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The Wisdom of Yogi Berra in Medical Benefit Appeals

Posted on October 31, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Keith J. Saunders, Esq., Founder & CEO of FHAS.

“This hearing will now come to order.  For the record, today’s date is…and the following parties are present…”

I have repeated this sentence thousands of times over the past twenty three years while serving as a hearing officer for the Federal Medicare program and as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Medicaid program.  Serving as an adjudicating official for medical benefit appeals can provide one with a unique perspective on human nature and the shortcomings of the medical appeals process. 

In this post, I would like to share three takeaways from my experience in order to assist you in being a successful participant in the appeals process, whether you participate from the side of the payor or appellant.

Know the medical facts.

My first piece of advice is inspired by a quote from the great New York Yankees baseball player and manager Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot just by watching”.  Most participants in medical benefit appeals fail to perform the requisite watching.

If you are going to successfully defend or pursue your appeal, you must know the medical facts of the case. This might seem obvious, however you would be shocked to learn how many times a claim denial is appealed and it is very apparent that the parties don’t know or understand the condition of the patient, underlying the facts of their case. For medical provider appellants who are part of large health systems, the need to survey all records within your system pertaining to the subject of the appeal is critical.

For third party payers it is likewise critical to ensure that you possess a complete understanding of the condition of the patient.  I once presided over a hearing where the health insurer was challenging the necessity for the patient to have a wheelchair.  They indicated that the medical information submitted with the claims failed to indicate that the patient could not walk.   If they had performed a survey of the medical records contained within the file they would have ascertained that the patient was a bilateral AKA. For those of you who do not frequently traverse through medical records, this acronym stands for bilateral above the knee amputee; this patient had no legs.

Understand why the claim was denied.

Turning again to Yogi Berra for my second piece of advice: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” In order to be an effective advocate for your position, you must thoroughly understand why a claim for reimbursement has been denied by the third party payor.  One of the most frequent bases advanced for denials in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs is the blanket catchall basis of, “a lack of medical necessity”.  This basis is utilized to deny submitted claims which lack a valid physician’s signature on the order, claims which fail to meet specific medical necessity criteria, or even claims that were not submitted in a timely manner.

As an appellant, you must possess a thorough understanding regarding what has transpired from the reimbursement standpoint, end of story.  If you are an appellant, please read the basis for the claim denial being put forth by the third party payer. To take my Yogi quote further, it is impossible for you as an advocate to get where you want to go, that is, get paid, if you do not know why the claim has been denied. When you as an appellant receive a denial notice, whether it is an explanation of benefits or a remittance advice, review the basis for denial.  If it indicates that critical medical necessity evidence is missing, review your records to find it.

Arguments that the medical policy is foolish or that the payor doesn’t understand what the patient needs may make you feel better for having given the adjudicator a piece of your mind, but are ultimately ineffective. I once had an appellant argue to me that requiring a physician’s order was a foolish requirement for an orthotic device.  When I asked the gentleman making that arguments how a payor was to ascertain if an item was medically necessary, he indicated that they should just ask him, the vendor.  Needless to say that was not an effective argument.

If you have received a blanket denial, such as a lack of medical necessity, please reach out to the third party payor to ascertain what exactly is missing or unclear.  Once you have determined what the problem is, you are then in a position to solve it.

Know the coverage and payment guidelines.

My final recommendation is that you acquire an in-depth knowledge of the coverage and payment guidelines or medical policies which govern the items or services for which you are seeking payment.  As a hearing officer or ALJ, I would find myself frequently asking appellants or payor representatives to furnish the basis within the policies for the denial of items.  More often than not on both sides of a case, neither party could articulate why an item should or should not have been paid.

I suppose in those situations they turned to another quote from Yogi: “If you ask me a question I don’t know, I’m not going to answer it.” Today there is no reason for any party to be unaware or unknowledgeable regarding medical policies or coverage and payment guidelines. All commercial health insurers and government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, publish their policies online.  Knowledge of the rules is one of the cornerstones to being a strong advocate for your position. From the provider standpoint, it is one of the critical components needed in order to have an item covered by a payor.

My advice may seem rather basic, but years of experience have shown me that it is a failure to address the fundamentals which causes most claims to be denied. In summary: 1. Know your patient and the medical records surrounding a claim; 2. Know the facts surrounding why reimbursement has been denied; 3. Know the rules which govern payment criteria for your claim.

If you pay attention to the foregoing you will be a much stronger advocate for your position and will likewise achieve and maintain a higher success rate in your appeals. In medical benefit appeals, as in baseball, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

About Keith J. Saunders, Esq.
Keith J. Saunders, Esq. is the Founder & CEO of FHAS, a leading provider of medical review analytics and support services to government and commercial sectors. Weaving together over 30 years of experience working on behalf of health plans, providers, and government agencies, Mr. Saunders furnishes his clients with valued-based solutions that minimize administrative waste, maximize return on investment, and yield holistic results for all stakeholders. A former General Counsel to Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans, Mr. Saunders was an Air Force Judge Advocate proudly serving in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Mr. Saunders attained his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University and is a long-time member of the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA).

About FHAS
FHAS, a URAC accredited IRO and ISO 9001 certified company, is one of the largest independent providers of “healthcare as a service” (HAAS) for government and commercial clients with a particular focus on adjudication services and medical claims’ review services. In 1996, FHAS began furnishing Medicare Fair Hearing Services to Durable Medical Equipment (DME) Administrative contractors located throughout the United States. Since that time, FHAS has expanded its scope of appeals services to include complex medical reviews for the following: Medicare Parts A, B, PDRC Appeals, and DME Appeals, internal and external health plan appeals, and the entire Pennsylvania Medicaid fair hearing process. FHAS utilizes a network of board certified physicians, legal professionals, and other healthcare professionals with diverse specialties, who have the expertise to render decisions for external review requests. In addition to professional services, FHAS provides enterprise-grade software solutions to healthcare and insurance industries. Their newest product Cogno-Solve is a comprehensive, RPA software platform that automates claims and appeals decision-making functions.

3 Key Steps to Driving your Revenue Strategy

Posted on July 9, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brad Josephson is the Director of Marketing and Communications at PMMC.

For healthcare providers struggling to accurately collect reimbursement, developing a revenue strategy based off a foundation of accuracy is the most efficient way to ensure revenue integrity throughout the revenue cycle.

Currently, many hospitals operate under multiple systems running for their different departments within the organization. This type of internal structure can threaten the accuracy of the analytics because data is forced to come into multiple systems, increasing the chances that the data will be misrepresented.

By maintaining revenue integrity, not only does it give hospitals assurance that the data they’ve collected is current and accurate, but it also provides invaluable leverage with the payer when it comes time to (re)negotiating payer contracts.

Let’s begin by starting from the ground up…

Here are the 3 steps needed for maintaining revenue integrity:

  • Creating a foundation backed by accurate analytics
  • Breaking down the departmental siloes
  • Preparing ahead of time for consumerism and price transparency

Accuracy Drives Meaningful Analytics

The first step toward maintaining revenue integrity is to assess whether your data is accurate. We know that accurate data drives meaningful analytics, essentially functioning as the engine of the revenue cycle.

And what happens when you stop taking care of the engine regularly and it no longer works properly? It not only costs you a lot of money to repair the engine, but you may also have to pay for other parts of the car that were damaged by the engine failure.

What if, however, you were able to visualize pie charts and bar graphs on your car’s dashboard that showed the current health of the engine to inform you when it requires a maintenance check?

You would be better informed about the current state of your engine and have a greater urgency to get the car repaired.

This same principle applies to healthcare organizations looking to increase the accuracy of their data to drive meaningful analytics. While some organizations struggle to draw valuable insight from pieces of raw data, data visualization tools are more efficient because it allows the user to see a complete dashboard with a drill-down capability to gain a deeper and clearer understanding of the implications of their data analytics.

Data visualization allows healthcare providers to quickly identify meaningful trends. Here are the 4 key benefits of implementing data visualization:

  • Easily grasp more information
  • Discover relationships and patterns
  • Identify emerging trends faster
  • Directly interact with data

Figure 1: Payer Dashboard

Removing Departmental Siloes  

While data visualization does generate helpful insight into current and future trends, it begins with storing the data in one integrated system so that different departments can easily communicate regarding the data.

System integration is crucial to maintaining revenue integrity because it dramatically lowers the likelihood of data errors, missed reimbursement, and isolated decisions that don’t look at the full revenue picture. Here is a list of other issues associated with organizations running revenue siloes:

  • No consistent accuracy metrics driving performance and revenue.
  • Different data sources and systems drive independent and isolated decisions without known impact on the rest of the revenue cycle.
  • Departments cannot leverage analytics and insight into contract and payer performance.

In the spirit of the recent international World Cup games, think of revenue siloes like playing for a professional soccer team.

Similar to the structure of a hospital’s revenue team, soccer teams are large organizations that need to be able to clearly communicate with each other quickly in order to make calls on-the-spot. These quick decisions can be the difference in turning the ball over to the other team or scoring a goal in the final minutes so it’s crucial that everyone knows their role on the team.

If other players don’t understand the plays that are being called, however, then mistakes will be made that could cost them the game. Each player on the team needs to study the same playbook so they stay on the same page and decrease the chances that a costly mistake will be made.

A hospital’s Managed Care department works in a similar way. If Managed Care is preparing to renegotiate payer contracts, they need to fully understand and have insight into underpayment and denial trends across multiple payers.

Preparing Now for Consumerism and Price Transparency

Now that we know the reimbursement rate is accurate, how do we communicate an accurate price to patients in order to encourage upfront payment?

Studies have shown that by increasing accuracy in pricing estimates, it increases the likelihood that patients pay upfront, which can help your organization lower bad debt.

In an effort to migrate to a more patient-centric approach, these accurate online estimates also enable hospitals to address the patient’s fear of the unknown with healthcare of ‘how much is this procedure going to cost?’ By giving the patient more control over their financial responsibility, hospitals can become a leader in pricing transparency for their entire community while expanding on their market share.

At the end of the day, what this all comes down to is maintaining accuracy to help drive your revenue strategy. By integrating all data into a single system, the hospital is positioned to identify trends more quickly while increasing the accuracy of their patient estimates, ultimately driving your revenue strategy to new heights.

With many healthcare organizations still making the transition away from the traditional fee-for-service model, now is the time to prepare for consumerism and value-based care. Take some time to evaluate where your organization currently stands in the local market as well as any pricing adjustments that need to be made.

About Brad Josephson
Brad Josephson is the Director of Marketing and Communications at PMMC, a provider of revenue cycle software and contact management services for healthcare providers. Brad received a Bachelor of Arts, Public Relations and Marketing Degree from Drake University. He has worked at PMMC for over three years and has a deep knowledge of hospital revenue cycle management tools which improves the financial performance of healthcare organizations.

Financial Perspectives from the HFMA Annual Conference

Posted on June 26, 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.

I always enjoy attending the HFMA Annual Conference (Formerly known as ANI) which brings together healthcare CFOs and others in the healthcare financial management community. Or as someone once told me, this use to be a conference of CPAs. In spite of its roots, there was an interesting mix of people at HFMA including health IT professionals, HIM professionals, and of course CFOs at the conference.

In one of my interviews at the conference, I sat down with Dan Berger, Director of Healthcare at AxiaMed. We had a wide-ranging conversation about healthcare payments and payment processing, but he struck me pretty hard when he talked about what would happen if a hospital or health systems payment processing went down. We talk a lot about EHR downtime and encourage healthcare organizations to have downtime procedures, but we don’t talk about payment downtime.

In some ways, this may be an appropriate response to downtime. If the EHR is down, that could impact patient care and literally patients lives. So, EHR downtime should be important. However, from a financial perspective payment processing downtime is a really big deal for healthcare organizations as well. The problem is that no patient will complain if you can’t collect their payment. The patients won’t go to the news with stories of payment processing issues. However, your business office will definitely feel it if the cash stops flowing.

This example is a simple reminder of how healthcare is a business. You see that in full view when you’re at a conference like HFMA’s annual conference. In some ways that’s a good thing since healthcare organizations have to be financially sound if they want to fulfill their missions. However, sometimes that can be taken too far as some people treat patients as a number on a spreadsheet.

I have seen some hope here at the conference. There are quite a few companies working hard to personalize the payment experience, to make pricing and payment information available to patients in ways it hasn’t been available before, and efforts to improve things like legible bills. These are small things, but they make a big difference to a patient.

I was also impressed with a number of companies that were using financial data to understand the patients better and when combined with other data can really personalize the care a patient is provided. A great example of this is Clarify Health Solutions which is making patient financial data useful and optimizing the patient journey. This is challenging stuff, but the data is getting there and companies are starting to see success and build up data that can be used by any healthcare organization.

What’s become more and more apparent to me is how challenging all of these healthcare problems are and how many people have to be influenced for change to happen. The wide variety of stakeholders that can hijack a great project is amazing. Dan Berger from AxiaMed who I mention at the start of this article commented on how payment processing used to be largely owned by the business office. He went on to share that now he’s seeing the CISO get involved and even the CIO. In many cases the CISO has veto power over vendors that don’t meet a healthcare organization’s security needs. Given all the security issues healthcare faces that’s generally a good thing. However, these types of group decision making do make the process of adding new innovations to your organization more complicated.

Small Financial Innovations that Make A Big Difference for Patients and Hospitals

Posted on May 3, 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.

More and more these days I’m fascinated by the practical innovations that can impact healthcare much more than the moonshot ideas which are great ideas but never actually impact healthcare. I’ve quickly come to believe that the way to transform healthcare his through hundreds of little innovations that will allow us to reach a transformative future.

I saw an example of this when I talked with PatientMatters. They work in a section of healthcare that many don’t consider sexy: revenue cycle management. However, I often say, the financial side of healthcare isn’t sexy, unless you care about money. Given how healthcare is getting pressed from every angle, every hospital I know is interested in the financial side of the equation.

PatientMatters is doing a number of things that are interesting when it comes to a patient’s financial experience in a hospital. They offer a great mix of tools, training, process design, automation and coaching to reframe a patient’s financial experience. This is a trend I’m seeing in more and more healthcare IT companies. It takes much more than technology to really change the experience.

That said, I was most intrigued by how PatientMatters offers unique payment plans to patients based on a wide variety of factors including current credit information, payment history for current financial obligations, and their residual income. From this information PatientMatters does an assessment of a patient’s ability to pay based on these five categories:

  1. Guarantors that generate this designation are the most likely to pay their full obligation. This population predictably pays their full balance more than 94% of the time. Recognizing these guarantors provides key savings to the hospital:
    • Because these guarantors are most likely to meet their obligation, conversations with the registration staff regarding payment are brief and concise.
    • Recognizing the high likelihood of guarantor payment performance, many hospitals elect to keep these accounts in-house and not refer to their early out vendors. This generates vendor savings for the hospital.
  1. These guarantors also have a high collections success rate, but they may need more time and slightly reduced payment plans to meet their obligation. Using data analytics to understand the guarantor allows the hospital to structure a custom payment plan with a high likelihood of performance.
  1. Guarantors in this category require a higher degree of attention from the registration team. This group struggles to meet their financial responsibilities. A hospital that spends the extra time working with the guarantor on a highly structured payment plan will see collection improvements with this population.
  1. These guarantors fall into two categories; a) a low likelihood of meeting their financial commitment or b) guarantor may meet hospital charity program, based on their FPL status. Scripting will help the registration assess the guarantor and identify the best solution.
  1. These guarantors will likely be unable to meet their hospital obligation. Many times these individuals will qualify for the hospital charity, Medicaid, County Indigent or other assistance programs.

It’s not hard to see how this more personalized approach to a patient’s financial experience makes a big difference when it comes to collections, patient satisfaction, etc. However, what I loved most about this approach was how simple it was to understand and process. It’s worth remembering that a hospital’s registration staff are generally one of the lowest paid, highest turnover positions in any hospital. So, simplicity is key.

I love seeing practical, innovative solutions like the one PatientMatters offers hospitals. They make a big difference on a hospital’s bottom line. However, they also create a much better experience for the patients who mostly want to get through the billing process and on to their care. How are you customizing the financial experience for your patients?

Hospitals Puts Off Patient Billing For Several Months During EMR Rollout

Posted on January 6, 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.

Here’s something you don’t see every day. A New Hampshire hospital apparently delayed mailing out roughly 10,000 patient bills going back as far as 11 months ago while it rolled out its new EMR.

According to a report in the Foster’s Daily Democrat,  members of Frisbie Memorial Hospital’s medical staff recently went public with concerns about the hospital’s financial state. Then a flood of delayed patient bills followed, some requesting thousands of dollars, the paper reported.

Hospital officials, for their part, said the delay was planned. Hospital president John Marzinzik said Frisbie needed time to implement its new Meditech EMR and didn’t want to send out incorrect bills during the rollout.

In fact, Marzinzik told Foster’s, under the previous system, records generated during doctor visits weren’t compatible with forms for hospital billing.

Rather than relying further on this patchwork of incompatible systems, Marzinzik and his staff decided to wait until the process was “absolutely clean” for patients. The hospital decided to have a staff member validate every balance shown on a statement before sending them out, he says.

Previously, in December of last year, anonymous Frisbie medical staff members sent Foster’s a letter to share concerns about the hospital and its administrators. The criticisms included skepticism about the over-budget implementation of the $13.5 million Meditech system, which they named as one of the reasons they lack confidence in the hospital administration. The staff members said that this cost overrun, as well as other problems, have undermined the hospital’s financial position.

As is always the case in such situations, hospital leaders took the stage to deny these allegations. Frisbie Senior VP Joe Shields told the paper that the hospital is in sound financial condition, and also said that the only reason why the Meditech project went over budget by $1.5 million was that the administrators delayed the implementation by seven weeks to give the staff holiday time off.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but to me, some parts of this story look a little bit bogus. For example:

* I appreciate accurate hospital bills as much as anybody, but the staff was going to check them manually anyway, why did it take 10 or 11 months for them to do so?

* The holidays take place at the same time every year.  Did administrators actually forget they were coming to an event that necessitated an almost 10% cost overrun?

Of course, only a small number of people know the answers to these questions, and I’m certainly not one of them. But the whole picture is a little bit odd.

Health Systems, Hospitals Getting Serious About Telemedicine

Posted on December 8, 2017 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.

In the spring of last year, I wrote up a story about hospitals and health systems and their growing interest in telemedicine. The story included data from a survey on hospitals and telemedicine, which found that health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines at the time, up almost 20% from 2015.

Given these stats, I was not surprised to see a new press release from Teladoc reporting that the company now supports more than 200 hospitals, a number which represents a 100% growth in such relationships during this year.

If you’re wondering why this has happened, you’ll get more or less the same answer from last year’s study and Teladoc’s news release. In short, it’s all about the outcomes, baby.

When I wrote the story last year, one of the things that stood out for me was that 96% of respondents had said they were planning to roll up telemedicine services because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. While that made sense to me at the time, it seemed more like an aspiration rather than a practical plan.

What made the survey data even more provocative is that “improving financial returns” turned out to be a very low priority for hospitals working on telemedicine programs. At the time, this focus on outcomes rather than direct financial returns surprised me.

Now, about 18 months later, I’m doing the facepalm thing and saying “of course, hospitals want affordable, flexible care delivery options — they’re a great tool for managing population health!” It’s a no-brainer, actually, but I guess my brain wasn’t working at the time.

Now, as far as I know, the assumption that telemedicine can help with PHM and value-based delivery generally has not been rigorously tested. Also, even if the assumption is correct, hospitals are likely to struggle with deploying telemedicine for a while until they develop the most efficient workflows for using it.

Also, while it’s all well and good to say that focusing on outcomes will create ROI as a secondary effect, for some hospitals it will be pretty rough to carry telemedicine infrastructure and staffing costs upfront for a while. After all, if they want to make an impact with telemedicine, they have to make a serious commitment; I’m guessing that most of us would agree that a scattershot approach would get most hospitals nowhere.

Ultimately, though, I think hospitals have it right. Telemedicine is likely to offer health systems and hospitals some amazing options for extending service lines, managing populations more effectively, and yes, improving outcomes.

KLAS Summit: Digital Health Investment

Posted on December 4, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

Healthcare Investing and Innovation: Asking the right questions.

KLAS research hosted a digital health investment symposium in Park City, Utah. One of my main takeaways was the importance of asking the right questions to healthcare stakeholders. This includes asking investors what they are interested in.

This one-day work collaboration focused on round table discussions about the interests of investors and providers in digital health. Aligning investor interests with provider needs is one of the biggest needs of healthcare. We want good capital to get to good companies. While at the round table, one of the best comments I heard was that some of the design isn’t centered around the end user. If physicians are responsible for using a product it needs to align to their interests.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t ask the right questions. A technology company might not understand their value proposition in healthcare. I’ve seen companies criticize a lack of technology adoption in healthcare. These are companies that didn’t have a clear picture of what they offered. They also didn’t have a tested healthcare product Or they didn’t ask the specific potential user what they need.

Many of the successful investors at the summit had significant operating experience in the digital health world or operations world. They contributed–if you are a technology looking for a problem, you will struggle in healthcare. You aren’t meeting a need in the market. Some shiny tech solutions are created without real consideration for end users or need. There is no market need for what some people create. Ask yourself if you are user focused. Are you building something that physicians will add to their workflow?  Did you consult physicians? What about patients?

One of the interesting parts of this summit was how many participants asked not to be quoted or mentioned as part of the effort. Many of the most important healthcare collaborative efforts happen in private meetings or surrounding larger healthcare events. The quality of conversation behind closed doors helps move healthcare progress forward.  What role does journalism play in driving this healthcare conversation? This was my personal question from the event.

Discussing barriers to adoption and success needs a private platform. KLAS research has been convening these conversations in alignment with their research and mission of providing transparency about quality and I was impressed with the amount of interest in workflow and informatics. The stereotype of an investor with no experience in healthcare is not representative of the investors present at the KLAS event. There were years of operator,  innovator, and code experience in digital health. A successful investor in digital health comes with the ability to contribute to design and network developed through years of successful companies.

Can we deliver the correct answers and create an environment of improved workflow and creating products that improve healthcare?

Here are the top 10 questions I took away from the KLAS Investor Summit

  1. What type of problems do you like to solve?
  2. How long have you been trying to solve the problems you are trying to solve?
  3. How has the nature of the problem you are trying to solve evolved?
  4. What are better questions to ask at this type of summit?
  5. What do you like to invest in?
  6. What companies do you currently invest in?
  7. How do you see creating change at the national level?
  8. What are the digital health initiatives that are important to people?
  9. What are the problems that aren’t being articulated in public discourse that digital health can speak to?
  10. What are you most excited about in digital health?

Remember the importance of asking what people need when approaching investors.

RCM Tips And Tricks: To Collect More From Patients, Educate And Engage Them

Posted on November 1, 2017 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.

Hospitals face particularly difficult challenges when trying to collect on patient bills. When you mix complex pricing structures, varied contracts with health insurers and dizzying administrative issues, it’s hard to let patients know what they’re going to owe, much less collect it.

Luckily, RCM leaders can make major progress with patient collections if they adopt some established (but often neglected) strategies. In short, to collect more from patients you need to educate them about healthcare financial issues, develop a trusted relationship with them and make it easy for them to pay that bill.

As a thought exercise, let’s assume that most patients want to pay their bills, but may need encouragement. While nobody can collect money from consumers that refuse to pay, you can help the willing ones prepare for the bills they’ll get. You can teach them to understand their coverage. In some cases, you can collect balances ahead of time. Toss in some smart patient engagement strategies and you could be golden.

What will that look like in practice? Check out this list of steps hospitals can take to improve RCM results directly, courtesy of a survey of hospital execs by Becker’s Hospital Review:

  • Sixty-five percent suggested that telling patients the amount due before they come to an appointment would be helpful.
  • Fifty-two percent believe that having more data on patients’ likelihood to pay could improve patient collections results
  • Forty-seven percent said that speaking to clients in different ways depending on the state of the finances would help improve patient collections.
  • Forty-two percent said that offering customers payment plans would be valuable.

Of course, you won’t be doing this in a vacuum, and some of the trends affecting patient financial responsibility are beyond your control. For example, unless something changes dramatically, many patients will continue to struggle with high-deductible health coverage. Nobody – except the health insurers – likes this state of affairs, but it’s a fact of life.

Also, it’s worth noting that boosting patient engagement can be complicated and labor-intensive. To connect with patients effectively, hospitals will need to fight a war on many fronts. That means not only speaking to patients in ways they understand, but also offering well-thought-out hospital-branded mobile apps, an effective online presence and more. You’ll want to do whatever it takes to foster patient loyalty and trust. Though this may sound intimidating, you’ll like the results you get.

However, there are a few strategies that hospitals can implement relatively quickly. In fact, the Becker’s survey results suggest that hospitals already know what they need to do — but haven’t gotten around to it.

For example, 87% of hospital respondents said they had a problem with collecting co-pays before appointments, 85% said knowing how much patients can pay was important, and 76% of respondents said that simplifying bills was a problem for them. While it may be harder than it looks to execute on these strategies, it certainly isn’t impossible.

When Hospitals Leak Money

Posted on October 20, 2017 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.

A couple of weeks ago I was skimming healthcare business headlines and stumbled across this guaranteed showstopper: You’re probably leaving $22 million on the table. That headline is from a column by Jim Lazarus, who works in the Advisory Board’s Revenue Cycle Solutions division. In his column, he named four ways in which hospitals could recapture some of this lost revenue.

In the article, Lazarus notes that hospitals aren’t following best practices in four key areas, namely denial write-offs, bad debt, cost to collect and contract yield.  Unsurprisingly, Advisory Board benchmarks also demonstrate that median performing organizations are having trouble reducing net days in accounts receivable. The Advisory Board has also found that the overall average cost to collect has worsened by 70 points of net patient revenue from 2011 to 2015.

To turn the stats around, he suggests, hospitals should focus on four critical issues in revenue cycle management. They include:

  • Preventing denials rather than responding to them. “Hospitals are losing, on average, five percentage points of their margin to underpayments, denials and suboptimal contract negotiations,” Lazarus writes.
  • Collecting more from patients by improving their financial experience. According to Lazarus, between 2008 and 2015 the portion of patient obligations being written off as bad debt has climbed from 0.9% to 4.4%. To boost patient collections, hospitals must offer price estimates, convenient payment methods and a positive care encounter, he says.
  • Being sure not to take a hit on MACRA compliance. See that doctors, including those coming on board as employed physicians, get up to speed on documentation performance standards as quickly as possible.
  • Building the value of merged RCM departments. If multiple RCM organizations are being integrated as part of consolidation, look at ways to improve the value they deliver collectively. One approach is to create a shared services organization providing a common business intelligence platform across entities and service lines systemwide.

If you’re an IT leader reading this, it’s probably pretty clear that you have a substantial role in meeting these goals.

For example, if your hospital wants to lower its rate of claims denials, having the right applications in place to assist is critical. Do your coding and billing managers have the visibility they need into these processes? Does senior management?

Also, if the hospital wants to improve patient payment experiences, it takes far more than offering a credit card processing interface to make things work. You’ll want to create a payment system which includes multiple consumer touch points and financing options, which is integrated with other data to offer sophisticated analyses of patient payment patterns.

Of course, the ideas shared by Lazarus are just the beginning. While all organizations leave some money on the table, they have their own quirks as to why this happens. The important thing is to identify them. Regardless, whether you are in RCM, operations or IT, it never hurts to assume you’re losing money and work backward from there.

Hospital Execs Underestimate QPP Impact

Posted on July 7, 2017 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.

A new survey by Nuance Communications suggests that hospital finance leaders aren’t prepared to meet the demands of MACRA’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and may not understand the extent to which MIPS could impact their bottom line. Worse, survey results suggest that many of those who were convinced they knew what was involved in meeting program demands were dead wrong.

The survey found that many hospital finance leaders weren’t aware that if they don’t participate in the MIPS Quality Payment Program (QPP), they could see a 4% reduction in Medicare reimbursements by 2019.

Not only that, those who were aware of the program didn’t have a great grasp of the details. More than 75% respondents that claimed to be somewhat or very confident about their understanding of QPP got the 4% at-risk number wrong. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents either underestimated the percent of revenue at risk or simply did not know what the number was.

In addition, a significant number of respondents weren’t aware of key QPP reporting requirements. For example, just 35% of finance respondents that felt confident they understood QPP requirements actually knew that they had to submit 90 day of quality data to participate. Meanwhile, 50% either underestimated or did not know how many days of data they needed to provide.

On a broader level, as Nuance noted, the issue is that hospitals aren’t ready to meet QPP demands even if they do know what’s at stake. Too many aren’t prepared to capture complete clinical documentation, develop business processes to support this data capture and raise provider awareness of these issues. In other words, not only are finance leaders unaware of some key QPP requirements, they may not have the infrastructure to meet them.

This is a big deal. Not only will their organizations lose money if they don’t meet QPP requirements, but they’ll miss out on a 5% positive Medicare payment adjustment if they play by the rules.

Lest the respondents sound careless, let’s do a reality check here. Without a doubt, the transition into the world of MIPS isn’t a simple one. Hospitals and medical practices will have to meet deadlines and present quality data in new ways. That would be a hassle in any event, but it’s particularly difficult given how many other quality data reporting requirements they must meet.

That being said, I’d argue that even if they’ve gotten a slow start, hospitals have enough time to meet the basic requirements of QPP compliance. For example, turning over 90 days of quality data by March of next year shouldn’t be a gigantic stretch in contrast to, say, submitting a year’s worth of data under advanced Meaningful Use models. Not to mention the Pick Your Pace option of only 1 measure which avoids all penalties.

Clearly, having the right health IT tools will be important to this process. (Not surprisingly, Nuance is picking its own reporting tools as part of the mix.) But I’m struck by the notion that organizations can’t live on technology alone in this case. As with many problems in healthcare, tech solutions aren’t worth much if the business doesn’t have the right processes in place. Let’s see if finance executives know at least that much.