, we realized — as a company that was very much focused on the patient experience — that this was an area that we would excel in. We started small. My brother and I and one other person founded the company. Within five years, we became the largest provider of chronic care management solutions in the country based on active monthly enrolled patient population.

I come from the technology world as an operator with deep experience in finance operations and sales. My brother, in contrast, was a 20-year practicing clinician. We made a great partnership in that he focused on the clinical side of things and I focused on the operational side of things. It has been a big reason that we have been successful.

How many providers, and what kinds, are offering CCM, and how many of them engage companies like yours for outside help?

Chronic care management is a Medicare program where providers are encouraged to telephonically and/or electronically engage with patients on a monthly basis. You engage with patients on the patient’s terms. You go to them when it’s convenient and you go to them when they’re at home.

The thought is that if a patient has two or more chronic conditions, and they are not yet high acuity, they are not a candidate for case management. We preventatively reach out to them every month. The data shows that we dramatically improve outcomes and reduce costs for those patients. You want to get those patients when they are low risk or rising risk, not when they become high utilizers of the system. That’s the entire focus of chronic care management. If you look at the CMS claims data, it is delivering extraordinary results.

In regards to what type of providers utilize the service, initially it was focused almost entirely on primary care, internal medicine, and geriatrics. That began to expand over the last couple of years. There are few specialty areas that we don’t have as customers providing chronic care management services to their patients.

How do practices market CCM to their patients to convince them to sign up and pay their part of the cost?

With COVID, a lot of Medicare patients are hesitant to go out in public, much less sit in a waiting room with other sick patients. We have seen a 30% increase in enrollments from our legacy customer patients. That’s encouraging, because the value for the patient is convenience. Our job as a turnkey service provider for our physicians and providers is not to practice medicine. That’s what they do. We act as an extension of the provider, dealing with the low-level care coordination activities that are so important to prevent the exacerbation of a patient’s chronic conditions.

For instance, we assist in making sure that they have appointments, that they have transportation to get to those appointments, and that they’re getting their medication refills. We assist them in having those medications delivered, or get transportation to get across town, to get to the pharmacy to get them. We make sure that we have the provider’s care instructions and that we understand exactly what the care goals are for that patient and are, reinforcing those and making sure that the provider’s instructions are being followed.

We have a bi-directional feed with our clients. We are extracting the CCDA out of the EHR. We are agnostic and work with every single EHR in the country. Then we push back our clinical data set wherever they want it in their EHR, whether that’s in a particular file or discretely in a patient record. On the billing side, we do the same thing. We push the billing to the billing department, to the practice management system, so that it’s easy to build those E&M encounters once we have had a compliant engagement with a patient on any particular month.

What issues do providers have when they do CCM on their own?

I have met with hundreds of practices and health systems that have attempted to do chronic care management on their own. I have never met one that was profitable. I have never met one that was able to achieve the volume of enrollment or revenue that they had hoped for. 

Here’s why. Everybody with a nurse and a spreadsheet thinks they can do chronic care management, and they are wrong. The clinical encounter is the most predictable part of CCM, but it’s not the hardest part. The hardest parts are all the operational complexities in the periphery. It includes enrollment. By the way, clinicians are traditionally terrible at enrollment. Compelling patients to be in the program. It’s solicitous in nature, and it’s almost uncomfortable. I know, because in the early days, we tried to have clinicians do enrollment and it was a miserable failure.

Enrollment is hard because 85% of your patients have a co-pay. You have to be articulate about defining what the value is in the program. You need data feeds that show you who the primary and secondary insurer are so you know what the co-pay and financial obligations are for the patient. That alone is one of the most difficult operational processes that you have to deliver with chronic care management.

But there’s many more. You are constantly doing data reconciliation. You have millions of patients churning into Medicare and millions churning out of Medicare every day. Churn is the name of the game. If you don’t know, from a data perspective and from a business process perspective, how to manage the daily churn that occurs in a Medicare program, you shouldn’t get into this business.

That stretches way beyond the clinical encounter. You’ll never get to the clinical encounter if you’re not doing your data reconciliation, churn management, patient marketing, enrollment, quality assurance, and billing support services. The clinical encounter is the depth of what most health systems think about when they think about chronic care management, and they are terrific at the clinical encounter. If that was all there was, then we would have a lot more people doing it and they would be a lot more successful. The problem is all the other operational components around the clinical encounter. Few people understand how to master that.

These Medicare patients with multiple chronic conditions probably have multiple active providers. Who decides which of them provide CCM services to that patients and what happens when the patient changes providers?

Being compliant requires that you consent the patient, and that must be documented. Once the patient has given consent to the provider, then that provider is the chronic care management provider of record. No other provider can come in unless the patient unenrolls and then gives consent to the next provider.

What are the best practices of performing CCM and the Annual Wellness Visit remotely?

From a CCM perspective, we do telephonic, and then we rolled out a multimodal approach last year, and it has been extremely successful. I would say 20% of our engagements on any given month are through SMS text messaging. There’s a fallacy in thinking that portals and apps are the way to go. Those are dead. Apps are dead. You don’t make patients go to your proprietary software to have an encounter. You go to where the patient is.

There are only two places that they ubiquitously are, on their phone and on their phone — telephonically on their phone and texting on their phone. We go to where the patient is. That’s why our engagement rates are off the charts. You don’t want to force them to have to open your app and enter their username and password. We have seen, through Meaningful Use, single-digit engagement rates for View, Download, and Transmit healthcare records. Our focus is doing what’s convenient for the patient.

That started telephonically, and now we’ve extended that to SMS text messaging. A patient has to opt in and give consent. We do it in a secure, encrypted, HIPAA-compliant way. But as Boomers age into Medicare, that youngest cohort in Medicare has a preference for texting versus telephonic engagement. It’s important that we go to where patients want us to go in regards to how they want to engage and communicate.

Does that dispel the notion that older patients are less interested than younger ones in using their phones to help manage their affairs, including healthcare?

Differentiate between phone and what we often think of as a computer. As we age, more and more of us are more comfortable with computers and using smartphones. We certainly see lower engagement levels around technology for older Americans. Data I saw last week shows that smartphone usage in 80-plus people is dramatically lower than 65-plus among ChartSpan’s cohort. It’s still a problem, and it’s a real problem, but it’s becoming less so over time as more and more people age into Medicare. Those people are coming from a world where they had to be able to manage digital tools like smartphones and computers.

You’re focused on a specific Medicare-paid service that CMS could change. How do you position the company accordingly?

We have been working hard on legislation that would remove the barrier of a co-pay. CMS released retrospective claims analysis for two years of CCM billing and it was eye-opening. It showed that for a patient who has been in the program for a year, taxpayers and Medicare save $74 per patient per month. After the reimbursement, they save 41 cents on the dollar, roughly $31 net. Keep this in perspective. There are 63 million Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients, and CMS says 68% are eligible for a CCM program. That’s 43 million patients. Take 43 million times $31 a month and you’ve just cut billions of dollars a year in spending that goes back to Medicare and taxpayers.

Congress is paying attention. There is a bill, H.R. 3436, that we have been working hard on over the last couple of years. We are trying to get this pushed through Congress and we think it has a decent chance this year. It would remove the co-pay. Why are we tripping over pennies to get the dollars? Why are we going to charge a patient $8 when taxpayers save $74? Let’s just save the $66 and move from hundreds of thousands of patients enrolled to millions, and let’s focus on improving at scale outcomes for patients and reducing costs.

We spent the first part of our company’s history focused on one thing, and that was chronic care management. We were deliberate in that. We said until we are truly the best in the world at what we do, we’re not going to expand into any other offering. I don’t know that you ever wake up and look in a mirror, and say, “I’m the best.” But we feel like, certainly from a size standpoint, that we are the largest, and we certainly think we’re the best.

We looked at other opportunities where we could grow the business. Our customers told us over and over that we should focus on Annual Wellness Visits. I didn’t understand that. An AWV seems so simple — a self-reported, 10-minute questionnaire by a patient. There’s no co-pay. How in the world are four out of five Medicare patients walking into the doctor’s office multiple times a year and never getting one of these done? If you look at any ACO, it’s one of their core operational components to do AWVs. It saves, on average, nearly 6% in cost on an annual basis for a typical Medicare patient.

What we figured out was that it had nothing to do with the questionnaire. It had to do with the fact that there was poor technology and poor processes around how AWVs are done. Again, according to claims data, only 19% of Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients got an AWV last year. When we studied that, we saw that there’s a 41% no-show rate for AWV appointments. Candidly, patients come to the doctor when they’re sick, not when they want to prevent something. So if you are scheduling preventative care appointments, you’re going to lose a ton of money in no-shows.

We designed a SaaS-based product that turns a sick visit into a well visit. When the patient comes to the doctor’s office, they’re predisposed while in the waiting room to fill out paperwork. Seize that moment. Give them a ChartSpan AWV. In 10 minutes, they will complete that AWV, which doesn’t interrupt the workflow of the provider and doesn’t put a burden on the practice. They hand it to the front desk. That patient report is either printed or emailed to the patient and the provider report is uploaded into the EHR.

What we also realized around AWVs is that the questionnaire is simple. The thing that’s largely ignored around AWVs is the upstream and downstream data component around that. When I say upstream, I mean that there’s not an AWV in the country that’s checking the HETS database in real time to even know if that patient is eligible. Furthermore, if you’re missing demographic data as so many patients are, there’s no query system that reconciles that missing data and prompts, in real time, the front desk to say, “Hey, we’re missing a Medicare ID,” or, “We’ve got a change of name.” Fix it and then hit the HETS database in real time so that you actually know if that patient is eligible and which AWV code they’re eligible for. We built all that.

On the downside, the real value of an AWV is the aggregate care gap identification data that comes from an AWV. Quality managers are having to figure out, how do I port that into my population health system? How do I make sense of this? We spent a lot of time investing and building the backend data that allows a quality manager to go in and say, “Of all the AWVs today, this week, this month, this year, where do I have care gaps for fall risk assessments?” or whatever the quality measure may be. That data then needs to become actionable at the patient level. We built that as well. It’s a really sophisticated AWV product and we are really proud of it. We don’t think there’s anybody in the marketplace who has anything like what we have.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

    • I think he is stating that in regard to ‘now’ and their 80 yo audience. He says that the 65 yo members are more computer savvy, and that the future Medicare members will be even more so …

      But for now, the telephone (which could be a landline) and texting (for mobiles) are how they work with their audience

      At least, that it my interpretation

    • As a developer, I can give you my take. And software is my whole world, so…

      Such statements are typically meant to drive management and development choices. They have value (assuming you agree with them) in that they can help clarify current architectural decisions and strategic choices.

      Here’s where they break down though. Suppose you are in a resource-limited environment. You built your iPhone app 5+ years ago, and it works just fine. Maybe you have an older web site and since it was never intended to be your mobile solution, it doesn’t do the device detection and layout changes to support mobile devices.

      In this case, you have iPhone support, and you have desktop support. Tablets can use your web site and they will be fine. The only hole in your device support is Android.

      In this situation, I’d say that this app isn’t “dead”, it’s very much alive. And to add Android support, you could either choose to update your web site HTML 5 code, or add an Android app.

      When resource limited, and dealing with existing systems and a legacy of choices, “apps are dead” can sound a little blasé and soundbite-y. Now add in organizational politics, budgeting, and available skill sets. The choices get more complicated.

      Absent those factors though, there’s a lot to like about “apps are dead”. You get a single code base that supports all devices. Support lines tend to be simpler too.

      But sometimes? An old app can do a better job than the new replacement!

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