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Opening the Door to Data Analytics in Medical Coding – HIM Scene

Posted on November 15, 2017 I Written By

The following is a HIM Scene guest blog post by Julia Hammerman, RHIA, CPHQ, is Director of Education and Compliance, himagine solutions.

Data analytics has moved from IT and finance to the majority of business functions—including clinical coding. However, most healthcare organizations admit they could do more with analytics. This month’s HIM Scene blog explores the importance of analyzing clinical coding data to improve quality, productivity, and compliance.

Coding Data in ICD-10: Where We Are Today

HIM leaders are implementing coding data analytics to continually monitor their coding teams and cost-justify ongoing educational investments. Coding data analytics isn’t a once-and-done endeavor. It is a long-term commitment to improving coding performance in two key areas: productivity and accuracy.

A Look at Productivity Data

Elements that impact coding productivity data include: the type of electronic health record (EHR) used, the number of systems accessed during the coding process, clinical documentation improvement (CDI) initiatives, turnaround time for physician queries, and the volume of non-coding tasks assigned to coding teams.

Once any coding delays caused by these issues are corrected, coding productivity is best managed with the help of data analytics. For optimal productivity monitoring, the following data must be tracked, entered, and analyzed:

  • Begin and end times for each record—by coder and chart type
  • Average number of charts coded per hour by coder
  • Percentage of charts that take more than the standard minutes to code—typically charts with long lengths of stay (LOS), high dollar or high case mix index (CMI)
  • Types of cases each coder is processing every day

A Look at Accuracy Data

Accuracy should never be compromised for productivity. Otherwise, the results include denied claims, payer scrutiny, reimbursement issues, and other negative financial impacts.

Instead, a careful balance between coding productivity and accuracy is considered best practice.

Both data sets must be assessed simultaneously. The most common way to collect coding accuracy data is through coding audits and a thorough analysis of coding denials.

  • Conduct routine coding accuracy audits
  • Analyze audit data to target training, education and other corrective action
  • Record data so that back-end analysis is supported
  • Assess results for individual coders and the collective team

Using Your Results

Results of data analysis are important to drive improvements at the individual level and across entire coding teams. For individuals, look for specific errors and provide coaching based on the results of every audit. Include tips, recommendations, and resources to improve. If the coding professional’s accuracy continues to trend downward, targeted instruction and refresher coursework are warranted with focused re-audits to assure improvement over time.

HIM and coding managers can analyze coding audit data across an entire team to identify patterns and trends in miscoding. Team data pinpoints where multiple coders may be struggling. Coding hotlines or question queues are particularly helpful for large coding teams working remotely and from different geographic areas. Common questions can be aggregated for knowledge sharing across the team.

Analytics Technology and Support: What’s Needed

While spreadsheets are still used as the primary tool for much data analysis in healthcare, this option will not suffice in the expanded world of ICD-10. Greater technology investments are necessary to equip HIM and coding leaders with the coding data analytics technology they need.

The following technology guidelines can help evaluate new coding systems and level-up data analytics staff:

  • Data analytics programs with drill-down capabilities are imperative. These systems are used to effectively manage and prevent denials.
  • Customized workflow management software allows HIM and coding leaders to assign coding queues based on skillset.
  • Discharged not final coded and discharged not final billed analytics tools are important to manage each piece of accounts receivables daily and provide continual reporting.
  • Systems should have the ability to build rules to automatically send cases to an audit queue based on specific factors, such as diagnosis, trend, problematic DRGs.
  • Capabilities to export and manipulate the data within other systems, such as Excel, while also trending data are critical.
  • Staff will need training on advanced manipulation of data, such as pivot charts.
  • Every HIM department should have a copy of the newly revised AHIMA Health Data Analysis Toolkit, free of charge for AHIMA members.

HIM directors already collect much of the coding data required for improved performance and better decision-making. By adding data analytics software, organizations ensure information is available for bottom-line survival and future growth.

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

Heard at #AHIMACon17: Lessons Learned for HIM – HIM Scene

Posted on October 18, 2017 I Written By

The following is a HIM Scene guest blog post by Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, CHPC, SSGB, Vice President, Privacy, Compliance and HIM Policy, at MRO.  

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) held its annual convention and exhibit in Los Angeles last week. Beginning with preconvention meetings and symposia, this year’s event delivered a renewed focus on the profession’s stalwart responsibility to protect and govern patient information. Updates for privacy, security, interoperability and information governance were provided. Here is a quick overview of my lessons learned at AHIMACon17.

Privacy and Security Institute

The 11th anniversary of AHIMA’s Privacy and Security Institute didn’t disappoint. Speakers from the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and HITRUST joined privacy and HIM consultants for an information-packed two-day symposium. The most important information for HIM professionals and privacy officers came from the nation’s capital.

Cutbacks underway—Recent defunding of the Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) position by ONC makes practical sense for the healthcare industry and the national budget. The position has been vacant for the past year, and during this time Deven McGraw successfully served as acting CPO and deputy director for health information privacy. Her imminent departure along with other cutbacks will have a trickle-down impact for privacy compliance in 2018.

Onsite audits cease—Yun-kyung (Peggy) Lee, Deputy Regional Manager, OCR, informed attendees that onsite HIPAA audits would no longer be conducted for covered entities or business associates due to staffing cutbacks in Washington, D.C. The concern here is that whatever doesn’t get regulatory attention, may not get done.

To ensure a continued focus on privacy monitoring, HIM and privacy professionals must remain diligent at the organizational, regional, state and national levels to:

  • Maintain internal privacy audit activities
  • Review any patterns in privacy issues and address through corrective action
  • Use environmental scanning to assess resolution agreement results
  • Review published privacy complaints to determine how to handle similar situations
  • Compare your state of readiness to known complaints

Interoperability advances HIPAA—The national push for greater interoperability is an absolute necessity to improve healthcare delivery. However, 30 years of new technology and communication capabilities must be incorporated into HIPAA rules. Old guidelines block us from addressing new goals. We expect more fine-tuning of HIPAA in 2018 to achieve the greater good of patient access and health information exchange.

Luminary Healthcare Panel

Tuesday’s keynote session was the second most relevant discussion for my role as vice president of privacy, compliance and HIM policy at MRO. Panelists provided a glimpse into the future of healthcare while reiterating HIM’s destiny—data integrity and information governance.

HIM’s role extends beyond ensuring correctly coded data for revenue cycle performance. It also includes the provision of correct and complete data for the entire healthcare enterprise and patient care continuum under value-based reimbursement. The need for stronger data integrity and overall information governance was threaded through every conversation during this session.

Final Takeaway

Make no doubt about it! HIM’s role is expanding. We have the underlying knowledge of the importance of data and the information it yields. More technology leads to more data and an increased need for sophisticated health information management and governance. Our history of protecting patient information opens the door to our future in the healthcare industry.

About Rita Bowen
In her role as Vice President of Privacy, Compliance and HIM Policy for MRO, Bowen serves as the company’s Privacy and Compliance Officer (PCO), oversees the company’s compliance with HIPAA, and ensures new and existing client HIM policies and procedures are to code. She has more than 40 years of experience in Health Information Management (HIM), holding a variety of HIM director and consulting roles. Prior to joining MRO, she was Senior Vice President and Privacy Officer for HealthPort, Inc., now known as CIOX Health. Bowen is an active member of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), having served as its President and Board Chair, as a member of the Board of Directors, and of the Council on Certification. Additionally, Bowen is the chair for the AHIMA Foundation. She has been honored with AHIMA’s Triumph Award in the mentor category; she is also the recipient of the Distinguished Member Award from the Tennessee Health Information Management Association (THIMA). Bowen is an established author and speaker on HIM topics and has taught HIM studies at Chattanooga State and the University of Tennessee Memphis. Bowen holds a Bachelor of Medical Science degree with a focus in medical record administration and a Master’s degree in Health Information/ Informatics Management Technology.

MRO is a proud sponsor of HIM Scene.  If you’d like to receive future HIM posts in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

How to Train Business Office Staff to Perform Like ROI (Release of Information) Pros – HIM Scene

Posted on September 27, 2017 I Written By

The following is a HIM Scene guest blog post by Mariela Twiggs, MS, RHIA, CHIP, FAHIMA, National Director of Motivation & Development at MRO.  This is the third blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on the relationship between HIM departments and third-party payers. Each month, a different MRO expert will share insights on how to reduce payer-provider abrasion, protect information privacy and streamline the medical record release process during health plan or third-party commercial payer audits and reviews.

Millions of payer requests for medical records are sent to hospital business offices every day. Business office staff are often tasked with pulling, compiling and sending Protected Health Information (PHI) to meet these requests.

Many payer requests are part of treatment, payment and operations (TPO) according to HIPAA. Payer requests are the “P” in TPO. However, others such as Medicaid assistance applications and disability requests are not covered under TPO. Knowing the difference and managing each request with the upmost regard for patient privacy is the focus of this month’s HIM Scene post.

Business Office Disclosures: Haste Makes Breach

Time is of the essence in the business office. Staff are focused on submitting claims, appealing denials or responding to audits and reviews as covered in last month’s HIM Scene. During the rush to get claims paid, key steps in the Release of Information (ROI) process may be skipped, compromised or mistakenly omitted. It’s during these situations that privacy concerns arise and PHI breaches may occur.

To ensure business office disclosures are kept safe and secure, organizations should train their financial staff using the same information, curriculum and courses presented to Health Information Management (HIM) teams. The ROI steps are the same. And disclosure management processes must be consistent to reduce breach risk. Here are five key areas of disclosure management to cover with your business office employees.

1. ROI and HIPAA Basics

Ensure employees understand the definition of  HIPAA, the privacy rule, ARRA HITECH Omnibus, PHI and differences between federal versus state law. Each state is different and laws apply to where the care was given, not where the organization is headquartered. This is an important distinction for central business offices processing requests for care locations across several states.

Also emphasize which types of payer requests fall under HIPAA’s TPO exemption and which don’t. For those that aren’t considered disclosures for TPO, a patient authorization is required.

Another important topic to cover is the Health and Human Services (HHS) minimum necessary guidance under the HIPAA privacy rule. This guidance helps organizations determine what information can be used, disclosed or requested by payers for a particular purpose. Payers don’t need entire copies of records. They only need specific documents depending on the type of request. By helping business office staff thoroughly understand and apply the minimum necessary guidance, organizations tighten privacy compliance and mitigate breach risk.

2. The Medical Record

Define the various components of the medical record to business office staff. These include common documents, various types of encounters, and properly documented corrections and amendments.

3. Confidentiality and Legal Issues

Outline the legal health record concept and what it includes for your organization. All the various confidentiality and legal issues should also be fully explained. For example, with regard to state subpoena laws, one needs to know quash periods and whether special documentation must be provided. Louisiana requires affidavits while Virginia requires certifications from attorneys saying a notice of patient objection was not received.

4. Types of Requests

List all the various types of requests that might be received in the business office. For each category, differentiate which are part of TPO and which are not. Those that fall outside of TPO require a patient authorization and should be forwarded to HIM for processing. The types of requests to discuss with the business office include:

  • Treatment requests
  • Internal requests
  • Patient requests
  • Government agency requests
  • Disability requests
  • Insurance requests
  • Post-payment audit requests
  • Attorney requests
  • Law enforcement requests
  • Court orders
  • Subpoenas
  • Research requests

5. Sensitive Records and Other Special Situations

Identify and describe specific disclosure management practices related to sensitive records. These cases can include information on genetics, HIV/AIDS, STDs, mental/behavioral health, substance abuse and other sensitive issues. There are also special situations surrounding disclosures for deceased patients and minors. Sensitive records require special handling. Complex federal and state legal issues may be involved with these cases and business office personnel should be aware of them.

With so many details to know, many hospitals and health systems are opting to centralize all disclosures within the HIM department or with a single outsourced ROI vendor.

Make the Case for Centralized ROI

There is a national trend toward centralized disclosure management versus each department handling information requests internally. Beyond the business office, requests are also frequently received in the radiology department, clinical locations, human resources, physician practices, nursing units and HIM.

Maintaining oversight and privacy compliance for all these areas is an arduous task—and opens the door for breach risk. If you are in doubt about the ability of business office or other staff to properly and securely process requests, a centralized ROI model may be your organization’s safest approach.

About Mariela Twiggs
In her role as Director of Motivation and Development, Twiggs leads MRO’s internal motivational efforts and manages MRO Academy, a rigorous and required online educational and testing platform for all employees, which is comprehensive and current with external developments and regulations. Prior to joining MRO, she was CEO of MTT Enterprises, LLC, a Release of Information business. Previously, she worked as a Health Information Management (HIM) Director. Twiggs is the past president of the Association of Health Information Outsourcing Services (AHIOS), Louisiana Health Information Management Association (LHIMA) and Greater New Orleans Health Information Management (GNOHIMA); a fellow of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA); recipient of LHIMA’s Distinguished Member & Career Achievement Awards; past treasurer of LHIMA and GNOHIMA; and serves on the advisory board of the Delgado Community College Health Information Technology Program. Twiggs holds a B.S. in Medical Record Administration and a Master’s Degree in Health Care Administration. She is also certified in healthcare privacy (CHP) and is a Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+) with expertise in electronic document management.

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

ROI in the Business Office: Why HIM Should Keep a Watchful Eye – HIM Scene

Posted on August 16, 2017 I Written By

The following is a HIM Scene guest blog post by Lula Jensen, MBA, RHIA, CCS, Director of Product Management at MRO.  This is the second blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on the relationship between HIM departments and third-party payers. Each month, a different MRO expert will share insights on how to reduce payer-provider abrasion, protect information privacy and streamline the medical record release process during health plan or third-party commercial payer audits and reviews.

According to most business office staff, pulling information and releasing medical record documentation to payers is a necessary evil to get claims paid and reduce accounts receivables. It is not their core competency.

Whether the request is unsolicited or solicited by the payer, time required to compile information and respond wreaks havoc on business office productivity. Also in efforts to meet payer deadlines and expedite claims, human mistakes can be made. Incorrect patient information might slip through the cracks.

Despite concerns, many business office directors prefer that payer disclosures be sent out by their own business staff—versus by the HIM department. If your organization follows that practice, this HIM Scene blog post is for you.

Two Types of Business Office Requests

There are two instances of business office Release of Information (ROI) to know: unsolicited and solicited requests. The unsolicited process takes place when medical documentation containing all the additional information pertinent to the service being billed is submitted proactively by the provider with the initial claim. The solicited process occurs when the original claim is sent without additional supporting medical record documentation and the payer subsequently (during the adjudication process) determines that additional information is needed. The payer then places a request for the additional documentation from the provider.

Unsolicited Releases During Claims Processing

The purpose of releasing information during claims processing is to expedite payment. In an effort to get the claim paid faster, medical records are sent proactively with the claim. This is especially true for high-dollar claims, payer policies, readmissions within 30 days and the published Office of Inspector General (OIG) Work Plan.

Sounds like a good intention with the organization’s best financial interests in mind. However, three concerns arise when business offices send medical record documentation to payers—versus having HIM professionals take charge.

  1. Business office staff may not know which parts of the medical record will be required to support the claim. Often, the entire chart is sent—a process that is not practical for high-dollar or long-length-of-stay cases.
  2. Sending the entire record is also not compliant with HIPAA’s Minimum Necessary Standard. By sending too much information, hospitals are at risk for HIPAA breach.
  3. Upon receipt of prepay documentation, the payer’s staff logs each record received, scans or otherwise digitizes the documents, and incorporates them into their own electronic systems. This creates a huge administrative burden on payers.

Similar challenges ensue with solicited payer medical record requests that occur during the adjudication process or retrospective reviews.

Business Office Disclosures for Payer Audits and Reviews

There has been significant uptick in payer audits and reviews, a topic that was covered by HIM Scene last month. This includes governmental and third-party commercial. According to one central business office director at an MRO client site, “The pull lists for payer audits and reviews keep getting longer and the piles of medical records to send keep getting higher.”

To reduce administrative burdens with payers, some organizations are allowing payers direct access to their EMRs and EHRs to obtain the required information during audits and reviews. While this process may lighten the load for billing personnel, it is laden with additional privacy risks.

Business office personnel complain about the travails of responding to all the various requests for records. However, a significant number of business office directors still insist on owning the ROI process for payer audits and reviews. When this is the case, there are several important steps for HIM directors to consider.

Three Steps for HIM: Educate, Track and Talk

For both types of business office disclosures, it is important to educate billing staff about the implications of a HIPAA breach and privacy risks listed above. Establish an organization-wide standard for ROI to keep PHI safe during all types of business office disclosures. Educating all personnel involved in business office ROI (whether for claims processing, audits or reviews) helps relieve frustration with the record release process.

Billers should also track which specific records, and what sections of each, were sent. By documenting and then reviewing this information, organizations gain valuable knowledge about payer trends—insights that can be used to prevent denials and negotiate more favorable terms for payer contracts.

Collaborate with privacy and the business office to determine which release information to track. Then establish a common database or software application to document each release to payers. Here are four ways to make the most of business office ROI tracking data:

  • Look for patterns in what payers are requesting. Any trends in payer request activity could offer opportunities for provider improvement.
  • Identify risk. Analytics can help business offices detect weaknesses in the revenue cycle, involving coding, documentation or other internal processes.
  • Educate coders, biller, collectors, physicians, etc. on payer trends and how collaboration can promote accurate, complete billing for services rendered and support a claim via medical record documentation.
  • Use data analysis. When payer contract negotiations arise, use payer trend statistics to your advantage in the next round of negotiations.

Talk with local payers and stay updated on policy changes related to claims processing, audits and retrospective reviews. Open communication with each payer is recommended to ensure records are sent in the most secure way possible. Communication with payers also reduces phone tag and minimizes payer-provider abrasion.

Finally, due to the importance of collecting medical record documentation, health plans are willing to pay for records. Business offices and HIM departments fulfilling these requests are encouraged to discuss and pursue reimbursement from payers.

About Lula Jensen

In her role as Director of Product Management for MRO, Jensen drives product enhancements and new product initiatives to ensure MRO’s suite of solutions enable the highest levels of client success and end-user satisfaction. She has more than 15 years of experience in healthcare, focusing on Health Information Management (HIM), Revenue Cycle Management, analytics, software development and consulting. In addition to holding product management roles at McKesson Health Solutions and CIOX Health, she also served as Revenue Cycle Manager at Fox Chase Cancer Center and taught a course on ICD-9 CM Coding and Reimbursement at Bucks County Community College. Jensen is an active member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and Pennsylvania Health Information Management Association (PHIMA); she is a 2005 PHIMA Scholar Award recipient. Jensen holds a B.S. in HIM from Temple University and an M.B.A. in Health Care Administration from Holy Family University.

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

Finding Civility in Payer Relationships: Audits, Reviews and HIM – HIM Scene

Posted on July 19, 2017 I Written By

The following is a HIM Scene guest blog post by Greg Ford, Director, Requester Relations and Receivables Administration at MRO.  This is the first blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on the relationship between HIM departments and third-party payers. Each month, a different MRO expert will share insights on how to reduce payer-provider abrasion, protect information privacy and streamline the medical record release process during health plan or third-party commercial payer audits and reviews.

Civility is defined by Webster’s as courtesy and politeness. It is a mannerly act or expression between two parties. While civility in politics has waned, it appears to be on the rise in healthcare.

New opportunities for civility between payers and providers have emerged with the shift from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement. Population health, quality payment programs and other alternative payment models (APMs) are opening the door to better collaboration and communications with payers. Optimal patient care is a mutual goal between payers and providers.

HIM professionals can also contribute to stronger payer-provider relationships. Our best opportunity to build civility with health plans and payers is during audits and reviews. HIM professionals who take the time to understand the differences will make notable strides toward a more polite and respectful healthcare experience.

Payer Audits vs. Payer Reviews: What’s the Difference?

It’s no secret to most HIM professionals that the volume of health plan medical record requests continues to increase significantly. In fact, between 2013 and 2016 the number of requests for HEDIS and Risk Adjustment reviews increased from one percent to 11 percent of the total Release of Information requests received by MRO.

The main difference between audits and reviews is the potential negative financial impact to providers. Payer audits include risk for revenue recoupment while payer reviews do not.

For example, audits conducted by third-party payers are intended to recoup funds on overpaid claims. The most common reason for a post-payment payer audit is to confirm correct coding and sequencing as billed on the claim to determine if payment was made to the provider correctly. In audits, the health plan’s intention is to recoup funds on overpaid claims.

Payer reviews do not carry financial risk to the provider. Instead, payer reviews deliver valuable insights providers can use to improve their relationships with health plans and patient populations.

The Upside of Payer Reviews

HEDIS and Risk Adjustment reviews are the most common types of payer reviews. Payer data submissions for HEDIS are due to the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) by June of every year. Medicare Risk Adjustment results are due in January and Commercial in May.

Since these payer reviews both overlap and occur simultaneously, HIM departments are deluged with medical record requests. Understanding the importance of these reviews improves communication between HIM, Release of Information staff and health plan requesters.

HEDIS Reviews

HEDIS reviews can benefit providers during contract negotiations because the HEDIS performance rankings can be used to gauge the quality and effectiveness of different health plans for potential participation with the facility.

Risk Adjustment Reviews

With these reviews, health plans are required to prove the needs of the population to CMS so they can continue to provide services for higher risk patients and pay providers for the care of this population.

In both cases, medical records are needed to provide the analysis, so HIM is involved.

HIM’s Role: Reimbursable Release of Information

In 2015, 85 percent of MRO’s audit and review requests came from third-party vendors representing health plans. Both post-payment audit and review requests are typically chargeable to the requesting party. Due to the importance of collecting medical record documentation, health plans and payers are willing to pay for records.

HIM professionals are encouraged to pursue reimbursement for payer requests. This is especially true if your HIM department is working diligently to accommodate the payer deadline for record receipt.

A provider’s Release of Information staff should be able to work directly with these requesters to ensure payment for the timely delivery of records. HIM professionals can reduce payer-provider abrasion and ultimately strengthen relationships to improve compliance. It’s the first step to increasing civility in healthcare.

Watch for our August HIM Scene post to learn more about how to secure patient privacy when sending records to payers and health plans.

About Greg Ford
In his role as Director of Requester Relations and Receivables Administration for MRO, Ford serves as a liaison between MRO’s healthcare provider clients and payers requesting large volumes of medical records for purposes of post-payment audits, as well as HEDIS and risk adjustment reviews. He oversees payer audit and review projects end-to-end, from educating and supporting clients on proper billing practices and procedural obligations, to streamlining processes that ensure timely delivery of medical documentation to the requesting payers. Prior to joining MRO, Ford worked as Director of Operations and Sales at ARC Document Solutions for 15 years. He received his B.A. from Delaware Valley University.

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

ACOs Not Scaling Well, But Health IT Helps

Posted on March 13, 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.

ACOs were billed as the next big thing in healthcare, a model which would create economies of scale and tame rising costs of care. In theory, unifying hospitals and doctors into an overarching entity – and creating shared clinical and financial goals – should improve care and boost efficiency.

Of course, creating them doesn’t come cheap. In fact, creating even a modest ACO typically calls for between $1 million and $3 million in capital investment, according to Michael Deegan, MD, who recently developed a course on ACOs for the University of Texas at Dallas. It also takes 18 to 24 months to launch an ACO, Deegan told an interviewer at UT.

But once all of the Ts have been crossed and the Is dotted, ACOs can meet their stated goals, right? Actually, not so much, though health IT can help things along, according to Indranil Bardham, a colleague of Deegan’s at UT Dallas who serves as professor of information systems.

According to an article in HealthcareITNews, Bardhan recently completed a study on ACO performance which concluded that health IT had a measurable impact on their efficiency. The study, which drew on 2013-2015 data from CMS, reviewed the performance of 400 ACOs.

Among the key takeways Bardhan took from his research was that the larger an ACO was, the more likely it was to be inefficient. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which would suggest that bigger is better when it comes to improving efficiency.

On the other hand, health IT use had the effect its champions might hope for, though modest in scope. The study concluded that a 1 percent increase in HIT usage was associated with an 0.5 percent increase in ACO efficiency.

The thing is, these measures represent just a couple of ways to evaluate ACO performance, making it hard to tell just what is working, Bardhan told HIN. “Healthcare, with respect to ACOs, is fascinating because there is not just one single output measure that you are using to compare performance,” he told the magazine’s Bill Siwicki. “…It is difficult to measure the performance of organizations against each other when you have multiple outputs that cannot easily be transformed into a single dollar number.”

This squares with commentary by other ACO researchers, who seem to agree that the whole ACO evaluation process is a bit mysterious. As health policy analyst David Introcaso notes, in a review of ACO-based Medicare Shared Savings Program, CMS isn’t helping either. “While CMS details financial and quality performance results, the agency does not explain, at least publicly, how results, favorable or unfavorable, were achieved.”

Without knowing more about what we should measure, and why – much less what steps helped in achieving their results – it’s too soon to tell what type of health IT should be deployed in ACOs. But looked at more optimistically, once we have a better idea of what ACO success factors are, it seems likely that health IT tools will help execs address them. (For a look at one completely health IT-based ACO concept, see this piece on the Virtual ACO.)

Will How Well You Document Determine Your Quality Ranking?

Posted on March 6, 2017 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.

We all know that the best doctors in the world are determined by how well that doctor documents the visit.
-Said No Doctor Ever!

Seriously, it’s an absurd claim that the quality of a doctor’s documentation would be how we rank the quality of a doctor. I’m sure just reading the headline probably pissed you off. I was upset just typing it. We all know that there are a lot of great doctors who are really awful at documenting. We know there are some awful doctors that’s documentation looks beautiful.

Since we all know this is the case why would I ask the absurd question about a doctor’s documentation determining their quality rating? Because I can see a path where we head this direction.

Yes, it’s scary to consider, but that’s why it’s so important that we consider it. I think this could be the impact of the quality reporting scores that come from MACRA/MIPS/APMs. It seems like it’s only just a matter of time before these scores will hit the Physician Compare website.

Don’t be surprised if they’re also made publicly available so that every health rating site on the internet pulls them down from CMS and uses them as one more factor in how they determine the highest quality doctors. If you don’t believe this will happen, then you haven’t followed what they’ve done with other CMS data.

Remember that these websites don’t have to have actual quality data. They just have to show the perception of quality data. Most consumers aren’t smart enough (or diligent enough) to know the difference. In fact, CMS itself calls it quality data, so they’ll be able to use that word freely. Imagine the doctor who gets ranked lower because their MIPS quality score was lower or non-existent because they have a small Medicare population or because they chose not to participate in the program. This is not a far fetched idea and is a fear I’ve heard from many health systems.

It’s too bad we don’t have a real way to measure quality. Then, we’d all want that data to be shared. However, I’m close to the conclusion that you can’t truly measure clinical quality. At least not in any scalable way. I’m hoping one day we’ll get there, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Until then, companies will use whatever perception of quality they can find and many high quality doctors will suffer because of it.

Hospitals Using Market-Leading EHR Have Higher HIE Use

Posted on July 29, 2016 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 study concludes that hospital engagement with HIEs is tied with the level of dominance their EHR vendor has in their marketplace. The study, which appeared in Health Affairs, looked at national data from 2012 and 2013 to look at how vendor dominance related to hospitals’ HIE involvement level. And their analysis suggests that the more market power a given vendor has, the more it may stifle hospitals’ HIE participation.

As researchers note, federal policymakers have expressed concern that some EHR vendors may be hampering the free flow of data between providers, in part by making cross-vendor HIE implementation difficult. To address this concern, the study looked at hospitals’ behavior in differently-structured EHR marketplaces.

Researchers concluded that hospitals using the EHR which dominated their marketplace engaged in an average of 45% more HIE activities than facilities using non-dominant vendors. On the other hand, in markets where the leading vendor was less dominant, controlling 20% of the market, hospitals using the dominant vendor engaged in 59% more HIE activities than hospitals using a different vendor.

Meanwhile, if the dominant EHR vendor controlled 80% of the market, hospitals using the leading vendor engaged in only 25% more HIE activities than those using a different vendor. In other words, high levels of local market dominance by a single vendor seemed to be associated with relatively low levels of HIE involvement.

According to the study’s authors, the data suggests that to promote cross-vendor HIE use, policymakers may need to take local market competition between EHR vendors into consideration. And though they don’t say this directly, they also seem to imply that both high vendor dominance and low vendor dominance can both slow HIE engagement, and that moderate dominance may foster such participation.

While this is interesting stuff, it may be moot. What the study doesn’t address is that the entire HIE model comes with handicaps that go beyond what it takes to integrate disparate EHR systems. Even if two hospital systems in a market are using, say, Cerner systems, how does it benefit them to work on sharing data that will help their rival deliver better care? I’ve heard this question asked by hospital financial types, and while it’s a brutal sentiment, it gets to something important.

Nonetheless, I’d argue that studying the dynamics of how EHR vendors compete is quite worthwhile. When a single vendor dominates a marketplace, it has to have an impact on everyone in that market’s healthcare system, including patients. Understanding just what that impact is makes a great deal of sense.

Healthcare Price Transparency Driving Choice – Just The Wrong Direction

Posted on July 25, 2016 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.

Last month, the Healthcare Financial Management Association held their annual conference – #HFMA16ANI. The topics covered in the sessions and discussed in the aisles of the exhibit hall were wide-ranging. Financial patient experience, scoring based on propensity to pay, patient loans, financing options and price transparency were on the lips of many attendees.

The discussions on price transparency were particularly interesting. Attendees were not talking about transparency as the silver-bullet for reducing costs in healthcare like they were last year. Instead, attendees were talking about it as being just the first step in a long journey to a truly open market in healthcare.

Just a few years ago, price transparency was touted as the necessary catalyst for true consumer/patient choice in healthcare. It was believed that with detailed price information patients would be able to “shop around” for their care using price as a determining factor. Having this choice would mean healthcare organizations would have to become more price competitive – thus driving overall costs lower.

Check out this excellent post from Dan Munro @danmunro back in 2013 that captures the hope of price transparency at that time.

I believe that all the work around price transparency in the past few years has indeed pushed patients to make choices in their healthcare – just not the choices that we want.

This tweet from Annette McKinnon @anetto, a patient advocate from Toronto, during a recent #hcldr tweetchat perfectly illustrates the choices patients are making when they know the price of care:

Armed with price information, patients are not choosing to shop around for more affordable options, instead they are making the choice between forgoing care vs getting treatment. A Gallop poll found that in the US, 33% of families have put off medical treatment because of cost. That same poll shows that 22% of Americans have put off medical treatment for a “very” or “somewhat serious” condition.

So why aren’t patients taking the pricing information they receive and shopping around for cheaper alternatives? The biggest reason in my opinion is that patients do not have value transparency.

To me, value transparency is a state where patients purchasing healthcare services have a clear understanding of the expected outcomes, health benefits, disadvantages, risks and costs associated with it. In addition, patients would know how those services will be delivered (the workflow) and who is doing it. When a patient has access to this type of information and has the knowledge to interpret it, that’s when they have value transparency.

So what do we need to get to this state of value transparency in healthcare? Members of the #hcldr community had some interesting suggestions:

I believe that one day we will have value transparency in healthcare. Price transparency is an important first step. However, price in and of itself is not sufficient information to spur most patients to choose between different providers of care. In its current form, price transparency may be doing more harm than good for patients with chronic conditions that get worse without treatment – they may choose to forgo care due to cost only to end up in a more critical situation later because of the delay in treatment.

My hope is that someone will take today’s healthcare pricing tools and merge them with standardized quality metrics, crowdsourced patient experience data and provider histories to create a value transparency tool. In the meantime, the current crop of price transparency tools can at least help to reduce the fear of the unknown medical bill.