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Will Remote Medical Coders Ever Return to the Hospital? – HIM Scene

Posted on November 14, 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.

This week on the Journal of AHIMA blog, Elena Miller, Director of Coding Audit and Education at a healthcare system, posted this really fascinating question:

Will Coders Ever Return to the Office?

Elena does a good job of explaining how quickly remote work has become part of the medical coder’s life and the benefits it provides. However, she looks at large companies like IBM that are eschewing remote work and bringing their employees back to the office. It’s fair to wonder if the same thing will happen with medical coders who are requested to work from the hospital as opposed to their home.

I’d suggest that this is extremely unlikely to happen. First, I think it’s a mistake for IBM to bring everyone back to the office. Second, the reasons that IBM wants to bring everyone back to the office don’t apply to medical coders as much as it does IBM employees.

While IBM made a big splash with their announcement of bringing everyone back to their office, I think they’re going to regret this decision. They’re going to lose some of their best people who want to work remotely and that’s going to leave them in a bad place. Finding and keeping high quality people is the hardest thing to do at any company. The problem is that the most skilled people in your workforce can find a job anywhere at any time and your competitors are still offering remote work. It’s such a bad idea to lose all of these quality people by getting rid of remote work across the board.

I’m sure IBM needed to change the culture of the company where many remote workers weren’t being efficient in their work. That needs to be addressed, but banishing remote work across the board has all sorts of bad consequences. Don’t be surprised if IBM has made a bunch of exceptions for their highest performing people and if they go back on such a broad policy. A hospital or health system that does this will find the same problem and most can’t afford to lose their best medical coders who can certainly find remote coding work elsewhere if needed.

All of this said, the bigger issue is that remote coding work is quite different than most of the IBM jobs. Most IBM jobs benefit from collaboration and they’re hard to track as far as results. This is why they benefit from being in the same office with their colleagues with whom they need to collaborate and that can hold them accountable.

While medical coders certainly run into challenging cases where they benefit from collaboration, for the most part, medical coding is an individual sport. Plus, there are good ways to track coders productivity, accuracy, etc so you can hold them accountable for their work regardless of whether they’re at home or in the office. This is why I think it’s pretty unlikely that medical coders will return to the office.

Sure, there may be some edge cases where certain healthcare leaders who bring all their coders back as a way to send a message to staff. I think that’s what happened in the IBM case. However, much like I think will happen with IBM, those leaders will backtrack to remote coding soon enough. No doubt there will also be some edge cases where it makes sense to bring a specific coder back on site for training or other remediation for poor performance. Some medical coders may even request to be on site based on their own needs. However, if you can’t trust them to code remotely, my feeling is that you probably shouldn’t trust them to code at all.

Elena does make a great point in her article about remote coders not having the same opportunities to advance in their organization. Being present definitely matters if you are aspiring into leadership positions. What’s not clear to me is how many remote coders really aspire to leadership positions. Those that do seem to be doing remote coding on the side to supplement their income as they rise through the HIM leadership ranks. Maybe I’m wrong and there are a lot of remote medical coders that aspire to leadership in their organizations.

Let us know what you think in the comments and on social media @HealthcareScene. Will remote medical coders return to the office? Will remote coding hurt HIM professionals’ leadership opportunities?

Insights, Intelligence and Inspiration found at #AHIMACon18 – HIM Scene

Posted on October 15, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Beth Friedman, BSHA, RHIT.

Last month’s HIM Scene predicted important HIM insights would be gained at the 90th AHIMA Annual Convention. And this prediction certainly came true! Thousands of HIM professionals discussed changes to E&M coding, physician documentation and information security during the organization’s Miami event. HIM’s expanding role in healthcare analytics was also recognized. Half of AHIMA’s “hot topics” presentations covered data collection, analytics, sharing, structure and governance.

For example, HIM’s role in IT project management was the focus of an information-packed session led by Angela Rose, MHA, RHIA, CHPS, FAHIMA, Vice President, Implementation Services at MRO. She emphasized how enterprise-wide IT projects benefit from HIM’s knowledge of the patient’s health record, encounter data, how information is processed and where information flows. In today’s rapid IT environment, there is a myriad of new opportunities for HIM—the annual AHIMA convention casts light on them all.

Amid all the futurecasting, AHIMA attendees also received valuable insights and fundamental best-practice advice for the profession’s stalwart tasks: enterprise master person index (EMPI), clinical coding and release of information (ROI). Here are few of the highlights.

Merger Mania Brings Duplicate Data Challenges

Every healthcare merger includes strategic discussions, planning and investments focused on health IT. System consolidation can’t be avoided—and it shouldn’t be. Economies of scale are a fundamental element of merger success. However, merging multiple systems into one means merging multiple master person indexes (MPIs).

Letha Stewart, MA, RHIA, Director of Customer Relations, QuadraMed states, “It’s not uncommon to see duplicate medical record rates jump from an industry average of 8-12 percent to over 50 percent during IT system mergers due to the high volume of overlapping records that result when trying to merge records from multiple systems or domains”. As entities come together, a single, clean EMPI is fundamental for patient care, safety, billing and revenue. This is where HIM skills and know-how are essential.

Instead of leaving HIM to perform the onerous task of duplicate data cleanup after a merger and IT system consolidation, Stewart suggests a more proactive approach. Here are four quick takeaways from our meeting:

  • Identify duplicate data issues during the planning process before new systems are implemented or merged.
  • Use a probabilistic duplicate detection algorithm to find a higher number of valid duplicates and lower number of false positives.
  • Clean up each system’s MPI before IT system consolidation occurs and as implementations proceed. Be sure to allocate sufficient time for this process prior to the conversion.
  • Maintain ongoing duplicate data detection against the new enterprise patient population to prevent future issues.

Maintaining a clean MPI has always been a core HIM function—even back to the days of patient index cards and rotating metal bins. Technology in combination with merger mania has certainly upped the ante and elevated HIM’s role.

Release of Information Panel Raises Red Flags for Bad Attorney Behavior

Another traditional HIM function with nascent issues is ROI. A standing-room-only panel session raised eyebrows and concern for AHIMA attendees regarding a pervasive issue for most HIM departments: patient-directed requests.

Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, CHPC, SSGB, VP Privacy, Compliance and HIM Privacy, MRO, moderated the panel that included other ROI and disclosure management experts. Bowen, a healthcare privacy savant, asked how many attendees receive patient-directed requests that are actually initiated by an attorney’s office. Dozens of hands went up and the discourse began. Here’s the issue.

To avoid paying providers’ fees for record retrieval and copies, attorneys are requesting medical records for legal matters under the guise of a patient-directed request. During the session, four recommended strategies emerged:

  • Inform your state legislators of this bad attorney behavior
  • Discuss the issue with HIM peers in your area
  • Hold meetings with your OCR representative to determine the best course of action
  • Question and verify suspicious patient-directed requests to clarify and confirm the consent

Finally, no AHIMA convention would be complete without significant attention to clinical coding!

Coding Accuracy Takes Center Stage

One of the AHIMA convention’s annual traditions includes announcement of Central Learning’s annual national coding contest results. Eileen Tkacik, Vice President, Information Technology at Pena4, sponsor of the 3rd annual nationwide coding contest to measure coding accuracy, reported that inpatient coding accuracy fell slightly in 2018 compared with the 2017 results. “Average accuracy scores for inpatient ICD-10 coding hovered at 57.5 percent while outpatient coding accuracy experienced a slight bump from 41 percent in 2017 to 42.5 percent in 2018,” according to Tkacik.

While some were concerned about the results, others expected a decline as payers become more aggressive with coding denials and impose greater restrictions on coders’ ability to determine clinical justification. This is especially true for chronic conditions—another hot coding topic among AHIMA attendees.

Nena Scott, MSEd, RHIA, CCS, CCS-P, CCDS, Director of Coding Quality and Professional Development at TrustHCS, emphasized the need for accurate hierarchical condition category (HCC) code assignment for proper risk adjustment factor (RAF) scoring under value-based reimbursement. Everything physicians capture—and everything that can be coded—goes into the patient’s dashboard to impact the HCCs, which are now an important piece of the healthcare reimbursement puzzle.

Finally, Catrena Smith, CCS, CCS-P, CPCO, CPC, CIC, CPC-I, CRC, CHTS-PW, Coding Manager at KIWI-TEK, presented an informative session on the new coder’s roadmap to accuracy and compliance. She reiterated the need for compliance with coding guidelines and shared examples of whistleblower cases. In addition, Smith provided valuable pointers for newly employed clinical coders to consider:

  • Understand the important role that coders play in compliance
  • Know the fraud and abuse laws
  • Implement checks and balances to compare payer-driven code requirements to best-practice coding guidelines
  • Review the components of an effective compliance plan
  • Do not participate in fraudulent activities because coders and billers can be held civilly and/or criminally liable

Inspiration Found at the Beach and on the Dance Floor

Beyond the convention center, the educational sessions and the exhibit hall, I made time at this year’s AHIMA convention to enjoy the beach. Two power walks and a few meditation moments were the icing on my #AHIMACon18 cake this year. I intentionally found time to enjoy the warm sunshine and moonlit evening festivities including MRO’s signature event and AHIMA’s blanca party. Dressed in white, AHIMA attendees kicked up their heels to celebrate 90 years of convention fun—and think about AHIMA 2019 to be held September 14–19 in Chicago, Illinois. We’ll see you there!

About Beth Friedman
Beth Friedman is the founder and CEO of Agency Ten22, a healthcare IT marketing and public relations firm and proud sponsor of the Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Community. She started her career as a medical record coder and has been attending the AHIMA conference for over 20 years. Beth can be reached at beth@ten22pr.com.

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.

Looking Forward to #AHIMACon18 – HIM Scene

Posted on September 19, 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.

This weekend is the start of the AHIMA Annual Convention happening in Miami, Florida. For those not familiar with the AHIMA organization, it brings together HIM professionals from across the country. Something that I think makes AHIMA unique is that around the HIM conference are multiple days of training and certifications for HIM professionals. I’m always amazed at how much work HIM professionals have to put in to keep up with their certifications and to stay up with things like the ever-changing world of medical coding. HIM definitely doesn’t get the credit they deserve in this regard.

As I think what topics will be hot at this year’s AHIMA Annual convention, I’m most interested to hear what the HIM crowd thinks about the changes to the Physician Fee Schedule and E&M Coding. This is going to be a big deal for healthcare and medical coders are going to be the ones charged with dealing with the changes. Sure, doctors will have to change how they are documenting as well, but verifying that it was documented correctly and making sure the medical coding matches that documentation is mostly done by HIM professionals.

I’m really interested to hear what HIM professionals think about these medical coding changes. What do you think of the new time based coding options? Does this make life easier or not? Let us know what you think and what you’re hearing in the comments. The obvious part to me is that in the short term it’s not going to make medical coders’ lives easier at all. It’s just one more code they’re going to have to deal with and it doesn’t have a history of practices to support what’s acceptable or not. It’s not like these new codes are doing away with the old codes. At least I don’t think that’s how most practices are going to handle these new codes, but we’ll see. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Another big change that could impact HIM professionals, particularly medical coders, are the new remote monitoring and digital care coordination codes. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that these codes show some promise. However, I’m starting to hear overtures that the codes aren’t going to live up to their billing (excuse the pun). What are you seeing when it comes to the new coding for telemedicine, remote monitoring, and digital care coordination?

Outside of these two big topics, I’ll be interested to hear how HIM professionals are looking at security and privacy. It’s become a huge topic in the CIO and healthcare IT world. I wonder how much it will impact the HIM world. There’s always an interesting dance when a breach happens. The HIM world is great at understanding disclosures and HIPAA violations, but breaches often bring out a lot of different people. The reality is that when a breach occurs it needs to be all hands on deck. However, my guess is that many HIM professionals aren’t part of the discussion when a breach occurs. How’s your experience been in this regard? If you haven’t had a breach (lucky you), you should still have some policies and some drills in place to make sure you’re ready. So, you should have an idea of what HIM’s role would be in a breach.

Another trend I’ve been watching for a number of years is the push for more and more HIM professionals to be involved in things like healthcare analytics. This was highlighted by a recently published article in the Journal of AHIMA that makes the argument that all healthcare professionals need to learn data analytics. I argued something similar in this article on how HIM professionals can use Information Governance to ensure they’re heard. These are important messages that I think many in HIM are largely ignoring. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Those that embrace the changes will be well positioned for the future.

What other things should we be watching for from an HIM perspective? What’s keeping you up at night? What’s getting you most excited about your job? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @HealthcareScene.

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.

Medical Coding, Revenue Cycle Management and the EHR – HIM Scene

Posted on July 31, 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.

It’s unfortunate, but true that very few healthcare organizations thought about the impact the EHR selection and implementation would have on things like medical coding and revenue cycle management. The later has gotten more attention after hospitals implement an EHR and then run into cash flow problems when they realize their collections have started piling up after the EHR implementation. However, it’s surprising how many coding and revenue cycle management challenges exist post EHR go live.

With this in mind, Healthcare Scene recently talked with Susan Gatehouse, CEO of Axea Solutions, at the HFMA Annual conference about how EHR impacts medical coding and revenue cycle management. She shares some great insights into the topic and some practical ideas for those dealing with these challenges. Plus, we ask Susan what thing stood out to her at the HFMA annual conference.

Check out our interview with Susan Gatehouse:

*Note: This video was originally live streamed to Facebook, so please excuse the poorer quality video and audio.

Be sure to check out all of the Healthcare Scene interviews on YouTube. If you’d like to receive future HIM posts in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

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

The Challenge of Medical Records Requests in the Healthcare Business Office – HIM Scene

Posted on July 10, 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.

While at the HFMA Annual Conference (Formerly known as ANI), Healthcare Scene was able to sit down with Kim Charland, BA, RHIT, CCS, Director of Revenue Cycle Services at MRO, to talk about some unique issues with Release of Information (ROI) coming out of the healthcare business office.

This was an issue I hadn’t thought much about previously, but it makes a lot of sense that medical billing professionals probably aren’t the best people to be handling release of information to insurance companies. Billing professionals’ goal is to get paid, not ensure that they’re doing a proper release of information to payers. Plus, most of them have billing expertise, not ROI expertise. It makes a lot of sense for the business office to involve HIM professionals with release of information expertise into the process.

To learn more about this topic and what MRO is doing to help healthcare organizations address this compliance issue, watch the video interview below with Kim Charland:

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

Mobile App Streamlines Physician Query Process

Posted on June 28, 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.

Most physicians would tell you that they already spend too much time on documentation and coding. Adding insult to injury, after the coding job is done we often have to explain their decisions to medical coders, a process which can take as long as 20 minutes, according to vendor Artifact Health.

Artifact hopes to take the pain out of the burdensome physician query process. It offers a mobile app allowing doctors to answer coding queries which it says allow them to resolve problems within just three clicks. Physicians can also access the platform on the desktop.

Its approach bears some relationship to a new product from vendor Change Healthcare, which has just launched RCM technology which helps doctors address claims documentation requests. Change’s Assurance Assist Module, which is part of its Assurance Reimbursement Management suite, can anticipate the documentation needs of eight payers, the company said.

I am interested in both of these approaches because I know that physicians are already struggling to manage medical coding within their own practices. Hospital queries are a challenging part of that mix and feels like a major chore for providers. In fact, if Artifact’s research is correct and each traditional query takes 20 minutes to resolve, physicians could conceivably end up a little time to do anything else.

So far, Artifact seems to be rolling along impressively. The vendor says that more than 50 hospitals have come on board with its technology, including five institutions from Johns Hopkins Medicine. According to the vendor, these hospitals solve physician response rate of almost 100% and average response time within 48 hours for all periods.

Meanwhile, the hospitals found that the time it took for claims to get paid (days in Accounts Receivable) fell substantially, Artifact reports.

Lest it sound like I’m an Artifact investor, let me raise the questions I ask every time I get a look at a new health IT startup:

  • What does the software cost?
  • How long does it usually take to go live with the platform?
  • How much man- or woman power will it take to install and maintain the software?

At the moment I don’t know. As we all know, not only the initial investment, but also implementation and maintenance can catch hospitals by surprise.

The truth is, it’s likely any vendor addressing aspects of hospital RCM will be somewhat expensive and somewhat complex to install. I wish there were workable benchmarks giving hospital leaders a preliminary sense of their potential investment.

Regardless, this is a worthwhile area for RCM vendors to attack. Even if all this technology did was give doctors some relief, it might reach ROI over time. When you consider that tools like these can help coders get clean claims out of the door, it’s even better.