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From Fragmented to Coordinated: The Big Data Challenge

Posted on November 27, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Patty Sheridan, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA; SVP, Life Sciences at Ciox.

When healthcare organizations have access to as much data as possible, that translates into improved coordination and quality of care, reduced costs for patients, payers and providers, and more efficient medical care. Yet, there is a void in the healthcare data landscape when it comes to securing the right information to make the right decision at the right time. It is becoming increasingly critical to ensure that providers understand data and are able to properly utilize it. Technologies are emerging today that can help deliver a full picture of a patient’s health data, which can lead to more consistent care and the development of improved therapies by helping providers derive better insights from clinical data.

Across the country, patient data resides across multiple systems, and in a variety of structured and unstructured formats. The lack of interoperability makes it difficult for organizations to have access to the data they need to run programs that are critical to patient care. Often, various departments within an organization seek the same information and request it separately and repeatedly, leading to a fragmented picture of a patient’s health status.

Managing Complexity, Inside and Out

While analytics tools work well within select facilities and research communities, these vast data sets and the useful information within them are very complex, especially when combined with data sets from outside organizations. The current state of data illiquidity even makes it challenging to seamlessly share and use data within an organization.

For example, in the life sciences arena, disease staging is often the foundation needed to identify a sample of patients and to link to other relevant data which is then abstracted and mined for real world use; yet clinical and patient reported data is rarely documented in a consistent manner in EHRs. Not only do providers often equivocate and contradict their own documentation, but EHR conventions also promote errors in the documentation of diagnostic findings. Much of the documentation can be found in unstructured EHR notes that require a combination of abstraction and clinician review to determine the data’s relevance.

Improved Interoperability, Improved Outcomes

Problems with EHR interoperability continue to obstruct care coordination, health data exchange and clinical efficiency. EHRs are designed and developed to support patient care delivery but, in today’s world of value-based care, the current state of EHR interoperability is insufficient at best.

Consider the difficulty in collecting a broad medical data set. The three largest EHRs combined still corner less than one-third of the market, and there are hundreds of active EHR vendors across the healthcare landscape, each bringing its own unique approach to the information transfer equation. Because many hospitals use more than one EHR, tracking down records for a single patient at a single hospital often requires connecting to multiple systems. To collect a broader population data set would require ubiquitous connection to all of the hundreds of EHR vendors across the country.

The quality integration of health data systems is essential for patients with chronic conditions, for example. Patients with more serious illnesses often require engagement with several specialists, which means it is particularly important that the findings and data from each specialist are succinctly and properly communicated to fellow doctors and care providers.

Leveraging Technology

As the industry matures in its use of data, emerging technologies are beginning to break down information road blocks. Retrieving, digitizing and delivering medical records is a complex endeavor, and technology must be layered within all operations to streamline data acquisition and make executable data available at scale, securing population-level data more quickly and affordably.

When planning to take advantage of new advanced technologies, seek a vendor partner that provides a mix of traditional and emerging technologies, including robotic process automation (RPA), computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning. All of these technologies serve vital functions:

  • RPA can be used to streamline manually intensive and repetitive systematic tasks, increasing the speed and quality at which clinical and administrative data are retrieved from the various end-point EHRs and specialty systems.
  • NLP and neural networks can analyze the large volume of images and text received to extract, organize and provide context to coded content, dealing with ambiguous data and packaging the information in an agreed-upon standard.
  • With machine learning, an augmented workforce can be equipped to increase the quality of records digitization and the continuous learning across the ecosystem, where every touchpoint is a learning opportunity.

Smarter, faster and more qualitative systems of information exchange will soon be the catalysts that lead paradigm-shifting improvements in the U.S. care ecosystem, such as:

  • Arming doctors with relevant information about patients
  • Increasing claims accuracy and accelerating providers’ payments
  • Empowering universities and research organizations with timely, accurate and clinically relevant data sets
  • Correlating epidemics with the preparedness of field teams
  • Alerting pharmacists with counter-interaction warnings

Ultimately, improving information exchange will enable healthcare industry professionals to elevate patient safety and quality, reduce medical and coding errors tenfold and enhance operational efficiencies by providing the relevant data needed to quickly define treatment.

Achieving this paradigm shift depends almost entirely on taking the necessary steps to adopt these emerging technologies and drive a systematic redesign of many of our operations and systems. Only then will we access the insights necessary to truly impact the quality of care across the healthcare landscape.

About Ciox
Ciox, a health technology company and proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene, is dedicated to significantly improving U.S. health outcomes by transforming clinical data into actionable insights. Combined with an unmatched network offering ubiquitous access to healthcare data, Ciox’s expertise, relationships, technology and scale allow for the extraction of insights from structured and unstructured clinical data to create value for healthcare stakeholders. Through its HealthSource technology platform, which includes solutions for data acquisition, release of information, clinical coding, data abstraction, and analytics, Ciox helps clients securely and consistently solve the last mile challenges in clinical interoperability. Ciox improves data management and sharing by modernizing workflows and increasing the accuracy and flow of information, while providing transparency across the healthcare ecosystem and helping clients manage disparate medical records. Learn more at www.ciox.com.

Five Things to Look for When Choosing a Professional Consultant

Posted on November 15, 2018 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.

As a blogger, people always ask me if I run out of things to write about. It turns out that I never come close. Occasionally I’m not motivated to write or there are stories I don’t feel like writing that day, but there are always plenty of stories to write about. In fact, I have hundreds of draft blog post ideas sitting there waiting for me to write.

The problem with all these ideas sitting in my draft blog post folder is that many of them sink to the bottom as more ideas come in. So, every once in a while I like to go digging to see what blog ideas I never published and should have written.

That’s where today’s blog post came from. The team at Logicalis US sent me a great list of five things healthcare CIOs should look for when choosing a professional consultant. Check out the list below:

1. Have a Point of View: Having a point of view is very different from having technological expertise.  It’s about applying that expertise to develop an opinion about the best way to implement a particular technology or solution – and it’s about being so confident in that opinion that they’re willing to share their point of view with you. It does not, however, mean rigidly adhering to a single point of view when another option may work better. The key is to find a partner that has the expertise to advise you about what has worked well for other clients in similar scenarios, yet one who is open to what will work best in yours.

2. Eat their Own Cheerios: As clients move into the third platform and need help extending their capabilities, there are many consultants that can talk with them from a position of strength and experience.  But, if you want to limit the number of partners you have, look for solution providers that are deploying their own strategies and leveraging their own services where possible.  If they aren’t eating their own Cheerios, metaphorically speaking, then you shouldn’t either.

3. Promote Choice and Flexibility: If the partner you select offers its own cloud services, for example, that can be a plus.  But when your business needs dictate using another solution, the right professional consultant will lead the charge.  It’s critical, therefore, that the partner you select is objective enough to be truly vendor neutral, promoting choice and flexibility even when that means helping you select a solution or service that competes with its own.  Many partners are now adopting strategies to manage solutions beyond their own portfolio promoting a framework offering flexibility and choice all delivered with a high-quality, consistent end-user experience.  In the end, partnering with organizations like these will allow you to leverage volume and scale and achieve the best commercial economics while spending less time managing partner relationships.

4. Have a Wide Array of Experiences: A partner that has served clients across a number of industries will often have a wide array of experiences and best practices that can lead to creative solutions that a more linearly focused partner might not have in its toolbox.

5. Be Able to Solve Business Problems Outside of IT: If one of the CIO’s top priorities is to be seen as a more strategic partner to the business, it’s important to have a consultant behind you that can think outside the box – and sometimes that means outside of IT.  Savvy consultants can often leverage common IT processes and service management protocols and apply them to businessproblems beyond the traditional realm of IT.  Can well-oiled ITIL-oriented processes around incident, problem and change leveraged through an ITSM platform, for example, be applied to a manufacturer’s warranty returns process? IT consultants that get to know your business can offer creative ideas that will help you solve vexing business problems in new and creative ways leading to innovation and strategic value.

I think these are some great ideas to think about. What’s been fascinating from my perspective has been the evolution of the term consultant in healthcare IT. During the golden era of EHR adoption, the term consultant largely became synonymous with temp staff. I think they preferred the term consultant because it was easier to justify the high temp staff rates if you called them consultants.

Now that EHR software is implemented, I’m interested to see if we see the return of the true consultant. I think we will. I’m just not sure how many of the “Temp Staff” consulting companies will be able to truly make the transition to consultant.

What else would you add to the list of things you look for when choosing a consultant? Are there red flags you watch for as well? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter with @HealthcareScene.

Bridging the Communication Gap Between Health Plans and Providers

Posted on October 3, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Tarun Kabaria; Executive VP, Provider Operations at Ciox.

Effective communication and trust are the essential keys to any relationship, and the plan-provider relationship is no different. A shift towards value-based coordinated accountable care has urged health plans and providers to collaborate to improve population health and patient experience while lowering costs. Most plan-provider communication revolves around rate negotiations.

An open, honest relationship with transparent communication and cooperation is needed to bridge the communication gap and create mutually beneficial partnerships. Sharing data, creating health plan-provider networks, utilizing audits and providing access to new technologies are all methods health plans and providers could use to help promote collaboration and bridge communication.

Data Sharing Across the Care Continuum

To foster collaboration, data sharing should be implemented and incentives should be aligned across the care continuum so that both parties are motivated to improve outcomes and lower costs. Data sharing is one of the key benefits of bridging the communication gap between health plans and providers.

Health plans hold the bulk of useful data and, when that data is combined with the providers’ clinical expertise, the likely result is better patient outcomes. Sharing data gives providers access to claims information that also provides with them a patient’s entire medical history. This information is useful in helping educate patients about their health risks and to boost transparency in plan-provider communication.

Health plans and providers keep a vast amount of patient information. Health plans have historical claims data while providers have clinical data. Both parties use their data for checks and balances and to mutually determine the best treatment and most appropriate care for patients. Lack of collaboration, usually due to interoperability challenges, means both data types aren’t shared. A key aspect to achieving collaboration and alignment is trust. Sometimes parties are lacking in trust when it comes to the use of their data; however, advancements in technology and use of the blockchain to create transparency are helping to change the tides.

Health plans and providers must have upfront discussions on what information will be shared, and each party must share data that is useful to the other. For health plans, this means understanding how reimbursement is determined, the factors that influence the payments they receive and how they are reimbursed based on clinical outcomes rather than interventions delivered. In turn, providers must clearly communicate the clinical outcomes health plans are or are not achieving. Ultimately, all measures should include preventative care, lower per capita cost and improve population health as well as patient experience and satisfaction. They should also improve how data is managed and transitioned. Providers that implement a strategic quality management approach to deliver high-quality, valued-based care can achieve better clinical outcomes.

Health Plan-provider Networks

Plan-provider communication networks are needed to efficiently and effectively harness data from both parties and enable rapid innovation and the sharing of real-time data for immediate response. Health plan-provider networks utilize care management, electronic health records (EHRs), and analytics to seek to resolve communication and collaboration challenges between health plans and providers. In keeping with HIPAA regulations, communication between health plans and providers must be customized to include only information that is relevant to specific attributed patient populations, physicians, reimbursement and care delivery models. The goal of plan-provider networks is to present both parties with transparent, high-quality data to improve trust and increase health plan-provider engagement to improve communication and, ultimately, population health.

Using Audits to Bridge Communication

The rise of audit requests has posed a problem in the plan-provider relationship. Both health plans and providers must work toward greater compliance, and auditing medical records is a crucial step in the process.

Providers struggle with numerous types of information requests from various third-party health plans, governmental agencies and national health plans, which often have different deadlines and vernaculars. As a result, health plans are forced to repeatedly call health information management (HIM) and audit departments when claims data inaccurately identifies place of service, provider or other patient information. An upsurge in audit requests from commercial and other health plans threatens to exacerbate these problems.

The audit process can change the plan-provider relationship from adversarial to advantageous by improving communication. Bridging communication gaps and language barriers through clearer record requests would take the burden off providers and alleviate plan problems. Technology will also play a critical role in making this entire process as automated as possible.

Chart requests that come from commercial health plan audits represent just five percent of all requests that providers receive. Hospitals also receive high volumes of medical record requests from other hospitals, physicians, attorneys, patients and more. The problem is that commercial plans often assume they are the only requestor. Education is required on both sides of the audit equation to improve processes and reduce plan-provider friction.

For providers, all data from each request and submission should be entered in a centralized audit management software application for the organization. This helps providers track audit activity by health plan and type of audit, maintain a record of all documents sent, better manage requests, and stay abreast of audit trends.

Patient access, clinical coders, billers and collectors perform unique functions and speak different languages across the hospital revenue cycle. Similarly, commercial health plans have multiple departments and terminology involved in audit processing. In many cases, inter-departmental communication and language barriers are the main obstacles to overcome.  However, technology is playing a growing role in creating greater transparency within the healthcare ecosystem—by acquiring, digitizing and giving shape to both structured and unstructured records.

Time Will Tell

Bridging the communication gap will not happen overnight. It will take time and effort from all parties involved; however, these methods are a good starting point.

As the digital era has taken hold, our attentions are turning to a better utilization of the vast data flowing through both providers and health plans. This will translate into a better understanding of patient outcomes, improved revenue cycles and more insightful growth strategies for all parties.

About Ciox
Ciox, a health technology company and proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene, is dedicated to significantly improving U.S. health outcomes by transforming clinical data into actionable insights. Combined with an unmatched network offering ubiquitous access to healthcare data, Ciox’s expertise, relationships, technology and scale allow for the extraction of insights from structured and unstructured clinical data to create value for healthcare stakeholders. Through its HealthSource technology platform, which includes solutions for data acquisition, release of information, clinical coding, data abstraction, and analytics, Ciox helps clients securely and consistently solve the last mile challenges in clinical interoperability. Ciox improves data management and sharing by modernizing workflows and increasing the accuracy and flow of information, while providing transparency across the healthcare ecosystem and helping clients manage disparate medical records. Learn more at www.ciox.com.

Centralizing HIM Operations: An Enterprise Approach

Posted on August 15, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Patty Sheridan, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA; SVP, Life Sciences at Ciox.

Technological advances, policy changes and organizational restructures are continuously bringing trends to the healthcare industry, specifically impacting healthcare facilities. Centralization of operations is one of those trends. Driven by a value-based model, the centralization of health information management (HIM) aims to streamline operations, standardize processes, reduce costs and improve quality of care and patient satisfaction.

Oftentimes, HIM departments operate with disparate processes due to legacy standard processes and acquisitions of new entities and are unable to efficiently integrate and access information when it is derived from multiple sources. This causes inconsistencies in processes and procedures, as well as incompleteness of information and unavoidable redundancies. Furthermore, decentralization can result in risks such as ineffective information management, inaccurate coding and breaches.

Silos of information hinder standardization, and as a result create compartmentalized pockets of information from sources, slowing down communication and making change more difficult. However, through the use of electronic HIM technology, secure information can be shared and processed across various departments and facilities at a quicker pace than ever before. Taking these efficiencies one step further, instead of siloes of information, many organizations are moving to a centralized model that can reduce operational costs by streamlining organizational performance, establishing consistent processes through standardization and eliminating redundancies.

Patient health information must be linked across the healthcare continuum to provide the best quality of care. Additionally, sources of information must be linked to electronic health records (EHRs) to support centralization and enhance patient care. To connect silos and reduce risks, healthcare facilities must centralize HIM operations to create standardization and improve coordination across the continuum of care.

Benefits of Centralization

Healthcare facilities can greatly benefit from incorporating the centralization of HIM operations into their long-term organizational plans. In fact, the benefits are greater than any hurdles encountered during the transition. Benefits include:

  1. Improves operational efficiency: Moving from a fragmented system to a model that streamlines operations improves efficiency and decreases administrative and operational costs.
  2. Eliminates redundancies and reduces errors: Helps to standardize processes, procedures and forms across a healthcare system to ensure they are the same throughout facilities.
  3. Improves financial performance: Restructuring improves productivity and efficiency as resources are centrally located, which positively impacts the bottom line.
  4. Fosters collaboration: Eliminates silos of communication that cause a stagger in the flow of information – improving communications and optimizing patient outcomes.
  5. Increases accessibility: Provides the benefit of system-wide accessibility to patient information for release purposes, such as billing and coding.
  6. Optimizes workflow: Allows opportunities to reexamine workflows for optimal efficiencies across the HIM continuum, bringing business value.

Driving Transition Towards Centralization

When an organization transitions to centralized HIM operations, it’s important that the journey be completed with the right preparation and execution. HIM professionals must establish processes that foster opportunities for consolidation and standardization that then result in reduced cost, mitigation of risk and overall improved patient care.

Prior to implementing a centralized model, HIM professionals must take certain steps into consideration:

  • Acquire an executive sponsorship to provide direction, support, budget and resolution to potential problems that may arise during the transition.
  • Establish a multidisciplinary steering committee to address centralization and your organization’s information policy, aligning resources with strategy.
  • Identify challenges, gaps, risks and opportunities while working with collaborators to achieve goals for improvements.
  • Define and establish standards, processes and procedures.

Centralization: The Decision is Yours

It is important for HIM professionals to be proactive when determining his or her organization’s vulnerabilities and address them immediately, as breaking down barriers that add risk ultimately drives down costs and improves efficiencies.

Additionally, everyone in an organization may not support the transition. However, executive sponsorship and collaboration between staff, departments and facilities is essential. To gain consensus, HIM professionals must understand the culture of the departments involved and how to leverage their individual technological capabilities.

The work of healthcare professionals is being reshaped by the centralization of HIM operations. If you’re looking to succeed during this ambiguity of change, transforming HIM to a centralized model throughout an enterprise provides healthcare facilities with a competitive advantage, as the integration of emerging technology continues to become a crucial step towards efficient, successful operations.

About Ciox
Ciox is a health technology company working to solve the clinical data illiquidity challenge by providing transparency across the healthcare ecosystem and helping clients manage disparate medical records and is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. When stakeholders do not have timely access to the complete clinical picture of patients, critical decisions about patient care, medical outcomes research, disease prevention, reimbursement, and payments are sub-optimized. Ciox’s scale, expertise, expansive provider network and industry leading technology platform make it the most reliable clinical data company in the US. Through its standards based technology platform, HealthSource, Ciox helps clients securely and consistently solve the last mile challenges in clinical interoperability.  Learn more about Ciox’s technology and solutions by visiting www.ciox.com

HCCs: An Operational Perspective – HIM Scene

Posted on August 8, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Cathy Brownfield, MSHI, RHIA, CCS, Chief Operating Officer, TrustHCS.

Hierarchical Condition Categories (HCCs) were mandated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 1997. In 2003 HCCs were selected as a risk adjustment model to be used to determine reimbursement for Medicare Advantage Plans.  They describe chronic condition diagnoses for patients and are determined from other codes assigned during physician encounters—including ICD-10 codes, CPT codes and medication codes.

The HCC framework is progressively being applied to numerous healthcare reimbursement reform initiatives. As the shift from volume to value advances, so does the importance of accurate HCC coding. This month’s blog explains the correlation between HCC coding and value- based reimbursement.

Two HCC models prevail

There are two HCC models in use by the federal government: CMS-HCC and HHS-HCC. Both models employ a risk adjustment score to predict future healthcare costs for plan enrollees. They operate within a hierarchical structure in which the more complex diagnoses absorb and incorporate less complex, chronic conditions.

The CMS-HCC model addresses a predominantly elderly population (65 years and over) and includes more than 9,000 ICD-10 codes that map to 79 HCC codes; these numbers do change and will increase slightly in FY 2019.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) maintains the HHS-HCC model, which addresses commercial payer populations and covers all ages. This system incorporates CPT and medication codes and is currently comprised of 128 HCC codes.

Relationship to risk adjusted payment programs

The following are some of the risk adjusted payment programs currently using HCCs to determine reimbursement:

  • MA – Medicare Advantage Plan
  • MSSP – Medicare Shared Savings Program (ACO)
  • CPC+ – Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (Medical Home Model)
  • Commercial – Mainly the ACA

Each of the models primarily use ICD-10 codes taken from claims data to identify individuals with serious or chronic illnesses and assign a risk factor score to each enrollee based upon a combination of the individual’s health conditions and demographic details. Each HCC has a risk factor, an individual can have multiple HCC’s and those factors add up to their overall risk adjustment factor.

According to the CMS website, “risk adjustment allows CMS to pay plans for the risk of the beneficiaries they enroll, instead of an average amount for Medicare beneficiaries. By risk adjusting plan payments, CMS is able to make appropriate and accurate payments for enrollees with differences in expected costs. Risk adjustment is used to adjust bidding and payment based on the health status and demographic characteristics of an enrollee. Risk scores measure individual beneficiaries’ relative risk and risk scores are used to adjust payments for each beneficiary’s expected expenditures. By risk adjusting plan bids, CMS is able to use standardized bids as base payments to plans.”

How to operationalize accurate HCC coding

The risk-adjustment data for these programs is based on active diagnoses. In order to ensure the information is accurate, providers must conduct face-to-face encounters with their patients and all pertinent diagnoses must be documented in the medical record on an annual basis. Accurate documentation and coding is paramount to proper reimbursement under risk adjusted programs that use HCCs.  Beyond accurate HCC coding, it is important for HIM professionals to be aware of CMS reporting and data collection methodologies when operationalizing HCCs.

Reporting considerations to know

In 2012, CMS began transitioning the Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs) data collection method from its original format to an Encounter Data Payment System (EDS). The data collected under the EDS is unfiltered and more detailed than EDS’s predecessor, Risk Adjustment Payment System (RAPS). While CMS has gone back and forth on which algorithm to use, a blend of 85 percent RAPS and 15 percent EDS scores is currently in place for 2018.

Data is submitted directly to CMS where filtering logic is applied to extract the valid diagnosis codes from the data. The codes are then used in the risk score calculation process. With this process, MAOs must verify the completeness and accuracy of the data submitted to CMS to ensure that all appropriate diagnosis codes have been accepted for risk adjustment by CMS.

The RAPS/EDS blend will return to a 75/25 split in 2019. Additionally, CMS is proposing to calculate the EDS risk scores amended with RAPS inpatient diagnoses. Other 2019 changes are listed below.

2019 CMS-HCC Model Changes

  • Behavioral Health Conditions
    • HCC 55 Drug/Alcohol Dependence: Add opioid (and other substances) overdose ICD-10 diagnosis codes to HCC 55
    • Add HCC 56 Drug Abuse, Uncomplicated, Excluding Cannabis, includes opioid dependence diagnoses (among other narcotics)
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders
    • Add HCC 59 Reactive and Unspecified Psychosis
    • Add HCC 60 Personality Disorders
  • Add HCC 138, Chronic Kidney Disease Stage 3 (Moderate Only)

Role of HIM and where to learn more about HCCs

In the new frontier of value-based payment, HIM is the purveyor of accurate coding and HCC assignment for organizations and providers. Savvy HIM leaders ensure they have the most up-to-date information by monitoring the following websites and information sources:

About Cathy Brownfield
Cathy Brownfield is the Chief Operating Officer of TrustHCS. She holds over 17 years of operations, auditing and coding experience. Prior to TrustHCS, Cathy served as the Operations Director for HealthPort’s Coding Operations division overseeing scheduling, billing, and quality assurance efforts.

Cathy holds her Master of Science in Health Informatics from Arkansas Tech University. She received her Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management from the same university. Cathy is a Registered Health Information Administrator and a Certified Coding Specialist. As a member of the American Health Information Management Association she volunteers on the Coding Community Council and also the PPE work group.

Remote Release of Information: The Next Step in Secure and Compliant Exchange of Patient Health Information

Posted on July 18, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Patty Sheridan, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA; SVP, Life Sciences at Ciox & Tarun Kabaria; Executive VP, Provider Operations at Ciox.

Across the industry, there is an influx of health information management (HIM) departments and medical groups moving their HIM operations from hospital main campuses and individual physician practices to centralized, offsite locations to gain efficiencies and make better use of valuable square footage in their facilities. For many organizations, this move began decades ago with the implementation of remote coding and/or the need to free up space for patient care.

These ‘virtual HIM” departments can be located at a separate facility, home-based office or remote vendor locations, and result from the continued adoption of electronic health records (EHR) and pressure to manage costs, offering HIM directors and practice administrators the opportunity to reorganize and form more efficient spaces and processes. Outsourcing functions, such as release of information (ROI), allows HIM staff to focus on other priorities of data governance while maximizing available space.

From a financial perspective, costs associated with regulations, staffing, printing, mailing and square footage are increasing; and in some instances, volumes of requests are increasing due to health plans, lawsuits and the portability of healthcare. Furthermore, allowable fees for releasing medical records are decreasing in some states. As a result of these rising financial pressures, healthcare providers are finding it more difficult to make ROI a profit center in their organizations.

HIM departments are experiencing additional pressures from rising health plan request volumes, requiring flexible operational solutions in order to meet the increasing demand. In a typical year, the volume of health plan requests tends to increase to the order of 20-30 percent, and this year those numbers are expected to triple. With such an influx of requests, moving to a virtual model allows for the onsite staff to be augmented with the remote team, fulfilling these large volume requests without impacting the core ROI and patient requests.

Another prevalent challenge is timeliness. With the advent of rebranding the Meaningful Use program to focus on promoting interoperability and the increase in various governmental and payor audits, timeliness of response to requests for medical records is critical and penalties for non-compliance are steep. As such, healthcare providers are reaching the point of diminishing returns in regards to managing the ROI function on their own, and in some cases, will not be able to meet the time deadlines imposed upon them to gain incentives, avoid penalties and takebacks.

These new industry influences create the need for even faster, more efficient, error-free fulfillment of medical record requests and pave the way for a new approach designed to help your organization meet this demand: Remote ROI.

The Remote ROI Process

The ROI process is a time-consuming administrative challenge for HIM professionals, requiring compliance expertise, secure and efficient technology, and a trained and knowledgeable staff. The Remote ROI process starts at your healthcare facility when requests for release of health information are received. From there, your chosen third party vendor, such as Ciox, receives the request from the hospital or practice via a mutually agreed upon, secure mechanism. Securely connected and able to access the hospital or practice EHR, an offsite ROI Specialist then reviews the requests for proper authorizations, identifies and captures the records to be released, and transmits the medical records from your facility’s EHR in an encrypted electronic format to the third party vendor’s ROI centralized processing center. The release is delivered to the requestor through an automatic print and mail process or electronically via a secured delivery method. Ciox’s process is computer-assisted using artificial intelligence and natural language processing thereby reducing turnaround time, improving patient satisfaction and ROI outcomes.

When creating your Remote ROI process, follow these three fundamental steps to ensure its success:

1. Determine the method of access to the Request Letter/Authorization received by the hospital or physician practice.

There are several mechanisms by which requests and authorizations are securely made available to Remote ROI Specialists for ROI processing. The most common methods include:

  • Requests/Authorizations are scanned into the EHR – Staff at the facility scans the requests/authorizations into the EHR. The Remote ROI Specialist accesses the EHR to view the information and begin the process.
  • Requests/Authorizations are faxed – Staff at the facility faxes the requests/authorizations to a fax-in queue provided by the third party vendor. The Remote ROI Specialist accesses the fax-in queue to view the information.
  • Requests/Authorizations are scanned and placed in a shared folder – Staff at your facility scans the requests/authorizations into a shared folder accessible by the Remote ROI Specialist at the third party vendor’s secure Remote ROI Processing Center.
  • Requests/Authorizations are automatically received via health data exchange or health information exchange.

2. Establish connectivity to the EHR to validate the authorization, review the medical records and process the request.

An acceptable baseline for securing the connection to your EHR system(s) must be established for Remote ROI. The appropriate connectivity scenario depends on the underlying technologies at your facility. When understanding which technologies are at your disposal and establishing connectivity, remember that security is key in this part of the process. Keep that in mind when selecting a third party vendor, as it’s paramount to select a company that makes the security of the exchange of protected health information a top priority. Furthermore, it’s of critical importance to select a vendor that has earned certified status for information security by the Health Information Trust (HITRUST) Alliance. The HITRUST CSF Certified Status ensures that key healthcare regulations and requirements for protecting and securing sensitive private healthcare information are met.

3. Ensure compliance standards to track when and who accessed protected health information.

As an added security effort, it’s crucial to follow compliance standards that allow insight as to who accessed patient health information and when it was accessed. To ensure maximum security, computers located at the third party’s Remote ROI processing facility should be secured utilizing encryption, anti-virus protection and web filters.

Passwords should be provided by the facility for access to their specific EHR and stored in an electronic password vault. The password vault should be linked to the third party’s directory that is only accessible by the ROI Specialist using their directory account. Third parties should provide complete audit trail capabilities to track personnel accessing the EHR and processing medical record requests from your applications.

By moving some or all of the onsite ROI functions to a Remote operation, you can streamline the ROI workflow, reclaim square footage for other purposes and have additional capacity available for request volume fluctuation. As an added benefit, the immediate access to requests and authorizations speeds turnaround times on processing requests, which is particularly important when considering tight timelines for meeting Meaningful Use and audit-related releases.

If you’re looking to make HIM operations more efficient and cost effective, Remote ROI can open the doors to achieving those goals.

About Ciox
Ciox is a health technology company working to solve the clinical data illiquidity challenge by providing transparency across the healthcare ecosystem and helping clients manage disparate medical records and a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. When stakeholders do not have timely access to the complete clinical picture of patients, critical decisions about patient care, medical outcomes research, disease prevention, reimbursement, and payments are sub-optimized. Ciox’s scale, expertise, expansive provider network and industry leading technology platform make it the most reliable clinical data company in the US. Through its standards based technology platform, HealthSource, Ciox helps clients securely and consistently solve the last mile challenges in clinical interoperability.  Learn more about Ciox’s technology and solutions by visiting www.ciox.com

Revenue Cycle Trends To Watch This Year

Posted on July 13, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Revenue cycle management is something of a moving target. Every time you think you’ve got your processes and workflow in line, something changes and you have to tweak them again. No better example of that was the proposed changes to E/M that came out yesterday. While we wait for that to play out, here’s one look at the trends influencing RCM strategies this year, according to Healthcare IT leaders revenue cycle lead Larry Todd, CPA.

Mergers

As healthcare organizations merge, many legacy systems begin to sunset. That drives them to roll out new systems that can support organizational growth. Health leaders need to figure out how to retire old systems and embrace new ones during a revenue cycle implementation. “Without proper integrations, many organizations will be challenged to manage their reimbursement processes,” Todd says.

Claims denial challenges

Providers are having a hard time addressing claims denials and documentation to support appeals. RCM leaders need to find ways to tighten up these processes and reduce denial rates. They can do so either by adopting third-party systems or working within their own infrastructure, he notes.

CFO engagement

Any technology implementation will have an impact on revenue, so CFOs should stay engaged in the rollout process, he says. “These are highly technical projects, so there’s a tendency to hand over the reins to IT or the software vendor,” notes Todd, a former CFO. “But financial executives need to stay engaged throughout the project, including weekly implementation status updates.”

Providers should form a revenue cycle action team which includes all the stakeholders to the table, including the CFO and clinicians, he says. If the CFO is involved in this process, he or she can offer critical executive oversight of decisions made that impact A/R and cash.

User training and adoption

During the transition from a legacy system to a new platform, healthcare leaders need to make sure their staff are trained to use it. If they aren’t comfortable with the new system, it can mean trouble. Bear in mind that some employees may have used the legacy system for many years and need support as they make the transition. Otherwise, they may balk and productivity could fall.

Outside expertise

Given the complexity of rolling out new systems, it can help to hire experts who understand the technical and operational aspects of the software, along with organizational processes involved in the transition. “It’s very valuable to work with a consulting firm that employs real consultants – people who have worked in operations for years,” Todd concludes.

Hospitals Still Grappling With RCM Tech Infrastructure

Posted on May 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

While revenue cycle management isn’t the sexiest topic on the block, hospitals need to get it right or they won’t be able to pay their bills. One key element needed to accomplish this goal is a robust tech infrastructure that helps RCM specialists get their job done.

However, it seems that many hospitals are struggling to manage RCM data and pick out the right vendors to support their efforts, according to a report published by Dimensional Insight in collaboration with HIMSS Analytics. To conduct the research, the two organizations reached out to 117 senior-level decision-makers in hospitals and health systems.

According to the survey, more than two-thirds of health systems use more than one vendor for RCM. But that might be a bad idea. The research also found that organizations using more than one RCM vendor seem to face bigger issues with denials than those using only one RCM solution. Regardless, the execs said that denials were the biggest RCM challenge for health systems today.

Pulling together RCM data is a struggle too, respondents said. More than 95% of health systems reported that the way data is collected is a challenge. Also, nearly all respondents said that collecting RCM data from disparate sources is also difficult.

One reason why it’s tough for hospitals to put effective RCM technology in place may be that health information management directors and managers aren’t at the top of the influencer list when it comes to making these decisions.

When asked who the key stakeholders were in RCM. 91.5% said that the CFO was the most important, followed by the head of revenue cycle, who was ranked as important by 62.4% of respondents. Meanwhile, only 48.7% of respondents saw the health IT leaders as key stakeholders in the RCM environment. In other words, it looks like tech leaders aren’t given much clout.

When it came to technical infrastructure for RCM, respondents were all over the map. For example, 34.5% were working with an EMR and 3+ vendors. Another 12.1% used in EMR with one vendor, followed by 11.2% with 3+ vendor solutions, 6.9% using an EMR plus two vendors and 4.3% using two to vendor solutions. Clearly, there’s no single best practice for managing RCM technology in hospitals.

Not only that, some hospitals aren’t doing much to analyze the RCM data they’ve got. According to the survey, 23.9% said that 51 to 75% of the RCM process was automated, which isn’t too bad. However, 36.8% of hospitals reported that less than 25% of the revenue cycle process was driven by analytics. Also, roughly a third of respondents said that collecting data from diverse sources was extremely challenging, which can cripple an analytics initiative.

Taken as a whole, the report data suggests that hospitals need to improve their RCM game dramatically, which includes getting a lot smarter about RCM technology. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be a long time before this happens.

For Hospitals: Tips On Working With An EHR Consulting Firm

Posted on April 19, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Even if you are a very experienced health IT pro, managing your relationship with an EHR consultant in no joke. There’s a lot at stake and only so much time to meet your goals.

Not only that, there are lots of ways a project can go wrong, such as 1) ending up with an EHR platform that’s no more or even less useful than it was before, 2) finding out that your newly updated or optimized EHR doesn’t work correctly or 3) spending a lot more than you expected on the contract.

That being said, you might benefit from the tips on working with consulting firms offered on the ever-insightful HISTalk site. My favorites include the following:

  • Don’t let consultants burn billable hours with your vendor or other consultants without your participation or approval.
  • Remember that the #1 job of consultants is to create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) that you can survive without them.
  • Don’t be fooled by the sample resumes consulting firms provide during the selection process. In most cases, it is unlikely those will be the resources on your project. Bait and switch is common.
  • Call lots of references. Not the ones they gave you, but others on their “we’ve worked for every health system in the country” logo slide. Find out who is on their A team and get them.
  • Check their quoted number of employees (many firms are 70% temporary staffers). Go to LinkedIn and see how many people actually list them as an employer.
  • Interview the actual consultants who will work with you and ask hard technical questions.
  • Be aware that some firms might try to get you fired so they can put their replacement in as interim leadership and bill for it.

Wow, that’s a dark picture. You have to brace yourself for consulting firms which may be palming off inexperienced people on you, attempting to get you fired, trying to make you completely dependent on them and costing you more money than you planned to spend. It’s not a pretty picture.

On the other hand, few healthcare organizations can do completely without consultants, or the health IT consulting business would exist in the first place. Eventually, you’re probably going to have to bite the bullet and hire outside help. Just be aware of some of the risks associated with choosing the wrong consulting company.

Yes, hiring such a firm can be a bit concerning, but if you spend enough effort on the search you have a good chance of finding the right organization. Bottom line, if you’re skeptical, thorough and willing to go the extra mile research-wise, you can find a consulting firm that will serve your purposes and help you achieve the goals you wouldn’t be able to achieve without their help.

Healthcare Cloud Hosting with Chad Kissinger, Founder of OnRamp

Posted on November 8, 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.

Cloud hosting is a reality in pretty much every healthcare organization. This is particularly true in hospitals that have hundreds of healthcare IT solutions with many of them being hosted in the cloud. While some are hosted in the health IT vendor’s cloud, I’m also seeing more and more hospitals looking to get out of the data center business and moving their various health IT software to a third party data center. I expect this trend will continue and we’ll eventually see hospitals who don’t have any onsite data center.

As the highly regulated healthcare IT world has moved to the cloud, I’ve seen data centers crop up that cater specifically to the needs of healthcare. One of those companies who’s focused on healthcare data center and cloud offerings is OnRamp. I recently sat down to interview Chad Kissinger, Founder of OnRamp, to learn more about their approach to healthcare cloud hosting and what makes healthcare hosting unique. I also talked with Chad about OnRamp’s recent HITRUST certification and what that means for healthcare providers and what OnRamp is doing to ensure security beyond the HITRUST certification. Plus, Chad offered some great insights into where he sees this all heading.

You can watch my full video interview with OnRamp CEO, Chad Kissinger, embedded at the bottom of this blog post, or click on any of the links below to skip to the sections of the interview that interest you most:

Be sure to Subscribe to Healthcare Scene on YouTube and check out all of our Healthcare IT video interviews and content.

Full Disclosure: OnRamp is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.