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Making the Case for a Unique Patient Identifier – #MyHealthID

Posted on April 13, 2016 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

Healthcare is a high priority for the US Government and as HIM professionals, we know the importance of keeping our fingers on the pulse of issues facing our nation. We must stay current with proposed regulatory changes and those that address the needs of the US healthcare system as they relate to HIM, privacy and security, and Health IT. One issue our nation has struggled with is secure universal identification for citizens. Social security numbers were not originally meant to be secure identifiers yet they have controversially been used as unique identifiers by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for many years.

In our line of work, we see all of the potential negative implications and the important role that patient identification plays in patient safety, HIPAA compliance, and health record accuracy. When patients are not appropriately identified throughout the continuum of care, many issues arise that can lead to misdiagnosing, incomplete information, unnecessary testing, and fraud to name a few. Duplicates and overlays are far too common due to issues matching patient names and dates of birth versus using a universal secure identifier. Sharing information through health information exchange is nearly impossible when patients are registered in multiple systems with different spellings or misidentification.

The HITECH act of 2009 laid the ground work for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to standardize unique health identifiers among other tasks but we have yet to see any real progress on this subject due to federal budget barriers. In response to this, AHIMA sees this as a critical need and has started a petition to the White House to:

“Remove the federal budget ban that prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from participating in efforts to find a patient identification solution. We support a voluntary patient safety identifier. Accurate patient identification is critical in providing safe care, but the sharing of electronic health information is being compromised because of patient identification issues. Let’s start the conversation and find a solution.”

The campaign is called MyHealthID and looks to have 100,000 signatures on the petition to garner the attention of the US Government. HIM professionals recently took to Washington, DC to visit with Congressmen and Senators from each state to advocate for MyHealthID. The message that “there’s only one you,” hopes to resonate with politicians and make the case that a unique patient identifier is necessary and important to healthcare.

I encourage all healthcare professionals to sign this petition and assist the advocacy efforts toward a unique patient identifier. MyHealthID will not only help with HIM and Health IT initiatives; it will be in the best interest of healthcare consumers nationwide.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Maybe It’s Time To Phase Out The Meaningful Use Program

Posted on December 29, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Since Stage 1 of the Meaningful Use incentive program kicked off in 2011, the level of health IT adoption has risen dramatically across the United States. As publicly-funded programs go, it’s had quite a ride.

A few years in, nearly 97% of U.S. hospitals had achieved Stage 1 or higher of the HIMSS EMR Adoption model (as of Q1 2015). And a plurality (roughly 57%) were at Stage 5 or higher.

Meanwhile, 83% of office-based doctors are now using EMRs, according to a recent report from ONC.  The percentage drops to 74% when counting only physicians using certified EMRs, but that’s still a very substantial increase over the 57% of office-based docs using EMRs in 2011.

Whether this progress was worth the $28.1 billion paid out (as of December 2014) is anyone’s guess, but clearly, the program had a huge impact. In fact, it’s hard to argue that MU payments helped to trigger a major change in how medicine is practiced.

That being said, some critics are floating the idea that it’s time to retire Meaningful Use, or at minimum, pull back its implementation dramatically. For example, HIT superstar John Halamka contends that Meaningful Use programs “have served their purpose.”

In his blog, Halamka — who serves as CIO of both the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center — suggests that Stage 3 of MU is little more than a multi-train pile-up (the following quote is long but deserves to be read in full):

 Stage 3 makes many of the same mistakes as Stage 2, trying to do too much too soon. It requires patient accessible Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) without specifying any standards.   It requires sending discharge e-prescriptions although pharmacies cannot widely support the cancel transaction that is essential to discharge medication management workflow.   It requires public health transactions but CMS has no authority to require public health authorities to standardize the way they receive data.

Clinicians cannot get through a 12 minute visit, enter the necessary Stage 3 data elements, reconcile problems/allergies/medications from multiple institutions, meet the demands of the  Stage 3 clinical quality measures, make eye contact with patients, and deliver safe medical care.

Having read the above, you won’t be surprised to learn that elsewhere, Halamka argues that Stage 3 of Meaningful Use should be dropped completely. Instead, he’d like to see the government offer merit-based rewards for positive outcomes and innovative approaches.

While Halamka’s arguments make a lot of sense, another group of people want to address the fact that the Meaningful Use program incentives have never been available to most mental health providers. As readers may know, mental health facilities such as psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities currently aren’t eligible for Medicaid and Medicare MU incentives. Also, front-line mental health professionals such as psychologists and licensed social workers are not included in the current definition of “eligible professionals.”

A bill progressing through the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 2646 (“Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015”) proposes to add clinical psychologists to the list of eligible professionals, and psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, residential or outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities to the list of eligible providers. While I’m not suggesting that Meaningful Use as currently structured is the only way to address the mental health industry’s HIT needs, those needs shouldn’t be forgotten. In fact, John would argue that not being involved in meaningful use might be the best thing that happened to mental health EHR.

I’d agree that eliminating — or at minimum transforming — the existing Meaningful Use program may be a good idea. Better to try something new than drag providers through a wasteful, painful rout.

Rural Hospitals Catching Up In HIT Adoption

Posted on December 14, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Historically, rural hospitals have lagged when it comes to health IT adoption. But according to at least one yardstick, the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model (EMRAM), rural facilities seem to have closed much of the gap.

Just a few years ago, many rural hospitals were barely at stage one of the model, which ranks facilities from Stage 0 (All three ancillaries not installed) to Stage 7 (Complete EMR; CCD transactions to share data; Data warehousing; Data continuity with ED, ambulatory, OP). Only two years ago, research suggested that rural and critical access hospitals were lagging far behind in meeting Meaningful Use criteria, and risked incurring penalties this year.

By the end of 2014, however, rural hospitals averaged a Stage 4 rating (CPOE, Clinical Decision Support (clinical protocols). This compares favorably with the 4.7 rank achieved by urban hospitals, and though academic/teaching hospitals were well ahead at a 5.4 ranking, that’s a much smaller difference than you might have seen even five years ago. Meaningful Use incentives, plus overall industry pressure to automate, seem to have done their job.

I’m pondering this, in part, because the CPSI acquisition of Healthland piqued my interest. CPSI picked up Healthland, a provider of rural and critical access hospital software, for $250 million. Given rural hospitals’ history of slow HIT adoption, I wasn’t sure what CPSI saw in Healthland, though the deal does bring revenue cycle management and an EMR for post-acute care facilities to the table.

Now that I’ve learned what progress the rural health IT market has seen, I’m no longer so skeptical. In fact, when you consider that the Healthland acquisition brings 3,300 post-acute customers that it didn’t have before, it seems like CPSI got a pretty nice deal.

Given the growing strength of the rural HIT market, I don’t think the Healthland buyout will be the last domino to fall here. I can easily imagine the giants — Cerner in particular — seeing their way clear to acquiring the combined CPSI/Healthland entity. Why Cerner? Well, if for no other reasons than having a ton of cash — and a more flexible attitude than Epic — I can imagine Cerner getting excited about rural access.

But even putting aside M&A dynamics, the news from rural markets is still intriguing. While having sophisticated health IT infrastructure is a plus anywhere, my guess is that it will be particularly powerful for rural and critical access hospitals. I hope that the growth of HIT capabilities brings a breath of fresh air — and the benefits of cutting-edge care management — to facilities that have traditionally gotten the short end of the stick.

Another Giant In Play: 3M Looking At “Strategic Alternatives” For HIS Unit

Posted on September 14, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Given the staggering number of EMR launches that took place in the wake of the Meaningful Use kickoff, mergers, sell-offs and business failures were quite predictable. Despite the feds’ doling out $30B in incentive dollars, even that wasn’t enough to keep hundreds of EMR entrants afloat.

It hasn’t been as clear what would happen to large vendors with HIT interests, given that they had enough capital to ride more than one wave of provider adoption. The field has just begun to shake out, with only a small handful of major transactions taking place. Recent plays by large tech players include Cerner’s $1.3B acquisition of Siemens Health Services, which included the Soarian EMR. There’s also ADP’s sale of EMR solution AdvancedMD to Marlin Equity Partners after previously acquiring e-MDs. Not to mention Greenway and Vitera Healthcare Solutions joining forces and Pri-Med acquiring Amazing Charts.

Another major move was announced this April at HIMSS 15, when GE Healthcare announced that it was phasing out its Centricity Enterprise product. According to news reports, the Enterprise product only generated 5% of the Healthcare division’s EMR revenue. I could keep going, but you get the point.

Now, 3M has joined the fray, announcing this week that it was “exploring strategic alternatives” for its HIS business, including spinning off or selling the unit.  (It’s also considering keeping its HIS business on board and investing in its future.)  The company, which has signed Goldman, Sachs & Co. as strategic advisor and investment banker, says that it will probably announce what direction it will head in by the end of the first quarter of next year.

On the surface, 3M Health Information Systems looks like a very solid business. The HIS unit, which is focused on computer-assisted coding, clinical documentation improvement, performance monitoring, quality outcomes reporting and terminology management, reportedly works with more than 5,000 hospitals, plus government and commercial payers. According to 3M, the HIS business generated trailing 12-month revenues of about $730M, and has sustained 10%+ compounded annual growth for 10 years.

That being said, it’s hard to say what the fallout from the ICD-10 switchover will be, and it’s not unreasonable for 3M to consider whether it wants to compete in the post-switchover world. After all, while the HIS unit seems to be quite healthy, it’s certainly faces stiff competition from several directions, including EMRs with integrated billing and coding technology. Also, the company may be saddled with outdated legacy infrastructure, which makes it hard to keep up in this new era of revenue cycle management.

By the end of the first quarter of 2016, 3M will have had a chance to see how its customers are faring post-ICD-10, and how its customers needs are shifting. 3M will also find out whether other HIS players with (presumably) newer technology in place are interested in doing a rollup with its business.

Truthfully, if 3M doesn’t think it can benefit from investing in the HIS unit, I’m not sure who else would benefit from doing so. In fact, I’d argue that 3M is undermining its chances at a deal by waffling over whether it plans to invest or divest; as I see it, this implies that the HIS unit will be on life support without a major cash infusion, which is not something I’d find attractive as an investor.  If nothing else I’d want to buy the unit at a firesale price! But I guess we’ll have to wait until March 2016 to see what happens.

Even Without Meaningful Use Dollars, EMRs Still Selling

Posted on June 10, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I don’t know about you, readers, but I found the following data to be rather surprising. According to a couple of new market research reports summarized by Healthcare IT News, U.S. providers continue to be eager EMR buyers, despite the decreasing flow of Meaningful Use incentive dollars.

On the surface, it looks like the U.S. EMR market is pretty saturated. In fact, a recent CMS survey found that more than 80% of U.S. doctors have used EMRs, spurred almost entirely by the carrot of incentive payments and coming penalties. CMS had made $30 billion in MU incentive payments as of March 2015. (Whether they truly got what they paid for is another story.)

But according to Kalorama Information, there’s still enough business to support more than 400 vendors. Though the research house expects to see vendor M&A shrink the list, analysts contend that there’s still room for new entrants in the EMR space. (Though they rightfully note that smaller vendors may not have the capital to clear the hurdles to certification, which could be a growth-killer.)

Kalorama found that EMR sales grew 10% between 2012 and 2014, driven by medical groups doing system upgrades and hospitals and physician groups buying new systems, and predicts that the U.S. EMR market will climb to $35.2 billion by 2019. Hospital EMR upgrades should move more quickly than physician practice EMR upgrades, Kalorama suggests.

Another research report suggests that the reason providers are still buying EMRs may be a preference for a different technical model. Eighty-three percent of 5,700 small and solo-practitioner medical practices reported that they are fond of cloud-based EMRs, according to Black Book Rankings.

In fact, practices seem to have fallen in love with Web-based EMRs, with 81% of practices telling Black Book that they were happy with implementation, updates, usability and ability to customize their system, according to the Q2 2015 survey. Only 13% of doctor felt their EMRs met or exceeded expectations in 2012, when cloud-based EMRs were less common.

Now, neither research firm seems to have spelled out how practices and hospitals are going to pay for all of this next-generation EMR hotness, so we might look back at the current wave of investment as the time providers got in over their head again. Even a well-capitalized, profitable health system can be brought to its knees by the cost of a major EMR upgrade, after all.

But particularly if you’re a hospital EMR vendor, it looks like news from the demand front is better than you might have expected.

Is No Flex-IT the Best thing for EHR and Healthcare?

Posted on September 24, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Strategically placed during National Health IT Week, 17 healthcare organizations sent a letter to HHS requesting that the meaningful use reporting period for 2015 be adjusted from 365 days to 90 days. Along with that, the Flex-IT act was introduced to congress in order to legislate this change. It’s always hard to predict what congress will do, but many believe that the Flex-IT act will get tagged on to something else and get passed. We’ll see if that indeed happens.

What everyone I talk to agrees is that the 365 day meaningful use stage 2 reporting period is going to be impossible for hospitals to meet. Sure, a few hospitals might make some herculean effort and meet it, but they’ll be so few and far between that they’ll be a rounding error.

What would it mean to healthcare and meaningful use if almost every hospital opts out of the meaningful use program? This isn’t too hard to imagine. A large portion of the meaningful use money has already been spent and the penalties don’t look that bad when you consider the costs and risks associated with the all or nothing meaningful use program.

If the MU reporting period doesn’t change, I think it spells the death of meaningful use. Sure, the program will subsist for those who have attested, but it will be a defunct program with so few participants that the program will have little impact. Plus, we’ll see a wave of efforts to make sure that those penalties for not being meaningful users of an EHR are removed much like has been done with the SGR fix year after year.

The Flex-IT act would at least keep meaningful use on life support. MU 2 is much harder, but with a change to a 90 day reporting period many will do it to avoid the penalties and get the last bit of EHR incentive money. If we want meaningful use to survive, then the Flex-IT act (or something that does something similar) is going to be essential to its future.

I’m just personally not sure that the Flex-IT act is such a great thing for EHR or the industry. Is it better to keep meaningful use on life support or bite the bullet now and have meaningful use die on the vine.

One might argue that meaningful use has accomplished it’s main goal: adoption of EHR software. It’s dramatically accelerated the adoption of EHR software. Would it be such a bad thing for meaningful use to disappear now? With MU gone, we could return to a more rationale EHR market. I guess this is where I’m torn on whether getting the Flex-IT act passed is a good or a bad idea.

What do you think? Is the Flex-IT act a good idea or should we just fall on the sword now as opposed to prolonging the regulation?

AHA urges agencies to speed up EMR choice expansion

Posted on June 23, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In a move that shouldn’t surprise anybody, the American Hospital Association is urging CMS and the ONC to hurry up and finalize new rules which would expand choice for certified EMRs.

The AHA letter argues that its members are on the verge of walking away from Meaningful Use. But if CMS and the ONC speed ahead with with the new proposed rules — which would offer more choice in specific meaningful use requirements they must meet this year — hospitals will be much better equipped to proceed.

Why the rush? Well, for one thing, the letter argues, time is of the essence for hospitals, which have to decide their meaningful use strategy for fiscal 2014. If they must make choices before the new rule is finalized, it could cause them “significant financial and operational harm,” the AHA contends.

Meanwhile, if the agencies don’t push these rules through quickly, “many providers are likely to conclude that they cannot meet meaningful use this year and abandon the program,” wrote Linda Fishman, AHA senior vice president of public policy analysis and development, in a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD.

The letter also takes on other issues. It asks that CMS and ONC clarify the rules implementation, offer more flexibility in the reporting of clinical quality measures, shorten the MU reporting period for 2015 in analyze lessons learned from Stage 2 before finalizing Stage 3’s start date, according to HealthcareITNews.

The AHA’s letter comes at a challenging time for the meaningful use program generally, which has of late attracted broader attention than it has in the past.

Not only are industry groups pressuring ONC, legislators are too. For example, at a recent health IT conference, U.S. Rep Tom Price, MD, R-GA, argued that meaningful use is “maybe not even doing what needs to be done as it relates to patients and physicians.”

In his remarks, Price argued that meaningful use could be improved by keeping the patient front and center, making sure patients know they own their health data and establishing an interoperability standard.  But he suggests that because the MU program roadmap was laid out in the HITECH Act, it’s not as fluid as it should be and doesn’t accommodate such concerns.

The reality, however, is that there is no simple way to get interoperability; right now, we’re lucky if individual EMRs meet providers’ needs.  Despite the demands from other stakeholders, health IT vendors still have a lot more to gain by creating islands rather than interoperable products.

6 Hospitals’ Meaningful Use Payment Numbers

Posted on May 20, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Becker’s Hospital CIO has posted some really interesting data about the meaningful use payments that hospitals have received. They very smartly looked at the first quarter financial reports for 6 hospitals that disclosed their EHR stimulus payments. Check out the data below:

  1. Community Health Systems (Franklin, Tenn.): $40 million, up from $19 million during the first quarter of 2013
  2. IASIS Healthcare (Franklin, Tenn.): $4 million, down from $5 million during the first quarter of 2013
  3. Tenet Healthcare (Dallas): $9 million, up from $5 million during the first quarter of 2013
  4. Hospital Corporation of America (Nashville, Tenn.): $30 million, down from $39 million during the first quarter of 2013.
  5. LifePoint Hospitals (Brentwood, Tenn.): $14 million, up from $6 million during the first quarter of 2013
  6. Universal Health Services (King of Prussia, Pa.): $430,000, down from $4.7 million during the first quarter of 2013

It’s interesting to see some of them have their payments really fall off. We’ll see how this data plays out over time, but I think it’s another data point that meaningful use stage 2 has issues and we should consider blowing up meaningful use.

4 Hospitals Have Achieved Meaningful Use Stage 2 – Yes…4

Posted on May 7, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Yesterday a presentation was done to the HIT Policy Committee. The slide below certainly paints an interesting picture for meaningful use stage 2. There’s still time, but when you consider hospitals rush to get the EHR incentive money under stage 1 this number doesn’t bode well for MU stage 2.

HITPC_CMS_Update_2014-05-06

Hospital Chief Accused of $800,000 in Meaningful Use Fraud

Posted on February 12, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Now here’s a case of the type I’ve never seen before, but expect to see more of it going forward given the temptations involved. According to the Dallas Morning News, the top administrator and CFO of a now closed chain of hospitals is facing charges that he defrauded the government of nearly $800,000 in EMR stimulus funds.

The administrator, Joe White, and the doctor who owned the hospitals, Tariq Mahmood, are accused of identity theft and stealing government healthcare funds. Meanwhile, it’s alleged that White falsely certified that Shelby Regional Medical Center in East Texas has met the requirements to receive Meaningful Use funds. Federal authorities assert that White used a computer ID and Social Security number belonging to another employee who had refused to attest at the hospital.

White is also accused of demanding that data be manually inserted from paper records into the incomplete EMR, in an effort to meet Meaningful Use qualifications.

This comes as a follow-up to the catastrophic failure of Mahmood’s six-hospital chain, which came after years of increasing financial chaos, with the hospitals mounting up millions of dollars in debts to vendors and landlords. As the hospitals fell apart financially, inspectors were documenting hundreds of patient care failures, the Dallas Morning News reports.

This came amid questions as to whether White was qualified to run a medical center, given his past record as a RadioShack salesman and a maintenance man.