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What HIMSS Told Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

Gap Between Small/Rural and Large/Urban Hospitals Closing

As readers know, we’ve been tracking the progress of Meaningful Use uptake, and data has repeatedly suggested that small and rural hospitals were lagging behind. Now, courtesy of Modern Healthcare, comes an analysis suggesting that the EMR gap between small/rural and large/urban hospitals may be closing.

The magazine, which drew this conclusion after analyzing a CMS/ONC database of meaningful users of EMR systems, found that small hospital-oriented vendor CPSI has moved to the number one position among vendors “whose hospital clients have achieved Meaningful Use with systems certified as ‘complete EHRs.’ ”

According to Modern Healthcare’s analysis, CPSI’s 266 hospital clients account for 19 percent of the 1,381 hospitals that have become meaningful users with complete EMRs.

CPSI, which typically serves hospitals of 100 beds or less, can now boast more hospitals with so-called complete EMRs than larger vendors like Epic and Meditech.  Epic has 251 clients which met Meaningful Use criteria for a complete EMR, and Meditech came in third with 173 hospital clients who were meaningful users of complete EMRs.

That being said, this doesn’t mean that the small and rural hospitals don’t face significant barriers when it comes to acquiring — and more significantly, developing sophisticated uses for — robust EMRs.

As the Modern Healthcare piece notes, far more large hospitals adopted an EMR in 2011 (25.4 percent) than did small hospitals (14.7 percent).  There was also a big gap between the percentage of rural hospitals who adopted EMRs (19.4 percent) versus urban hospitals (19.1 percent), according to Mathematica Policy Research.

It’s also worth noting that when last we checked, smaller hospitals were generally far lower on the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model scale.  Smaller hospitals and rural facilities were on average below 2 on the seven point scale, while urban and academic institutions scored much higher.

That being said, I like how Modern Healthcare used vendor data as a proxy for looking at the status of small/rural hospital EMR adoption. Good idea. Any data we have on how hospitals are faring is good data.

November 7, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

UPMC Sinks $100MM Into Big Data

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has announced plans to spend $100 million over five years to create a massive data warehouse, a move which puts it well at the forefront of hospital “big data” efforts.

According to Information Week, UPMC’s data warehouse will bring together clinical, financial, administrative, genomic  and other information. The health system has targeted more than 200 data sources across the Medical Center, UPMC Health Plan and other affiliates.

I’ll let Information Week describe the technical set-up:

To collect, store, manage, and analyze the information maintained in the data warehouse, UPMC will use the Oracle Exadata Database Machine, a high-performance database platform; IBM’s Cognos software for business intelligence and financial management; Informatica’s data integration platform; and dbMotion’s SOA-based interoperability platform that integrates patient records from healthcare organizations and health information exchanges. These tools will manage the 3.2 petabytes of data that flows across UPMC’s business divisions.

As to how UPMC plans to use these tools, they’re hoping to do all of the things you might imagine, including genomically-tailored prescribing, population analytics and sophisticated tracking of individual patient data to make predictions about possible risks.

As I see it, UPMC’s efforts highlight both the importance of big data efforts and the downside in making the investment.

On the one hand, you’ve got the benefits. For example, patients will clearly see better outcomes if doctors can use top-drawer analytical tools to predict how treatments will work or know well in advance if a patient’s condition is about to go south.  And hospitals will clearly run better if execs get insights into issues that cross clinical and administrative boundaries, such as ED or OR utilization.

On the other, you’ve got the reality that big data projects are prohibitively expensive for all but the best-funded of healthcare organizations, and probably won’t produce returns on investment for several years at best.  Average community hospitals won’t be consolidating and analyzing their data this way anytime soon.

November 6, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

HHS OIG Begins Digging Into EMR Overbilling Allegations

Well, it had to happen: The furor over the possible EMR-related Medicare overbilling has moved to its next stage.  After enduring harangues by members of Congress and a widely-read New York Times article alleging that EMRs were upcoding machines, HHS has begun to look into the matter directly.

Fraud investigators within the HHS’s Office of the Inspector General have sent a 54-question survey to hospitals who got Meaningful Use incentive payments between January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. The survey looks into assertions that hospitals and physicians using EMRs have been inflating Medicare claims.

The logical next step for the OIG’s office is to issue a report to Congress spelling out whether it has reason to believe EMRs are linked to Medicare overbilling. The OIG will doubtless do some chart pulling and analysis to see whether it finds suspicious-looking patterns.

As I’ve said before — and will continue to say, doubtless — this whole effort concerns me. I’m not suggesting that HHS should ignore any evidence it has that hospitals or doctors are using EMRs to engineer a billing joyride. On the other hand, “overbilling” can be in the eye of the beholder, and conducting an inquisition into EMR user behavior seems premature to me.

I find myself wondering whether the feds have seriously considered hospitals’ response to these charges — that EMRs aren’t generating overbilling schemes, but instead are merely capturing and documenting services which weren’t always captured in the days of paper records.  It’s a credible argument and deserves a closer look.

So, let’s  hope HHS takes a breath and looks at the benign possibilities providers have outlined before it accuses hospitals and practices of wrongdoing. Otherwise, we’ll have a agency simultaneously pushing for EMR adoption and hanging the sword of Damocles over the heads of doctors and hospitals.

November 5, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

EMR Overbilling Investigations Sling Mud At Meaningful Use Program

In the wake of an expose in The New York Times claiming that upcoding and overbilling was increasing with the use of EMRs, and members of Congress riding the claim, I guess ONC had no choice but to take the allegations seriously.  So fearless leader Farzad Mostashari, M.D. has asked the advisory HIT Policy Committee to study whether providers are using EMRs to upcode Medicare bills.

I suppose you can tell from how I put that that I’m far from convinced EMRs are generating massive amounts of illegitimate bills, but the idea is “out there” now and dangerous to the future of HITECH objectives. So I suppose it’s a good thing that ONC is investigating.

Dr. Mostashari wants to find out whether EMRs tend to foster the use of higher billing codes by encouraging doctors to cut and paste information from one patient encounter to another, according to an interview with the Center for Public Integrity. He’s also asking the policy committee to determine whether some EMR functions prompt physicians to overbill.

All of this leaves me sort of uneasy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that EMRs aren’t generating any upcoding issues at all. We all know that many physicians feel pressured to cut and paste text in an effort to get through their heavy workloads, particularly if they’re not otherwise comfortable with their system.

Also, I can’t deny that there are bad apples in every profession, including medicine, who could conceivably be taking advantage of the newness of the technology to reap a profit.

No, my concerns are more that countless providers will have one more thing to worry about as they use the new technology, and that policymakers will view EMRs with a level of suspicion they hadn’t before.  We’re at a tricky point in the overall EMR adoption curve, and bad vibes and publicity are the last thing we need. Meaningful Use compliance is tough enough as it is.

October 31, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

Hospitals Behind On EMR ROI Measurements

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

Massachusetts HIE Kicks Off With Golden Spikes

If you’re a history buff, you may know of the Golden Spike connecting the eastgoing and westgoing tracks of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. It’s hard to overestimate how important that day was in the history of U.S. industry and transportation, despite the fact that it didn’t actually mark the day a seamless coast-to-coast rail network was completed.

This week, another big link-up was celebrated with ceremonial golden spikes, with some comparably high hopes attached. This one, however, was between disparate EMRs in Massachusetts, writes John Halamka, MD in Life As A Healthcare CIO:

Today we made history in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   At 11:35am Governor Deval and his physician sent the Governor’s healthcare record from Massachusetts General Hospital to Baystate Medical Center.   It arrived and was integrated into Baystate’s Cerner medical record.

Lots of other demonstrations followed, pingponging data from hospitals to payers to physicians to the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (which measures quality and performs data analytics).

Among the most interesting facts Dr. Halamka noted was the list of varied EMRs that shared data, including Partners Healthcare’s LMR, eClinicalWorks, a custom payer system and self-built analytics applications.

What took place was no less than a revolutionary event, suggested Dr. Halamka:

Within seconds, we broke down silos, demonstrating that care coordination, population health, and quality analytics based on healthcare information exchange is now possible in Massachusetts.  

By the way, for those who haven’t crossed paths with the indefatigable Dr. Halamka, he’s Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. So his institution is central to this new effort (of which he’s quite justifiably proud).

My question is just how this trick was pulled off. Did the participants use the CCD format, Direct Project protocols, discrete data or something else?  Regardless of how the data’s being exchanged, it seems to me that the rest of the country should consider following suit.

October 25, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

Senators Join Initiative To Scrutinize Meaningful Use

A couple of weeks ago, four House GOP leaders wrote a letter to HHS head Katherine Sebelius demanding that she account for perceived failures in the Meaningful Use program.

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

Politics being what it is, the other shoe had to drop, and now a group of senators have offered their own objections.

Sens. John Thune and Dr. Tom Coburn of the Finance Committee, and Richard Burr and Pat Roberts of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have formally requested that CMS and ONC staffers meet with the latter committee regarding the final rule for Stage 2 of Meaningul Use.

In a letter to HHS, the senators raise several questions:

* Do EMRs sometimes increase utilization of diagnostic tests, and if so, how should the government respond?

* Have some providers gotten subsidies for EMR systems they had in place prior to the kickoff of  Meaningful Use? If so, what is HHS doing to claw back such payments and prevent future outlays of this kind?

* Has the use of EMRs boosted providers’ billing of Medicare, and thereby raised the cost of the program?

* What is HHS’s strategy for “meaningful interoperability”?

Interestingly, the senators’ letter stops short of demanding a halt on MU payments, which the congressmen did in no uncertain terms.  But they’re clearly antsy about the future of the Meaningful Use program, which has paid out $6.6+ billion in incentives to date.

And you know what?  It’s about time that Congress got interested in the future of EMRs and Meaningful Use specifically.  Better to have them breathing down HHS’ neck now than further down the line when there’s far less opportunity to turn the MU battleship.

October 23, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

Private Payers Don’t Want To Play Meaningful Use Games

Today, health IT writer Neil Versel tweeted an interesting observation:

It is indeed interesting to note that while private payers have encouraged physicians to engage in some forms of electronic communication (notably electronic claims adjudication), they’re not setting up their own mini-Meaningful-Use programs.

Now, they are pushing for business models, such as ACOs and the medical home, which require smart use of EMRs. But to my knowledge, few if any health plans have gotten into a tug of war with with providers as to how they use their EMRs, or offered incentives for using an EMR in any specific way.

There’s clearly a reason for that. So what conclusion can we draw from the lack of Meaningful Use-style demands by payers?

Just this — that payers feel their money is better spent on rewarding positive care outcomes and efficiency.

Pay for performance programs have been in place for quite some time now, and evidence is accumulating that they’re effective. According to the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, its Bridges To Excellence-recognized physicians have been found to:

  • Outperform non-recognized physicians on process measures of quality.
  • Have fewer episodes per patient and lower resource use per episode.
  • Have lower average costs per patient and per episode.

Clearly, payers have gotten interested in HIEs; data in the aggregate definitely serves their needs. But when it comes to EMRs, they don’t get as excited. So far, the evidence that EMRs can achieve these kind of quality improvements are scattered at best, though there are some promising signs emerging.

Bottom line, payers don’t seem to care much just how engaged providers are in using EMRs, as long as the provider does enough to make entities like medical homes work. The specifics of how providers use EMRs don’t seem like something they’re worrying about.

I’m not suggesting that Meaningful Use programs are a bad idea — it often takes government to do needful things that the private sector can’t or won’t touch — but the fact that payers aren’t pushing something similar does make you think, doesn’t it?

October 19, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.

EMR Uptake By Doctors Slowed By Lack of Time And Knowledge, Not Just Cash

Hospitals, you probably know that small practices are the last ones to adopt an EMR, and you may find it pretty frustrating. You may also be assuming that the only reason most small practices haven’t brought an EMR on board is because they can’t afford it.

Think again, says Rosemarie Nelson, principal with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group. In a new piece for KevinMD.com, Nelson argues that lack of time and knowledge is just as big of an issue, if not a bigger one, in small practice EMR adoption delays.

As she rightly notes, such doctors face a wide range of issues, including the following:

EMR selection:  Most small practice-doctors already have their hands full with patient care, and if they switch to working on EMR selection the practice loses money. So who does the vendor sorting, sifting and selection?

EMR expertise:  Choosing an EMR requires an understanding of the range of products available and how they might serve the practice, as well as a sense of how well vendors will support the product and the ability to handle the implementation. Whew! None of that comes easy.

Financial management expertise:  To get a sense of when the EMR has begun to offer a return on investment, the practice needs someone who can analyze current operational costs and productivity benchmarks, then compare those with projected operational costs and productivity during and post go-live. That’s another tall order.

Staffing the EMR implementation:  Few small practices have the human resources readily available to implement and manage an EMR. Certainly, existing clinicians already have their hands full.  Nelson estimates that the implementation calls for a full-timer for three to six months, plus .20 to .25 of an FTE for ongoing support and management. Where will those resources come from?

Ultimately, practices typically end up seeking help from outside consultants who know the EMR playing field, but even that’s a big and costly decision which calls for its own selection process.  No matter how you slice it, it’s hard to argue that small practices are still up against it when it comes to EMR adoption. So maybe it’s time for hospitals to step up on the management support front, no?

October 15, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies.