Mandatory Encounter Notifications Keep Physicians in the Care Huddle
By Samit Desai, MD
Samit Desai, MD is chief medical officer of Audacious Inquiry of Baltimore, MD.
Primary care physicians (PCPs) are often compared to the quarterback of a football team, as they understand all of the players involved. With this knowledge, PCPs can execute a proper game plan for their patients and direct them along the right routes in the care continuum process.
But imagine a quarterback trying to run the offense without any knowledge of what yard line the team is on. That’s often the situation PCPs face when they do not have up-to-date information about their patients.
With accurate, real-time information—such as when patients are admitted to the hospital or discharged—PCPs can make the right play calls to provide more efficient care, keep patients healthy, and reduce hospital readmissions. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes the importance of these “electronic encounter notifications” to such an extent the agency took the extraordinary step of issuing a mandate: hospitals must make admission, discharge, and transfer data available to patient-identified PCPs and other practitioners, as a condition of participation (CoP) in Medicare and Medicaid. Hospitals must meet this specific e-notification requirement by April 30, 2021.
This is good news, although it is not a simple process. I suspect many hospitals wonder if this CoP notification ruling is simply another administrative hurdle without impact. The truth is that accurate encounter notifications will improve care for patients and keep PCPs in the loop, but hospitals need to prepare now.
CMS has valued this information-sharing process and has encouraged notifications and follow up for years, including through the creation of the TCM Billing Code. These notifications, plus provider outreach to patients that can be as simple as a follow-up call, can help reduce readmissions, which in turn lowers costs for everyone. As the industry continues its steady transition to value-based care, there’s been a greater focus from government, health plans, and providers when it comes to providing access to patient data for improved care coordination. PCPs and providers are better informed through more opportunities to walk through patient conditions, debrief on procedures, conduct medication reconciliation, and coordinate any necessary next steps and communications with specialists.
These notification requirements are new for some hospitals, and compliance is not as simple as flipping a switch. Hospitals are burdened with obstacles and must account for other priorities, including updating registration workflows, supporting new EMR configurations, and preparing for regulatory audits.
To meet these challenges and remain eligible to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, hospitals are increasingly looking for an experienced partner who can help navigate federal regulations and provide the technical capabilities required to deliver effective encounter notifications. For the CoP notification requirement to serve its intended purpose, hospitals should evaluate the options available and look for services that support patient-asserted and provider-attributed alerts.
Transitions of care are among the most crucial moments for patients, and we cannot afford to let anyone fall through the cracks. These new CoP requirements are an encouraging development and will ensure that these critical care coordination technologies are available to patients nationwide.
When hospitals and other providers work from the same playbook and share real-time encounter notifications, patients will benefit from better care coordination, tailored follow ups, and improved health outcomes.