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Hospital Takes Step Forward Using Patient-Reported Outcome Data

Posted on December 6, 2017 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 usually summarize stories from other publications — I don’t want to bore you! — and I like to offer you a surprise or two. This time, though, I thought you might want to hear about an interesting piece appearing in Modern Healthcare. This item offers some insight into how understanding patient-generated determinants of health could improve outcomes.

The story tells the tale of the Hospital for Special Surgery, an orthopedics provider in New York City which provides elective procedures to treat joint pain and discomfort. According to the MH editor, HSS has begun collecting data on patient-reported outcomes after procedures to see not only how much pain may remain, but also how their quality of life is post-procedure.

This project began by doing a check in with the patient before the procedure, during which nurses went over important information and answered any questions the patient might have. (As readers may know, this is a fairly standard approach to pre-surgical patient communication, so this was something of a warm-up.)

However, things got more interesting a few months later. For its next step, the hospital also began surveying the patients on their state of mind and health prior to the procedure, asking 10 questions drawn from the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, or Promis.

The questions captured not only direct medical concerns such as pain intensity and sleep patterns, but also looked at the patient’s social support system, information few hospitals capture in a formal way at present.

All of the information gathered is being collected and entered into the patient’s electronic health record. After the procedure, the hospital has worked to see that the patients fill out the Promis survey, which it makes available using Epic’s MyChart portal.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, as IT leaders struggled to integrate the results of the Promis survey into patient EHRs. However, once the work was done, the care team was able to view information across patients, which certainly has the potential to help them improve processes and outcomes over time.

Now, the biggest challenge for HSS is collecting data after the patients leave the hospital. Since kicking off the project in April, HSS has collected 24,000 patient responses to nursing questions, but only 15% of the responses came from patients who submitted them after their procedure. The hospital has seen some success in capturing post-surgical results when doctors push patients to fill out the survey after their care, but overall, the post-surgical response rate has remained low to date.

Regardless, once the hospital improves its methods for collecting post-surgical patient responses, it seems likely that the data will prove useful and important. I hope to see other hospitals take this approach.

When It Comes To Meaningful Use, Some Vendors May Have An Edge

Posted on December 1, 2017 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.

A new article appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has concluded that while EHRs certified under the meaningful use program should perform more or less equally, they don’t.

After conducting an analysis, researchers found that there were significant associations between specific vendors and level of hospital performance for all six meaningful use criteria they were using as a yardstick. Epic came out on top by this measure, demonstrating significantly higher performance on five of the six criteria.

However, it’s also worth noting that EHR vendor choice by hospitals accounted for anywhere between 7% and 34% of performance variation across the six meaningful use criteria. In other words, researchers found that at least in some cases, EHR performance was influenced as much by the fit between platform and hospital as the platform itself.

To conduct the study, researchers used recent national data on certified EHR vendors hospitals and implemented, along with hospital performance on six meaningful use criteria. They sought to find out:

  • Whether certain vendors were found more frequently among the highest performing hospitals, as measured by performance on Stage 2 meaningful use criteria;
  • Whether the relationship between vendor and hospital performance was consistent across the meaningful use criteria, or whether vendors specialized in certain areas; and
  • What proportion of variation in performance across hospitals could be explained by the vendor characteristics

To measure the performance of various vendors, the researchers chose six core stage two meaningful use criteria, including 60% of medication orders entered using CPOE;  providing 50% of patients with the ability to view/download/transmit their health information; for 50% of patients received from another setting or care provider, medication reconciliation is performed; for 50% of patient transitions to another setting or care provider, a summary of care record is provided; and for 10% of patient transitions to another setting or care provider, a summary of care record is electronically transmitted.

After completing their analysis, researchers found that three hospitals were in the top performance quartile for all meaningful use criteria, and all used Epic. Of the 17 hospitals in the top performance quartile for five criteria, 15 used Epic, one used MEDITECH and one another smaller vendor. Among the 68 hospitals in the top quartile for four criteria, 64.7% used Epic, 11.8% used Cerner and 8.8% used MEDITECH.

When it came to hospitals that were not in the top quartile for any of the criteria, there was no overwhelming connection between vendor and results. For the 355 hospitals in this category, 28.7% used MEDITECH, 25.1% used McKesson, 20.3% used Cerner, 14.4% used MEDHOST and 6.8% used Epic.

All of this being said, the researchers noted that news the hospital characteristics nor the vendor choice explained were then a small amount of the performance variation they saw. This won’t surprise anybody who’s seen firsthand how much other issues, notably human factors, can change the outcome of processes like these.

It’s also worth noting that there might be other causes for these differences. For example, if you can afford the notably expensive Epic systems, then your hospital and health system could likely afford to invest in meaningful use compliance as well. This added investment could explain hospitals meaningful use performance as much as EHR choice.

Study Suggests That Hospitals Do Better With Richer Clinical EHR Tech Support

Posted on November 29, 2017 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.

It’s hardly a mystery that providers get more use out of health IT when they get good support from the vendors who created it. According to one study, however, today’s vendors need to go further with the tech support offerings, including services extending from helpdesk through engineering interventions.

The study, conducted by research firm Black Book, involved interviewing 4,446 nurses and physicians about the quality of clinical tech support services needed to have an impact on patient care. A large majority (85%) of clinicians said that delivery of patient care services is undermined substantially by subpart user tech support, Black Book reports.

Additional interesting data came from the 1,103 respondents who reported having worked in varied facilities using different EHR systems, which gave them perspective on how tech support options impacted clinical care. Of that group, 77% of nurses and 89% of doctors said the hospitals benefited from advanced tech support, which created an excellent EHR end-user experience.

All that being said, hospital financial leaders didn’t seem confident that they could afford to pay for top-tier tech support for health IT tools. According to the survey, 155 of the 180 CFOs and financial executives who responded to the survey felt they faced too many challenges and had too few resources budgeted for 2018 to spend on additional EHR support next year.

On the other hand, the CFOs are going to get pushback from their colleagues in other departments, the survey suggests. According to the study, 49 of 82 CMOs said they were routinely discontented with a range of tech support provided to the nursing and physician employees. Meanwhile, 80% of the 1,319 IT management and CIO respondents reported that they were seeing a steep increase in clinical grievances after EHR implementation, especially among physicians.

And if they have the opportunity, they’re going to demand more from vendors on the tech support front. In fact, 70 of the 82 hospital CMOs surveyed believe that the availability of multi-level tech support from their health records vendors will be a top competitive differentiator distinguishing one inpatient EHR from the others.

So here, we have the makings of some serious financial tensions between hospitals and EHR vendors. On the one hand, CFOs are signaling that they don’t want to pay extra for additional support, even if it has the potential for improving clinical performance. CIOs and CMO’s, for their part, are willing to shortlist vendors that do a better job of supporting key end-users like physician after EHR rollouts.

Will the more aggressive vendors absorb the cost of delivering more comprehensive, clinical-friendly tech support? Or will hospital financial leaders give in to internal pressure and pay for more sophisticated support?  It’s too soon to tell who has more muscle here, but my guess is that given the still-crowded EHR market, the vendors will eventually be forced to give in and offer better tech support options as part of their base price. My guess is that hospitals still hold more of the cards.

Providing ongoing support for an EHR and other healthcare IT has become such a challenge, we’ve made it one of the themes at our new Health IT Expo conference. If finding a sustainable way to support your EHR at every tier, then join us in New Orleans to learn and share with other hospital organizations that are going through the same challenges.

Amazon May Soon Announce Major Cloud Deal With Cerner

Posted on November 27, 2017 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.

As I’ve previously noted, Amazon is making increasingly aggressive moves into the healthcare space of late. While it hasn’t been terribly public with its plans—and why should it, honestly?— there been some talk of its going into the healthcare technology space. There’s also much talk about angles from which Amazon could attack healthcare sectors, including its well-publicized interest in the pharmacy business.

Though interesting, all of this has been vaguely defined it best. However, a new deal may be in the works which could have a very concrete effect. It could change not only the future of Amazon’s healthcare industry efforts but also, potentially, have an impact on the entire health IT world.

Think I’m exaggerating? Check this out. According to a story on the CNBC site, Amazon is about to announce a “huge” deal with Cerner under which the two will work together on building a major presence in enterprise health IT for Amazon Web Services. Put that way, this sounds a bit hyperbolic, but let me lay this out a bit further.

As things stand, the online retailer’s Amazon Web Services is already generating almost $20 billion a year, boasting clients across major industries such as technology, energy and financial services. Its only stumbling point to date is that it’s had trouble cracking the healthcare market.

Apparently, at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas next week, AWS’s CEO will announce that Amazon is teaming up with Cerner to convince senior healthcare leaders to use AWS for key initiatives like population health management.

Sources who spoke to CNBC that the partnership will initially focus on Cerner’s HealtheIntent population health product, presumably as a door into convincing hospitals shift more of the cloud-based business to AWS.

Now why, you ask, is this deal bigger than the average bear?  is it one of those vaporware partnerships that fly a flag and promise a lot but don’t really go anywhere?

Yes, I admit that’s always possible, but in this case, I don’t think it’s going to turn out that way. The fit simply seems to work too well for this to be one of those much-ballyhooed deals that fade away quietly. (In fact, I could visualize a Cerner/Amazon merger in the future, as crazy as that might sound. It’s certainly less risky than the Whole Foods deal.)

For one thing, both Amazon and Cerner have significant benefits they can realize. For example, as the story notes, Amazon hasn’t gotten far in the healthcare market, and given its talent for doing the impossible, it must be really stuck at this point. Cerner, meanwhile, will never pull together the kind of cloud options AWS can offer, and I doubt Epic could either, which gives Cerner a boost in the always next-and-neck competition with its top rival.

If this agreement goes through, the ripples could be felt throughout the healthcare industry, if for no other reason than the impact it will have on the enterprise EHR market. This one should be fun to watch. I’m pulling out the popcorn.

Surescripts Deal Connects EMR Vendors And PBMs To Improve Price Transparency

Posted on November 22, 2017 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’m no expert on the pharmacy business, but from where I sit as a consumer it’s always looked to me as though pharmaceutical pricing is something of a shell game. It makes predicting what your airline ticket will cost seem like child’s play.

Yes, in theory, the airlines engage in demand-oriented pricing, while pharma pricing is based on negotiated prices spread among multiple contracted parties, but in either case end-users such as myself have very little visibility into where these numbers are coming from.  And in my opinion, at least, that’s not good for anyone involved. You can say “blah blah blah skin in the game” all you want, but co-pays are a poor proxy for making informed decisions as a patient as to what benefits you’ll accrue and problems you face when buying a drug.

Apparently, Surescripts hopes to change the rules to some degree. It just announced that it has come together with two other interest groups within the pharmacy supply chain to offer patient-specific benefit and price information to providers at the point of care.

Its partners in the venture include a group of EMR companies, including Cerner, Epic, Practice Fusion and Aprima Medical Software, which it says represent 53% of the U.S. physician base. It’s also working with two pharmacy benefit managers (CVS Health and Express Scripts) which embrace almost two-thirds of US patients.

The new Surescripts effort actually has two parts, a Real-Time Prescription Benefit tool and an expanded version of its Prior Authorization solution.  Used together, and integrated with an EHR, these tools will clarify whether the patient’s health insurance will cover the drug suggested by the provider and offer therapeutic alternatives that might come at a lower price.

If you ask me, this is clever but fails to put pressure on the right parties. You don’t have to be a pharmaceutical industry expert to know that middlemen like PBMs and pharmacies use a number of less-than-visible stratagems jack up drug prices. Patients are forced to just cope with whatever deal these parties strike among themselves.

If you really want to build a network which helps consumers keep prices down, go for some real disclosure. Create a network which gathers and shares price information every time the drug changes hands, up to and including when the patient pays for that drug. This could have a massive effect on drug pricing overall.

Hey, look at what Amazon did just by making costs of shipping low and relatively transparent to end-users. They sucked a lot of the transaction costs out of the process of shipping products, then gave consumers tools allowing them to watch that benefit in action.

Give consumers even one-tenth of that visibility into their pharmacy supply chain, and prices would fall like a hot rock. Gee, I wonder why nobody’s ever tried that. Could it be that pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t want us to know the real costs of making and shipping their product?

UPMC Plans $2B Investment To Build “Digitally-Based” Specialty Hospitals

Posted on November 20, 2017 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.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has announced plans to spend $2 billion to build three new specialty hospitals with a digital focus. Its plans include building the UPMC Heart and Transplant Hospital, UPMC Hillman Cancer Hospital and UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital. UPMC already runs the existing specialty hospitals, Magee-Womens Hospital, Western in Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

UPMC is already one of the largest integrated health delivery networks in the United States. It’s $13 billion system includes more than 25 hospitals, a 3-million-member health plan and 3,600 physicians. If its new specialty centers actually represent a new breed of digital-first hospital, and help it further dominate its region, this could only add to its already-outsized clout.

So what is a “digitally-based” hospital, and what makes it different than, say, other hospitals well along the EMR adoption curve? After all, virtually every hospital today relies on a backbone of health IT applications, manages patient clinical data in an EMR and stores and stores and shares imagines in digital form.   Some are still struggling to integrate or replace legacy technologies, while others are adopting cutting-edge platforms, but going digital is mission-critical for everyone these days.

What’s interesting about UPMC’s plans, however, is that the new hospitals will be designed as digitally-based facilities from day one. UPMC is working with Microsoft to design these “digital hospitals of the future,” building on the two entities’ existing research collaboration with Microsoft and its Azure cloud platform.

The Azure relationship dates back to February of this year, when UPMC struck a deal with Microsoft to do some joint technology research. The agreement builds on both UPMC’s fairly impressive record of tech innovation and Microsoft’s healthcare AI capabilities, genomics and machine learning capabilities. For example, in working with Microsoft, UPMC gets access to Microsoft’s health chat bot technology, which is being deployed elsewhere to help patient self-triage before they interact with the doctor for a video visit.

I’d love to offer you specific information on how these new digitally-oriented will be designed, and more importantly how the functioning will differ from otherwise-wired hospitals that didn’t start out that way, but I don’t think the two partners are ready to spill the beans. Clearly, they’re going to tell you all of this is the new hotness, but nobody’s provided me with any examples of how this will truly improve on existing models of digital hospital technology. I just don’t think they’re that far along with the project yet.

Obviously, UPMC isn’t spending $2 billion lightly, so its leadership must believe the new digital model will offer a big payoff. I hope they know something we don’t about the ROI potential for this effort. It seems likely that if nothing else, that technology investment alone won’t drive that big a rate of return. Clearly, other major factors are in play here.

AMIA17 – There’s Gold in Them EHRs!

Posted on November 13, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

If even 10% of the research presented at the 2017 American Medical Informatics Association conference (AMIA17) is adopted by mainstream healthcare, the impact on costs, quality and patient outcomes will be astounding. Real-time analysis of EHR data to determine the unique risk profile of each patient, customized remote monitoring based on patient + disease profiles, electronic progress notes using voice recognition and secondary uses of patient electronic records were all discussed at AMIA17.

Attending AMIA17 was an experience like no other. I understood less than half of the information being presented and I loved it. It felt like I was back in university – which is the only other time I have been around so many people with advanced degrees. By the time I left AMIA17, I found myself wishing I had paid more attention during my STATS302 classes.

It was especially interesting to be at AMIA17 right after attending the 3-day CHIME17 event for Hospital CIOs. CHIME17 was all about optimizing investments made in HealthIT over the past several years, especially EHRs (see this post for more details). AMIA17 was very much an expansion on the CHIME17 theme. AMIA17 was all about leveraging and getting value from the data collected by HealthIT systems over the past several years.

A prime example of this was the work presented by Michael Rothman, Ph.D of Pera Health. Rothman created a way to analyze key vital signs RELATIVE to a patient’s unique starting condition to determine whether they are in danger. Dubbed the Rothman Index, this algorithm presents clinicians and caregivers with more accurate alarms and notifications. With all the devices and systems in hospitals today, alarm fatigue is a very real and potentially deadly situation.

Missed ventilator alarms was #3 on ECRI Institute’s 2017 Top 10 Health Technology Hazards. It was #2 on the 2016 Top 10 list. According to ECRI: “Failure to recognize and respond to an actionable clinical alarm condition in a timely manner can result in serious patient injury or death”. The challenge is not the response but rather how to determine which alarms are informational and which are truly an indicator of a clinical condition that needs attention.

Comments from RNs in adverse-event reports shared in a 2016 presentation to the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) sums up this challenge nicely:

“Alarm fatigue is leading to significant incidents because there are so many nuisance alarms and no one even looks up when a high-priority alarm sounds. Failure to rescue should be a never event but it isn’t.”

“Too many nuisance alarms, too many patients inappropriately monitored. Continuous pulse oximetry is way overused and accounts for most of the alarms. Having everyone’s phone ring to one patient’s alarm makes you not respond to them most of the time.”

This is exactly what Rothman is trying to address with his work. Instead of using a traditional absolute-value approach to setting alarms – which are based on the mythical “average patient” – Rothman’s method uses the patient’s actual data to determine their unique baseline and sets alarms relative to that. According to Rothman, this could eliminate as much as 80% of the unnecessary alarms in hospitals.

Other notable presentations at AMIA17 included:

  • MedStartr Pitch IT winner, FHIR HIEDrant, on how to mine and aggregate clinically relevant data from HIEs and present it to clinicians within their EHRs
  • FHIR guru Joshua C Mandel’s presentation on the latest news regarding CDS Hooks and the amazing Sync-for-Science EHR data sharing for research initiative
  • Tianxi Cai of Harvard School of Public Health sharing her research on how EHR data can be used to determine the efficacy of treatments on an individual patient
  • Eric Dishman’s keynote about the open and collaborative approach to research he is championing within the NIH
  • Carol Friedman’s pioneering work in Natural Language Processing (NLP). Not only did she overcome being a woman scientist but also applying NLP to healthcare something her contemporaries viewed as a complete waste of time

The most impressive thing about AMIA17? The number of students attending the event – from high schoolers to undergraduates to PhD candidates. There were hundreds of them at the event. It was very encouraging to see so many young bright minds using their big brains to improve healthcare.

I left AMIA17 excited about the future of HealthIT.

Epic Mounts Clumsy Public Defense On False Claims Lawsuit

Posted on November 6, 2017 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.

A former employee of a health system using Epic filed a False Claims Act whistleblower suit claiming that the vendor’s platform overbills for anesthesia services by default. The suit claims that Epic’s billing software double-bills both Medicare and Medicaid for anesthesia, as well as commercial payers.

At this point, let me be clear that I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but in theory, this could be a very big deal. One could certainly imagine a scenario in which multiple Epic customers colluded to permit this level of overbilling, which could generate staggering levels of overpayment. If so, one could imagine hospitals and health systems paying out judgments that add up to billions of dollars. To date, though, nobody’s made such a suggestion. In fact, Epic has said essentially the opposite and pointed to the need to understand how medical billing works, but we’ll get to that.

In the suit, which was filed in 2015 but unsealed this month, Geraldine Petrowski contended that Epic’s software was billing for both the base units of anesthesia for procedures and the time the procedure took.

Petrowski, a former employee with the compliance team at Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals, alleges that setting the billing to these defaults has resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent bills” submitted to Medicare, Medicaid and other payers. (WakeMed is an Epic customer.)

According to an article appearing in Modern Healthcare, Petrowski developed these concerns when she worked with Epic as the provider’s liaison for its software implementation between 2012 and 2014. In the complaint, she says that she raised these concerns with Epic, but got a dismissive response. Eventually, after Petrowski kept up the pressure for a while, Epic fixed the billing issue — but only for WakeMed.

Apparently, the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed Petrowski’s case and decided not to intervene, a fact which Epic has not-surprisingly mentioned every chance it gets. Perhaps more tellingly, the vendor has suggested that Petrowski filed the suit largely because she’s clueless. “The plaintiff’s assertions represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how claims software works,” Epic spokesperson Meghan Roh told the magazine.

Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but if the best public defense Epic can mount in this case is to offer some mixture of “everybody’s doing it” and “you’re a big dummy,” you’ve got to wonder what it’s got to hide.

Not only that, trying to brush off the suit as the product of ignorance or inexperience makes no sense given what’s involved. While False Claims whistleblowers can collect a very large payoff, getting there can take many years of grueling work, and their odds of prevailing aren’t great even if they make it through the torturous litigation process.

No, I’m more inclined to think that Epic has tipped its hand already. I’d argue that fixing only the WakeMed billing system shows what the legal folks call mens rea – a guilty mind — or at least a willingness to ignore potential wrongdoing. Not only that, if the system was operating as expected, why would Epic have gotten involved in the first place? Its consulting services don’t come cheap, and I’m guessing that Petrowski didn’t have the authority to pay for them.

It doesn’t look good, people…it just doesn’t look good.

Sure, the hospitals and health systems using Epic’s billing solution are ultimately responsible for the results. Maybe Epic is completely blameless in the matter this case. Regardless, if Epic’s hands are clean, it could do a better job of acting like it.

RCM Tips And Tricks: To Collect More From Patients, Educate And Engage Them

Posted on November 1, 2017 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.

Hospitals face particularly difficult challenges when trying to collect on patient bills. When you mix complex pricing structures, varied contracts with health insurers and dizzying administrative issues, it’s hard to let patients know what they’re going to owe, much less collect it.

Luckily, RCM leaders can make major progress with patient collections if they adopt some established (but often neglected) strategies. In short, to collect more from patients you need to educate them about healthcare financial issues, develop a trusted relationship with them and make it easy for them to pay that bill.

As a thought exercise, let’s assume that most patients want to pay their bills, but may need encouragement. While nobody can collect money from consumers that refuse to pay, you can help the willing ones prepare for the bills they’ll get. You can teach them to understand their coverage. In some cases, you can collect balances ahead of time. Toss in some smart patient engagement strategies and you could be golden.

What will that look like in practice? Check out this list of steps hospitals can take to improve RCM results directly, courtesy of a survey of hospital execs by Becker’s Hospital Review:

  • Sixty-five percent suggested that telling patients the amount due before they come to an appointment would be helpful.
  • Fifty-two percent believe that having more data on patients’ likelihood to pay could improve patient collections results
  • Forty-seven percent said that speaking to clients in different ways depending on the state of the finances would help improve patient collections.
  • Forty-two percent said that offering customers payment plans would be valuable.

Of course, you won’t be doing this in a vacuum, and some of the trends affecting patient financial responsibility are beyond your control. For example, unless something changes dramatically, many patients will continue to struggle with high-deductible health coverage. Nobody – except the health insurers – likes this state of affairs, but it’s a fact of life.

Also, it’s worth noting that boosting patient engagement can be complicated and labor-intensive. To connect with patients effectively, hospitals will need to fight a war on many fronts. That means not only speaking to patients in ways they understand, but also offering well-thought-out hospital-branded mobile apps, an effective online presence and more. You’ll want to do whatever it takes to foster patient loyalty and trust. Though this may sound intimidating, you’ll like the results you get.

However, there are a few strategies that hospitals can implement relatively quickly. In fact, the Becker’s survey results suggest that hospitals already know what they need to do — but haven’t gotten around to it.

For example, 87% of hospital respondents said they had a problem with collecting co-pays before appointments, 85% said knowing how much patients can pay was important, and 76% of respondents said that simplifying bills was a problem for them. While it may be harder than it looks to execute on these strategies, it certainly isn’t impossible.

Healthcare Execs See New Digital Health Technologies As Critical To Success

Posted on October 30, 2017 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.

Healthcare organizations have spent massively on HIT in recent years, in hopes of preparing for success by building next-generation tech infrastructure.  If a new survey is any indication, while the current set of efforts haven’t born as much fruit as their leaders like, they remain hopeful that the next wave will better support their goals.

The SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study, which surveyed about 400 healthcare executives, looked at whether the healthcare industry was prepared for the digital economy.

Respondents told SAP (and survey partner Oxford Economics) that the existing technology investments weren’t delivering the value they wanted, with only 22% saying they supported customer satisfaction efforts and 23% saying that they helped foster innovation.

Fortunately for health IT vendors, however, that wasn’t the whole story. Perhaps because hope springs eternal, healthcare leaders predicted that in two years thing should look different.

In fact, 70% said that the latest technologies were essential to growth, competitive advantage and customer experience. In two years, 61% expect technology investments to boost customer satisfaction, and 59% believe the technologies will help support innovation.

This may be, at least in part, because many healthcare organizations are in the process of kicking off digital transformation efforts and are relying on new technologies to achieve their goals. Though the process hasn’t advanced too far in many organizations, respondents all seem to be making some progress.

According to the survey, healthcare execs expect the importance of digital transformation to climb over the next several years. While 61% said it’s important today, 79% expect it to be important in two years and 86% believe that it will be important in five years.

To prepare for these eventualities, 23% of respondents said are planning digital transformation initiatives and 54% are piloting these approaches. In addition, 32% reported that their efforts were complete in some areas and 2% said their process was complete in all areas. Almost half (48%) said a lack of mature technology was holding back their efforts.

When asked to name the technologies they expected to use, 76% of healthcare leaders predicted that big data and analytics will help them transform their business. They also named cloud computing (65%), IoT technologies (46%) and AI (28%) as tools likely to foster digital transformation process.

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’d be pretty upset if I’d spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on this wave of health IT and felt that I’d gotten little value out of it. And given that history, I’d be reluctant to make any new investments until I was confident things play out differently this time.

Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that healthcare execs are taking their time with implementing digital transformation, as important as this process may be. With any luck, the next wave of digital technology will be more flexible and offer greater ROI than the previous generation.