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

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.

February 12, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Survey: CIO Pay Isn’t Keeping Up With Responsibilities

With EMRs, ICD-10, HIEs and countless additional technical responsibilities being heaped on the head of healthcare CIOs, one would think that they were paid well for their trouble.  And in most cases, they are.  But a new survey suggests that healthcare CIO pay isn’t keeping up as their responsibilities grow, according to Healthcare IT News.

The survey, by retained executive search firm SSI Search, points out that healthcare reform and the HITECH Act of 2009 have but previously unheard-of pressures on CIOs and IT teams to handle major technology changes and new requirements, “arguably some of the greatest changes to impact modern healthcare in America,” SSI said.

According to SSI Search’, which surveyed 178 respondents,, the typical healthcare CIO these days is a well-educated male who has served in the CIO role for 10 years.  Specifically, 82 percent of respondents were male, 97 percent have a college degree and 61 percent have a master’s degree, Healthcare IT News reports.

Total compensation for these CIOs ranged widely, from less than $125,000 to more than $724,000 per year, Healthcare IT News notes.  But that compensation didn’t track closely with the level of responsibility these CIOs are taking on, the study found. Thirty-eight percent of CIOs reported having an increase in compensation of 10 percent or less over the past four years, SSI concluded.

It’s not that we should feel sorry for these CIOs who, after all, make far more  than most average Americans. But it’s worth noting that their already overloaded plate is having even more piled on it these days.  Whether it’s reflected directly in their compensation or not, CIOs deserve acknowledgement that their very tough job is getting tougher.

For what it’s worth, CIOs seem more or less content with their pay, with more than half reporting that their current compensation is “good – in line with expectations.”

September 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Critical Access, Small Hospitals Lagging In Meaningful Use

Many critical access hospitals and other smaller hospitals are falling behind on Meaningful Use and may be at risk for being slapped with Medicare reimbursement penalties in 2015, according to a study reported in Health Data Management.

The study, which appeared in the journal Health Affairs, was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and the American Hospital Association.  Its bottom line conclusion was that smaller and rural hospitals were less likely than other hospitals to have met Stage 1 criteria, and that very few had all of the IT systems in place needed to reach Stage 2, HDM reports.

The researchers noted that between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of hospitals with at least 200 beds getting Meaningful Use almost doubled, but that those with less than 100 beds had a lower rate of Meaningful Use compliance. Meanwhile, the proportion of critical access hospitals that received a Meaningful Use payment in 2012 fell slightly from the previous year.

The study also concluded that teaching hospitals had a higher rate of Meaningful Use compliance than non-teaching hospitals, and that a small percentage of government-owned and non-profit hospitals received MU incentive payments compared with for-profit facilities.

According to Health Data Management, the study isolated three challenges faced by critical access and smaller hospitals:

* Low patient volume complicates long-range planning and limits ability to maintain adequate cash flow,

* The hospitals may not be able to offer competitive salaries for skilled information technology professionals, and

* Smaller hospitals may have difficulty finding a suitable I.T. vendor.

It’s not lost on the ONC that these hospitals face significant disadvantages in getting their Meaningful Use program rolling. About a year ago, the agency rolled out a campaign intended to get 1,000 critical access and small rural hospitals meaningfully using certified EMR technology by the end of 2014. To get things rolling, ONC is spending up to $30 million for Regional Extension Centers targeting these facilities.

But as I see it, funding more REC activity is far from enough. The plain fact is that mounting a Meaningful Use program is time consuming and expensive, so much so that some smaller hospitals simply make it happen without help. Maybe the time has come for the feds to offer grants outright to hospitals struggling with these challenges.

August 14, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Feds Plan EMR Certification For Specialty Facilities

Federal HIT leaders are planning to set up a voluntary program for testing and certification of EMRs used by behavioral health, long-term care and post-acute care, according to a story in Modern Healthcare. 

As things currently stand, they’re off the hook, as ARRA doesn’t require long-term or behavioral health facilities to buy certified EMRs.

These plans came to light last week at a webinar held by outgoing ONC head Farzad Mostashari, who said that his office is working on what the scope of such a program should be, MH reports. The webinar was held to discuss government officials’ reaction to public comments on how to improve interoperability.

In its original request for input, federal regulators noted that 4 in 10 hospitals were sending lab and radiology information to outside providers, though only one in four were  exchanging medication lists and clinical summaries, Modern Healthcare said.

Meanwhile, only 6 percent of long-term acute-care hospitals, 4 percent of rehab hospitals and 2 percent of psychiatric hospitals had even a basic EMR, the feds reported.

Launching these specialty-focused options seems like a logical next step for the certification program, and a long-delayed one at that. EMR certification has been a fact of life for several years, since then-ONC chief David Brailer kicked off the formation of the CCHIT.

Over the long haul, however, such new certification options may not be worth much unless they’re better matched to provider needs. My colleague John, for one, thinks the certification will have to change to actually offer value to doctors and healthcare organizations.

What do you think, readers?  Do you think certification programs for EMRs are a waste of time, or do you see them doing anything meaningful to improve care?

August 13, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

AHA, AMA Seek More Flexible Meaningful Use Requirements

The American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association have sent a joint letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for more flexibility in the requirements for the Meaningful Use program, iHealthBeat reports.

The two trade groups, which called the program’s requirements “overly burdensome,” argue that as the current Meaningful Use program is structured, it’s too hard for some providers to keep up. “[W]e believe that the best way to move the program forward and ensure that no providers, particularly small and rural ones, are left behind is to realign the meaningful use program’s current requirements to ensure a safe, orderly transition to Stage 2,” the letter adds.

The letter makes four recommendations to improve the Meaningful Use program for providers, iHealthBeat notes:

* Let providers meet Stage 1 requirements using either a 2011- or 2014-certified EMR

* Set up a 90-day reporting period for the first year of each new stage of the program, applicable to all providers;

* Give providers increased flexibility to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements

* Extend each stage of the Meaningful Use  program to a minimum term of three years for all providers

The AHA submitted also submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee last week asking legislators to give providers more flexibility within the Meaningful Use program.

As things stand, unless current requirements for electronic clinical quality measures are changed, “clinicians [will be] spending extensive amounts of time working for the EHRs” rather than having the EMRs work for them, the trade group suggested.

As part of its testimony, the AHA presented case studies drawn from four separate hospitals. Based on the issues arising at these hospitals, the group recommended several changes to MU, including using fewer, better-tested electronic quality reporting measures, starting with Stage 2, and making EMRs and electronic clinical quality measure reporting tools more flexible to align data capture with the nuances of workflow.

July 30, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Again, With More Gusto: Could Meaningful Use Incentives Be Slashed?

As readers of this publication know, your editor has previously held forth on the issue of whether Meaningful Use incentive funds could be cut in the current rush to snip budgets.

With the sequester seemingly moving forward, though, and continued budget-cutting fights underway, it seems a good time to address the matter again.  So I’ll plow on, partly in response to a nicely-detailed editorial by Tom Sullivan, editor of Government Health IT.

In his editorial, Sullivan notes that 40 percent of its readers expect health IT’s bipartsan support to continue, while 25 percent argue that opposition to health IT spending is brewing on the Hill. (Another 36 percent of his readers argued that health IT momentum would continue whether or not government keeps on doling out incentive funds.)

But are his readers right about the political climate?  To get more insight, Sullivan speaks to some authorities on the subject of health IT spending, including Scott Lundstrom, group vice president of consultancy for IDC’s Health Insights Unit.

In his comments, Lundstrom points out that while there’s probably enough support for health IT capabilities — notably improved processes and quality and controlling healthcare costs — there’s a catch.  He suggests that funds from HITECH which pay for the incentives, $10 billion of which still haven’t been disbursed, are a tempting target for budget shrinkers, possibly under the mantle of clawing back stimulus funding.

Lundstrom’s on to something there. Given that the stimulus was not a bipartisan project, it does seem to me that health IT fans may finally have something to worry about. That’s especially true given the letter four congressmen wrote to HHS in September arguing for a halt in Meaningful Use disbursements until better interoperability was achieved.

I’m not a political junkie and have no access to Capitol Hill chatter on this subject. But as a supporter of Meaningful Use payouts generally — if not every detail of their execution — I’m troubled by Lundstrom’s analysis, as I do think the lack of progress on  interoperability to date gives MU foes a toehold.

Cutbacks on EMR incentives would probably do little to stop the automation of hospitals.  But I think it’s fairly clear that market momentum would not push the reluctant small group practices which are still health IT challenged to pick up costly, confusing, hard to use EMRs without some reward for their efforts.  It’s that sector we should be worrying about if the budget cutters’ eye turns to that $10 million incentive reserve.

March 15, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

What HIMSS Told Congress

This week, a House subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Is ‘Meaningful Use’ Delivering Meaningful Results?: An Examination of Health  Information Technology Standards and Interoperability.”  The hearing follows a recent furor over Meaningful Use’s benefits, in which HHS head Kathleen Sebelius was written a stinging letter by a quartet of Congressman arguing that the program might not be pulling its weight.

Lots of interesting discussion took place at the hearing — see a report from the indefatigable HIT blogger and expert Brian Ahier for more background — but for the purposes of this item, I’m focusing on what HIMSS had to say.

HIMSS, which obviously has a massive stake in the topic discussed, is a big Meaningful Use fan. The trade group argues that “Meaningful Use and the Stage 2 regulations allow the healthcare community to continue the necessary steps to ensure health information technology will support the transformation of healthcare delivery in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, HIMSS showed up in full color at the hearing, ready to defend MU and the progress of health IT generally. HIMSS offered Congress seven recommendations as to how to keep the MU train moving, Ahier reports. Here’s my favorites:

  1. Direct the administration to initiate an appropriate study of a nationwide patient data matching strategy with a report back to Congress.
  2. Support harmonization of federal and state privacy laws and regulations to encourage the exchange of health information across health systems, payers, and vendor systems.
  3. Continue to support and sponsor pilot programs addressing the collection, analysis and management of clinical data for quality reporting purposes to assist providers and provider organizations make informed decisions for public health, patient care and business purposes.
  4. Preclude any additional delay in the nationwide implementation of ICD-10, International Classification of Diseases beyond the current October 1, 2014 deadline.

Other than the ICD-10 recommendation, which will probably be battled down to the last millisecond by some groups, I’m betting most readers would consider these to be reasonable steps. But I could be wrong. And I don’t see a lot here on the nitty-gritty of interoperability, which was the focus of the Congressmen’s ire in the first  place.  Folks, what would you add to/subtract from this list?

November 16, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Hospitals Behind On EMR ROI Measurements

Buying an EMR is one of biggest investments a hospital IT department is likely to make. To date, however, few hospitals are planning for and implementing EMR ROI measures early in the game, according to a new study from Beacon Partners.

Beacon interviewed more than 300 healthcare leaders about the clinical system performance measures they used for their EMR, as well as the resulting ROI.  What researchers found out was that most respondents weren’t happy with their organization’s attempts to measure the ROI on their EMR spend — and that many hospitals aren’t directly measuring ROI at all.

According to healthcare leaders who spoke with Beacon, quality management and IT departments, rather than financial executives,  generally institute EMR performance measures. All told, 40 percent of respondents said that they were using performance measures, but only 36 percent were satisfied with the extent to which the data was being used to measure the value EMRs brought to their organization, Beacon reports.

The problem may spring from a lack of planning. According to Beacon’s respondents, less than half (48 percent) of performance measures are determined during planning.  In fact, 32 percent of providers said that performance measures were implemented in at least one patient care area post-EMR implementation.  Fifty-one percent of respondents said that they would have preferred to implement clinical system performance measures earlier than they had done so.

It’s hard to tell what would deter these healthcare execs —  mostly leaders with community hospitals — from demanding more results from their EMR investment. My best guess, though, is that adhering to Meaningful Use guidelines has taken up all of their bandwidth, and that CFOs have been mollified by the promise of incentive payments from the feds.

As the Beacon study suggests, though, healthcare leaders aren’t satisfied with this state of affairs. Vendors, expect to get more searching questions about ROI measurement over the next year or two.

October 26, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Congressmen Want Halt On Meaningful Use Payments

Four congressmen have thrown what could be a monkey wrench into the rollout of Meaningful Use Stage 2 regulations, arguing that Meaningful Use rules are weak and ineffective and that MU incentives have gone awry.

The four have written a letter to HHS head Kathleen Sebelius to recommend that until MU Stage 2 rules require “comprehensive interoperability,” and hospitals can prove they’re capable of exchanging data, the agency shouldn’t hand out incentive payments.

In the letter, the congressmen somewhat spitefully quote the recent piece from The New York Times which suggests that EMRs are raising costs by encouraging upcoding. “Perhaps not surprisingly, your EHR incentive program appears to be doing more harm than good,” the letter says. (Oh, snap!)

What do the congressmen want? A) To see CMS suspend all incentive payments until “universal interoperable standards” are promulgated, B) to require higher level of performance from Meaningful Users (upping percentages of, for example, transfers that need to be done electronically) and C) to see HHS “take steps to eliminate the subsidization of business practices that block the exchange of information between providers.”

Of course, the health IT leaders of the world are aghast. HIMSS, for example, has already issued a statement opposing the incentive payment halt.

But there is a nuanced conversation to be had here. While I admit I’ve ridiculed the tone of the congressional letter a bit, I think there’s some merit in the complaints. Interestingly enough, the most substantial complaint (letter “C”) in the missive is discussed the least in the text.

Let’s think about what John rightly calls “Jabba the Hutt” EMR vendors. What incentive do they have to change their business practices and make their products interoperable if the only threat to their business is academic discussions about Blue Buttons, The Direct Project and 17 flavors of HL7?

No, my friends, while I disliked the nasty, hectoring tone of the letter, I think we should take the authors’ objections seriously. We are at an interoperability crossroads and there’s no immediate end in sight.

October 8, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

CA Doctors Say Epic Install Is Creating Massive Turmoil

Not long ago, Contra Costa County, California spent $45 million on an Epic Systems installation designed to tie different sectors of the county health system together. The implementation, which the county dubbed “ccLink” went live on July 1st. The tale that follows here is all second hand, taken from a great piece in an area newspaper, but it’s quite believable, as you’ll see.

To wit, emergency department waits at the county’s hospitals have shot up, with one in 10 patients leaving without being seen due to the backlog.  One patient waited 40 hours to get a bed, according to Dr. Brenda Reilly, who spoke to county board of supervisors earlier this week on behalf of doctors working in county facilities.

In addition to live testimony, 15 doctors co-signed a letter to the board pleading for hospital administrators to cut back on physician workload further — some cuts have already been made — as physicians feel they’re unable to keep up and provide adequate care under the circumstances.

“We were not ready for Epic and Epic was not ready for us,” pediatrician Dr. Keith White told the board, according a report in the Contra Costa Times.  ”As a result, the providers are struggling to provide safe and effective care…many doctors have left and all are considering leaving.”

This week’s protests follow earlier complaints in August, when nurses at the county’s detention facilities told supervisors that ccLink was jeopardizing patient safety due to the rapid install of the system.

Dr. William Walker, the county’s health services director, told the audience at the hearing that he plans to create teams of medical care providers formed to make the doctors’ paperwork trials easier.

As things stood, however, doctors weren’t mollified, calling ccLink “clunky and time-consuming, designed more for bureaucrats than physicians,” the paper reports.

Given their Epic obstacles, which have seemingly slowed medical care to a crawl, doctors are seeing half or fewer of the patients they’d been seeing.

With those patients seemingly spilling over to the emergency department, the average time a patient spends waiting in the county hospital EDs has gone from three to four hours, arguably as a result of the Epic install issues. It’s hard to argue that the new EMR is at least partly responsible for the logjam.

To be fair, I’ve heard of many an EMR installation which created temporary havoc and pumped up wait times in the ED for a while. But the level of paralysis I’m reading about hear seems to be setting some kind of record.

P.S.  A side note: I called the nice young man who wrote the story to give him a backgrounder on Epic and some of the interoperability and just plain functionality problems I’ve gotten wind of elsewhere.  He told me he’d gotten tons of calls already! Seems the Epic critics/watchers have their teeth into this one.

September 20, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.