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AHA Asks Congress To Reduce Health IT Regulations for Medicare Providers

Posted on September 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.

The American Hospital Association has sent a letter to Congress asking members to reduce regulatory burdens for Medicare providers, including mandates affecting a wide range of health IT services.

The letter, which is addressed to the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee, notes that in 2016, CMS and other HHS agencies released 49 rules impacting hospitals and health systems, which make up nearly 24,000 pages of text.

“In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them,” says the letter, which was signed by Thomas Nickels, executive vice president of government relations and public policy for the AHA. The letter came with a list of specific changes AHA is proposing.

Proposals of potential interest to health IT leaders include the following. The AHA is asking Congress to:

  • Expand Medicare coverage of telehealth to patients outside of rural areas and expand the types of technology that can be used. It also suggests that CMS should automatically reimburse for Medicare-covered services when delivered via telehealth unless there’s an individual exception.
  • Remove HIPAA barriers to sharing patient medical information with providers that don’t have a direct relationship with that patient, in the interests of improving care coordination and outcomes in a clinically-integrated setting.
  • Cancel Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program, institute a 90-day reporting period for future program years and eliminate the all-or-nothing approach to compliance.
  • Suspend eCQM reporting requirements, given how difficult it is at present to pull outside data into certified EHRs for quality reporting.
  • Remove requirements that hospitals attest that they have bought technology which supports health data interoperability, as well as that they responded quickly and in good faith to requests for exchange with others. At present, hospitals could face penalties for technical issues outside their control.
  • Refocus the ONC to address a narrower scope of issues, largely EMR standards and certification, including testing products to assure health data interoperability.

I am actually somewhat surprised to say that these proposals seem to be largely reasonable. Typically, when they’re developed by trade groups, they tend to be a bit too stacked in favor of that group’s subgroup of concerns. (By the way, I’m not taking a position on the rest of the regulatory ideas the AHA put forth.)

For example, expanding Medicare telehealth coverage seems prudent. Given their age, level of chronic illness and attendant mobility issues, telehealth could potentially do great things for Medicare beneficiaries.

Though it should be done carefully, tweaking HIPAA rules to address the realities of clinical integration could be a good thing. Certainly, no one is suggesting that we ought to throw the rulebook out the window, it probably makes sense to square it with today’s clinical realities.

Also, the idea of torquing down MU 3 makes some sense to me as well, given the uncertainties around the entirety of MU. I don’t know if limiting future reporting to 90-day intervals is wise, but I wouldn’t take it off of the table.

In other words, despite spending much of my career ripping apart trade groups’ legislative proposals, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the majority of the ones I list above. I hope Congress gives these suggestions some serious consideration.

The More Hospital IT Changes, The More It Remains The Same

Posted on June 23, 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.

Once every year or two, some technical development leads the HIT buzzword list, and at least at first it’s very hard to tell whether that will stick. But over time, the technologies that actually work well are subsumed into the industry as it exists, lose their buzzworthy quality and just do their job.

Once in a while, the hot new thing sparks real change — such as the use of mobile health applications — but more often the ideas are mined for whatever value they offer and discarded.  That’s because in many cases, the “new thing” isn’t actually novel, but rather a slightly different take on existing technology.

I’d argue that this is particularly true when it comes to hospital IT, given the exceptionally high cost of making large shifts and the industry’s conservative bent. In fact, other than the (admittedly huge) changes fostered by the adoption of EMRs, hospital technology deployments are much the same as they were ten years ago.

Of course, I’d be undercutting my thesis dramatically if I didn’t stipulate that EMR adoption has been a very big deal. Things have certainly changed dramatically since 2007, when an American Hospital Association study reported that 32% percent of hospitals had no EMR in place and 57% had only partially implemented their EMR, with only the remaining 11% having implemented the platform fully.

Today, as we know, virtually every hospital has implemented an EMR integrated it with ancillary systems (some more integrated and some less).  Not only that, some hospitals with more mature deployments in place have used EMRs and connected tools to make major changes in how they deliver care.

That being said, the industry is still struggling with many of the same problems it did in a decade ago.

The most obvious example of this is the extent to which health data interoperability efforts have stagnated. While hospitals within a health system typically share data with their sister facilities, I’d argue that efforts to share data with outside organizations have made little material progress.

Another major stagnation point is data analytics. Even organizations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their EMR are still struggling to squeeze the full value of this data out of their systems. I’m not suggesting that we’ve made no progress on this issue (certainly, many of the best-funded, most innovative systems are getting there), but such successes are still far from common.

Over the longer-term, I suspect the shifts in consciousness fostered by EMRs and digital health will gradually reshape the industry. But don’t expect those technology lightning bolts to speed up the evolution of hospital IT. It’s going take some time for that giant ship to turn.

Data Sharing Largely Isn’t Informing Hospital Clinical Decisions

Posted on July 6, 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.

Some new data released by ONC suggests that while healthcare data is being shared far more frequently between hospitals than in the past, few hospital clinicians use such data regularly as part of providing patient care.

The ONC report, which is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, concluded that 96% of hospitals had an EHR in place which was federally tested and certified for the Meaningful Use program. That’s an enormous leap from 2009, the year federal economic stimulus law creating the program was signed, when only 12.2% of hospitals had even a basic EHR in place.

Also, hospitals have improved dramatically in their ability to share data with other facilities outside their system, according to an AHA article from February. While just 22% of hospitals shared data with peer facilities in 2011, that number had shot up to 57% in 2014. Also, the share of hospitals exchanging data with ambulatory care providers outside the system climbed from 37% to 60% during the same period.

On the other hand, hospitals are not meeting federal goals for data use, particularly the use of data not created within their institution. While 82% of hospitals shared lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with hospitals or ambulatory care centers outside of their orbit — up from 45% in 2009 — the date isn’t having as much of an impact as it could.

Only 18% of those surveyed by the AHA said that hospital clinicians often used patient information gathered electronically from outside sources. Another 35% reported that clinicians used such information “sometimes,” 20% used it “rarely” and 16% “never” used such data. (The remaining 11% said that they didn’t know how such data was used.)

So what’s holding hospital clinicians back? More than half of AHA respondents (53%) said that the biggest barrier to using interoperable data integrating that data into physician routines. They noted that since shared information usually wasn’t available to clinicians in their EHRs, they had to go out of the regular workflows to review the data.

Another major barrier, cited by 45% of survey respondents, was difficulty integrating exchange information into their EHR. According to the AHA survey, only 4 in 10 hospitals had the ability to integrate data into their EHRs without manual data entry.

Other problems with clinician use of shared data concluded that information was not always available when needed (40%), that it wasn’t presented in a useful format (29%) and that clinicians did not trust the accuracy of the information (11%). Also, 31% of survey respondents said that many recipients of care summaries felt that the data itself was not useful, up from 26% in 2014.

What’s more, some technical problems in sharing data between EHRs seem to have gotten slightly worse between the 2014 and 2015 surveys. For example, 24% of respondents the 2014 survey said that matching or identifying patients was a concern in data exchange. That number jumped to 33% in the 2015 results.

By the way, you might want to check out this related chart, which suggests that paper-based data exchange remains wildly popular. Given the challenges that still exist in sharing such data digitally, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

RAC Audits Infographic

Posted on July 6, 2015 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.

RAC audits have quickly become a reality in every hospital system. Plus, the costs of managing these audits is increasing for many hospitals. HealthPort has put out this RAC Audits Infographic that highlights some of the trends with RAC audits.

The Year of Audits Infographic.Rev1.6.11.15

Needless to say, managing these RAC audits effectively is going to be extremely important to a health system going forward. From the AHA RACTrac survey which was the source for the infographic it says that “53% of all hospitals reported spending more than $10,000 managing the RAC process during the 4th quarter of 2014, 32% spent more than $25,000 and 8% spent over $100,000.”

What’s even more interesting is that HealthPort notes that many of the other payers are starting to make similar audit requests to measure the acuity of new patients entering the health system thanks to Obamacare (ACA). As this increases, the financial implications continue to increase as well.

What are you doing to make sure your RAC audits and other similar audits are managed effectively?

Did Hospitals Put Off RCM Upgrades for Nothing?

Posted on May 8, 2015 I Written By

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

In December of last year, I wrote a piece outlining a study on revenue cycle management systems by research firm Black Book.  The piece noted that despite hospitals’ desperate need to modernize their RCM platforms, such upgrades were being put off over and over again, largely due to the cost of ICD-10 switchover and Meaningful Use compliance.

It’s hard to say whether ICD-10 prep or  MU compliance have been a greater strain on hospital budgets, but it’s clear that ICD-10 preparations have been a major distraction and a major cost.  Even if a hospital’s EMR has included ICD-10 codes in is platforms or upgrades, hospitals have still had to reconfigure some systems, do revenue impact testing with payers, conduct readiness testing with clearinghouses and train with their claims processing staff, and none of it has been cheap. And the longer hospitals wait to pull the trigger, the worse things get. The American Hospital Association recently estimated that delaying the ICD-10 switchover deadline has cost the hospital industry billions of dollars.

Given the cost of the run-up to the new code set — and the fact that most hospitals report being ready to switch over from ICD-9 — the industry has hoped against hope that the deadline wouldn’t be extended again. In fact, a recently-released survey by software firm QauliTest of more than 150 healthcare executives found that 83% said they think ICD-10 will go live as currently anticipated on Oct. 1.

And that’s where politics enters the picture. While hospitals seem raring to go ahead with the transition and skip any further delays to the deadline,  Texas Rep. Ted Poe (R) has a different outcome in mind.  Perhaps pushed by physicians’ lobbying groups, which still oppose the switch as being too burdensome and costly to handle, Poe has introduced a bill which would actually prohibit HHS from adopting ICD-10 as an ICD-9 replacement.

It’s hard to tell whether the bill will even make it out of the House, as it currently has only six co-sponsors, each fellow Republicans to Poe.  But if it did, hospitals would have plenty to gripe about.

As we’ve pointed out here, one of the major sacrifices hospitals have had to make due to outside forces is to postpone RCM system investment, a lapse which has doubtless cost hospitals plenty due to lost money due to claims processing problems. The longer the need to put off RCM switchovers or improvements lasts, the greater the chance that it hospitals will lose too much to afford on claims old systems can’t handle.

Bottom line, I’d argue that another ICD-10 delay or cancellation of the entire transition would be terribly unfair to hospitals.  If CMS needs to help doctors through the process or even help them pay for it, so be it. Hospitals deserve to be freed to focus on their other IT problems, not wait with bated breath for yet another ICD-10 delay.

EMR Change Cuts Cardiac Telemetry Use Substantially

Posted on September 25, 2014 I Written By

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

Changing styles of medical practice can be really tough, even if major trade organization sticks its oar in to encourage new behavior from docs.

Such is the situation with cardiac telemetry, which is listed by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation as either unnecessary or overused in most cases. But a recent piece of research demonstrated that configuring an EMR to help doctors comply with the guideline can help hospitals lower needless cardiac monitoring substantially.

Often, it takes a very long time to get doctors to embrace new guidelines like these, despite pressure from payers, employers and even peers. (Physicians may turn on a dime and try out a new drug when the right pharmaceutical rep shows up, but that’s another story.) Doctors say they stick to their habits because of patient, institutional or personal preferences, as well as fear of lawsuits.

But according to a recent study appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, reprogramming its Centricity EMR did the trick for Wilmington, Del.-based Christiana Care Health System.

To curb the use of cardiac telemetry that was unnecessary, Christiana Care removed the standard option for doctors to order cardiac monitoring outside of AHA guidelines, and required them to take an extra step to order this type of test.

Meanwhile, when the cardiac monitoring order did fall within AHA guidelines, Christiana Care added an AHA-recommended time frame for the monitoring. After that time passed, the EMR notified nurses to stop the monitoring or ask physicians if they believed it would be unsafe to stop.

The results were striking. After implementing the changes in the EMR, the health systems average daily not intensive care unit patients with cardiac monitoring fell by 70%. What’s more, Christiana Care’s average daily cost of administering  non-ICU cardiac monitoring held by 70%, from $18,971 to $5,772.

Christiana Care’s health IT presence is already well ahead of many hospitals — it’s reached Stage 6 of the HIMSS EMRAM scale — so it’s not surprising to see it leading the way in shaping physician behavior.

The question now is how the system builds on what it’s learned. Having survived a politically-sensitive transition without creating a revolution in its ranks, I’d argue the time is now to jump in and work on compliance with other clinical guidelines. With pressure mounting to deliver efficient care, it’d be smart to keep the ball rolling.

Eyes Wide Shut Meaningful Use Series

Posted on March 6, 2014 I Written By

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

For those of you who read Hospital EMR and EHR but don’t read EMR and HIPAA (which from our latest survey is far too many of you), I wanted to highlight a series of blog posts by Mandi Bishop that I believe will be of extreme interest to those reading this site.

In this series called Eyes Wide Shut, Mandi gives some really amazing in the trenches views into how a large organization is dealing with the challenges of meaningful use and meaningful use stage 2 in particular.

Here’s a small sample from the latest entry in the series titled “Eyes Wide Shut: Meaningful Use Stage 2 Incentive Program Hardships“:

In my January update on Meaningful Use Stage 2 readiness, I painted a dismal picture of a large IDN’s journey towards attestation, and expressed concern for patient safety resulting from the rush to implement and adopt what equates to, at best, beta-release health IT. Given the resounding cries for help from the healthcare provider community, including this February 2014 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, I know my experience isn’t unique. So, when rumors ran rampant at HIMSS 2014 that CMS and the ONC would make a Meaningful Use announcement, I was hopeful that relief may be in sight.

Like AHA , I was disappointed in CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner’s announcement. The new Stage 2 hardship exemptions will now include an explicit criteria for “difficulty implementing 2014-certified EHR technology” – a claim which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and may result in a delay of the penalty phase of the Stage 2 mandate. But it does nothing to extend the incentive phase of Stage 2 – without which, many healthcare providers would not have budgeted for participation in the program, at all, including the IDN profiled in this series. So how does this help providers like mine?

In that post, Mandi also tries to not just complain about the challenges they face, but also offer some solutions. You can see her full list of ideas in the post, but I especially like the simplicity of her last line “Consider applying the hardship exemption deadline extension to the incentive program participants.”

We need more in the trenches people like Mandi sharing their stories and solutions for others to see. Otherwise, the regulators sit in their office in DC and don’t know the details of why they should adjust. If you’re someone reading this that would like to tell your story as well, I’d be happy to give you the platform. Just drop me a note on our contact us page.

AHA Asks NIST To Make Cybersecurity Rules Flexible and Voluntary

Posted on December 19, 2013 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 American Hospital Association has sent a letter to the National Institute of Standards and Technology asking the organization to make sure that its cybersecurity framework remains flexible and “strictly” voluntary for private sector organizations, according to iHealthBeat.

In late October, NIST opened a comment period  on the proposed cybersecurity framework. It followed on former NSA employee Edward Snowden leaking private government documents stating that NIST’s encryption standards contain a “back door,” allowing NSA to decipher encrypted messages.

NIST’s data encryption standards, which are used in electronic health care data security and exchange, are now undergoing internal and independent formal reviews.

In its letter, the AHA says that it agrees with the five core functions of the proposed framework:

* Identify
* Protect
* Detect
* Respond
* Recover

That being said, the AHA also wants to see the framework look at ways to reconcile various cybersecurity implementation standards, provide plenty of time for implementing changes, and include existing data security roles used in healthcare such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act, iHealthBeat reports.

Also, the AHA advises that several entities that interact with hospitals should be involved in cybersecurity risk assessment and reduction, including medical device companies, physician offices, insurers and individual patients.

And the AHA strongly urges NIST to encourage, not bludgeon, when it comes to bringing these standards to healthcare: “We encourage the federal government to ensure a thorough dialogue with the health sector before any specific incentives are adopted…Further, we recommend that only positive incentives be contemplated, such as reduced premiums for cybersecurity insurance among those who have adopted the framework.”

Regardless of what NIST does with its cybersecurity framework, healthcare leaders have plenty of security issues of their own to handle. As an investigative report published by last year by The Washington Post pointed out, healthcare organizations have their work cut out for them when it come to fixing security holes.

Do We Need To Allow Hospitals To Donate EMRs?

Posted on May 28, 2013 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.

Today I was looking through my Twitter inbox and found this complaint, by @lee_ritz:

EMR systems are putting private physician groups out of business–we can’t afford to compete with the big hospital groups.

Certainly, it’s hard to argue that some EMRs can put a big strain ( as much as $50K+ per doctor) on medical practices . And for those in low-margin specialties like primary care, perhaps that could be the death-blow financially. But are we at a point where we need to somehow pay for EMRs for small practices above and beyond Meaningful Use incentives?

One way to address this problem comes straight from the loving arms of the American Hospital Association.

Right now, the HHS Office of the Inspector General has proposed a rule which would extend the EMR safe harbor  — allowing hospitals to donate EMRs and health IT to practices and not face a kickback investigation — from the end of this year until December 31, 2106.  Looked at one way, that’s a pretty good offer, as it and gives both hospitals and medical practices the change to get those donated EMRs in place and situated while both sides iron out Meaningful Use issues.

The AHA is arguing that safe harbor protections should be made  permanent. Its executives argue that the safe harbor is a valuable tool for getting health IT into the hands of rural physicians; that with the donations, hospitals can provide the tech support, training and maintenance medical practices need to use EMRs properly; and that hospitals can donate EMRs to physicians across entire areas, ensuring interoperability.

The AHA also notes that not all providers are eligible for Meaningful Use incentives, and that new physicians, presumably needing hospital help to get their EMRs rolling, will begin to practice after the deadline has passed. And on top of all of this, the AHA letter to the OIG states, changes in interoperable technologies will require new donations going forward if doctors and hospitals are to stay connected.

Is this the solution to the problem of making sure cash-strapped smaller practices can afford to have powerful EMR technologies that connect with hospitals and peers?  It’s hard to say, but I do think there’s some merit to at least extending the protections further and keeping a close eye on what happens.

In this day and age, when getting EMRs into medical practices is such a key federal objective, it does seem to me that the hospitals deserve a generous turn at bat.  After all, the money has to some from somewhere.

Hospitals Adjusting to Meaningful Use Stage 2 Rules

Posted on August 30, 2012 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.

We knew the final draft of Meaningful Use Stage 2 was going to come with as many complaints against it as Stage 1. Given the scope of the new rules, and the importance of following them, hospitals don’t seem to be up at arms to the extent one might have expected.

To start with, it’s worth noting that hospitals are very happy about one change from the draft, the provision that requires Stage 2 compliance to begin in 2014 rather than 2013, though they still have some significant Meaningful Use worries, according to an AHA official quoted in Modern Healthcare. Presumably, the AHA is also psyched that providers will only be required to demonstrate MU for a three month period in 2014, rather than an entire year.

But that doesn’t mean they’re perfectly content. Senior vice president of public policy analysis and development Linda Fishman said in a statement that hospitals are “disappointed” that the rule sets an “unrealistic” date by which hospitals must meet Stage 1 goals in order to  avoid being slapped with reimbursement penalties.

Other provider groups are focused on a new provision requiring 5 percent of patients to view, download or transmit health information during a three month period. The College of Healthcare Management Executives’ noted, quite fairly, that providers can’t control what patients do on their own time. If nothing else, making sure patients meet these goals is going to take marketing, workflow changes and some arm-twisting, to say the least, so I feel their pain.

Meanwhile, some non-hospital groups think Stage 2 didn’t go far enough. The requirement that physicians submit an electronic summary of care docs for 10 percent of patients being transferred to a hospital or another provider does far too little to promote data exchange, critics in the HIE world say.

I too am surprised that HIE-type requirements are relatively light (and focused on Direct Project specs). I’m sure that Meaningful Use Stage 3 will address these issues further, but given what our guy Farzad has said about interoperability, it might have been nice to see more progress now.