European health care systems are already awash in “big data.” The United States is rushing to catch up, although clumsily thanks to the need to corral a century’s worth of heterogeneity. To avoid confounding the chaos further, the United States is postponing the adoption of the ICD-10 classification system. Hence, it will be some time before American “big data” can be put to the task of defining accuracy, costs and effectiveness of individual tests and treatments with the exquisite analytics that are already being employed in Europe. From my perspective as a clinician and clinical educator, of all the many failings of the American “health care” system, the ability to massage “big data” in this fashion is least pressing. I am no Luddite – but I am cautious if not skeptical when “big data” intrudes into the patient-doctor relationship.
The driver for all this is the notion that “health care” can be brought to heel with a “systems approach.”
This was first advocated by Lucien Leape in the context of patient safety and reiterated in “To Err is Human,” the influential document published by the National Academies Press in 2000. This is an approach that borrows heavily from the work of W. Edwards Deming and later Bill Smith. Deming (1900-1993) was an engineer who earned a PhD in physics at Yale. The aftermath of World War II found him on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff offering lessons in statistical process control to Japanese business leaders. He continued to do so as a consultant for much of his later life and is considered the genius behind the Japanese industrial resurgence. The principal underlying Deming’s approach is that focusing on quality increases productivity and thereby reduces cost; focusing on cost does the opposite. Bill Smith was also an engineer who honed this approach for Motorola Corporation with a methodology he introduced in 1987. The principal of Smith’s “six sigma” approach is that all aspects of production, even output, could be reduced to quantifiable data allowing the manufacturer to have complete control of the process. Such control allows for collective effort and teamwork to achieve the quality goals. These landmark achievements in industrial engineering have been widely adopted in industry having been championed by giants such as Jack Welch of GE. No doubt they can result in improvement in the quality and profitability of myriad products from jet engines to cell phones. Every product is the same, every product well designed and built, and every product profitable.
Continue reading “Missing the Forest For the Granularity”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Big Data, Epic, ICD-10, Lucian Leape, Quality, Six Sigma, Systems Approach
Jul 11, 2014
ACO, MSSP, BPCI, HIE, CQM, P4P, PCMH, yadda, yadda, yadda … The litany of acronyms describing changing P&D (excuse me, payment and delivery) models can sometimes numb the senses. But it would be unwise to allow the latest healthcare jargon to lull you into an AIC—an acronym-induced coma, for which I believe there is a new ICD-10 code—because the world might look a lot different when you snap out of it.
Little debate exists that the U.S. healthcare system needs to transition from turnstile medicine to value-based care, from a predominantly fee-for-service payment model to one that emphasizes accountability for population health. This, of course, is not a novel concept, so the biggest challenges relate to how we get there. As many skeptics have argued, the same dynamics have existed before – unsustainable healthcare costs and too little value for our money – so the Talmudic question arises: Why is this era different from all other eras?
- EHRs have changed the playing field completely
- Reporting of comparative performance is now embedded into the delivery system
- We understand the centrality of patient engagement
- Today’s incentives reward greater accountability and value
There are some fundamental differences compared to, for example, the environment that existed in the 1990s when some experts believed managed care would change the underlying cost structure of the health care system. A majority of providers now have implemented electronic health records (EHRs) and an increasing number are – or soon will be as a result of Stage 2 “Meaningful Use” – able to exchange clinical data across network and vendor boundaries. The expectation that quality measurement will be used for holding providers accountable has taken root and most health care organizations regularly submit standardized performance data to public and private payers, purchasers and independent accrediting bodies. Providers increasingly recognize that their success in population health management relates to their ability to effectively engage with their patients in collaborative relationships.
Continue reading “Be Prepared: Beyond the Alphabet Soup of Value-Based Care”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: EHRs, ICD-10, Meaningful Use, Measurement, patient engagement, value-based care
Jun 19, 2014
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Dr. Daniel F. Craviotto Jr. an orthopedist, made a plea to physicians to declare independence from third parties and emancipate themselves from servitude to payers, mandates and electronic health records (EHR).
As rants go, this was a first class rant. But its effect was that of a Charles de Gaulle’s whisper to Vichy France rather than a Churchillian oratory at the finest hour.
The article went viral (it has been tweeted nearly 3000 times), though with little virulence. And it is not WSJ’s paywall to blame.
The author might have assumed that most the healthcare community in general and physicians in particular wish to be free from regulations. I have serious doubts that this assumption is correct in the aggregate. The relationship between regulators and physicians is more complex and symbiotic than it first appears.
Some physicians believe in bureaucracy. Rationalism will march us out of our healthcare wilderness. This belief in scientific managerialism, faith in technocracy, is the new theism. The rationale of the new theists is that regulations fail not because they are inherently useless but because there are so few of them, and even fewer that are actually smart.
Like the first religions started with polytheism, the new believers want more agencies, more alphabet soups, more gods.
Continue reading “Doctor Paul Revere Fails to Light the Fire”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: health care delivery, ICD-10, Mandates, Outcomes, Physicians, practice of medicine, Quality improvement, Saurabh Jha
May 13, 2014
At the end of March, Congress decreed a year-long postponement of the implementation of ICD-10, a remarkably detailed and arcane new coding scheme providers would have been required to use in order to get paid by any payer in the US (“bitten by orca” is but one of the sixty thousand new codes ).
The year postponement gives caregivers and managers a little more time to prepare for a further unwelcome increase in the complexity of their non-patient care activities.
In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, who famously proposed in 1729 that the Irish sell their children as a food crop to solve the country’s chronic poverty problem , I have a suggestion about how to cope with the steady rise in complexity of the medical revenue cycle.
Beginning when ICD-10 is implemented, there should be no patient care whatsoever on Fridays, permitting nurses and physicians to spend the entire day catching up on their charting and documentation, and other administrative activities.
Physicians, nurses, and others involved in patient care already spend at least a day a week of their time on this process now, but it is interspersed within the patient care workflow, constantly distracting clinicians and interrupting patient interaction.
Hospitals are solving this problem with a medieval remedy: scribes who follow physicians around and enter the required coding and “quality” information into the patient’s electronic record on tablets. Healthcare might be the only industry in economic history to see a decline in worker productivity as it automated.
Continue reading “A Modest Proposal: Charting Day”
Filed Under: OP-ED, Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Billing, Charting, Clinical Documentation, Hospitals, ICD-10, Jeff Goldsmith, medical revenue cycle, medical scribes, Modest Proposals
May 10, 2014
Did you hear the one about the CMS administrator who was asked what it would take to delay the 2014 ICD-10 implementation deadline? An act of Congress, he smugly replied, according to unverified reports.
Good thing he didn’t say an act of God.
So, now that CMS has been overruled by Congress, who wins and who loses? Who’s happy and who’s not?
The answers to those questions illustrate the resource disparity that prevails in healthcare and, mirroring the broader economy, threatens to get worse. The disappointed Have-a-lot hospitals are equipped with the resources to meet ICD-10 deadlines and always felt pretty confident of a positive outcome; the Have-not facilities were never all that sure they would make it and are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
First off, it is necessary to recognize that ICD-10 is far superior to ICD-9 for expressing clinical diagnoses and procedures. Yes, some of the codes seem ridiculous … “pecked by chickens,” for example. But people do get pecked by chickens, or plowed into by sea lions, so I believe the intent is positive, as will be the results.
An example: I saw my physician this past week at a Have-a-lot health system in San Francisco and I asked what she thinks of the ICD-10 extension.
“We’re already using (ICD-10) in our EHR and it is much better than ICD-9,” she said. “When I want to code for right flank pain, it’s right there. I don’t have to go with back pain or abdominal pain and fudge flank in. It’s easier and more accurate.”
“If I was still on paper and not our EHR, which I like,” she added, “my superbill would go from 1 page to 10. SNOMED works.”
Continue reading “The ICD-10 Extension: For Whatever Reasons, Congress Did the Right Thing.”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: CMS, Edmund Billings, EHR, HIT, Hospitals, ICD-10, ICD-10 Delay, Physicians
Apr 23, 2014
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), sometimes called the Stimulus Act, was an $831 billion economic stimulus package enacted by the 111th Congress in February 2009 and signed into law on February 17, 2009 by the President.
It included $22 billion as incentives to encourage adoption of certified electronic medical records in hospitals and medical practices. The rationale behind the policy directive was clear: system-wide implementation of electronic medical records enables improvement in diagnostics and treatment coordination, fewer errors, and better coordination of patient care by teams of providers.
Almost immediately, the medical community cried foul.
Their primary beef: the cost to implement these new systems would not be recovered by the incentives.
Similarly, physicians pushed back on the conversion of the U.S. coding system from ICD-9 to ICD-10. They did not question the need for the upgrade: the increase from 19,000 to 68,000 codes is necessary to more accurately capture all relevant clinical aspects of a patient’s condition and align our data gathering with 20 other developed systems of the world where ICD-10 is already used.
That health insurers, medical groups, hospitals and others must use the same coding system that reflects advances in how we diagnose and treat seems a no brainer. But some physicians pushed back due to costs and disruption in their practices.
Last week, physicians won a battle: the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced it was delaying the deadline for implementation of ICD-10 for a year, to October 1, 2015.
Continue reading “Health Information Technology: Sorry, There’s No Turning Back!”
Filed Under: OP-ED, Tech, THCB
Tagged: CMS, EHR, HIT, HIT adoption, ICD-10, ICD-10 Delay, Paul Keckley, Physicians, Tech
Apr 20, 2014
The janitor approached my office manager with a very worried expression. ”Uh, Brenda…” he said, hesitantly.
“Yes?” she replied, wondering what janitorial emergency was looming in her near future.
“Uh…well…I was cleaning Dr. Lamberts’ office yesterday and I noticed on his computer….” He cleared his throat nervously, “Uh…his computer had something on it.”
“Something on his computer? You mean on top of the computer, or on the screen?” she asked, growing more curious.
“On the screen. It said something about an ‘illegal operation.’ I was worried that he had done something illegal and thought you should know,” he finished rapidly, seeming grateful that this huge weight lifted.
Relieved, Brenda laughed out loud, reassuring him that this “illegal operation” was not the kind of thing that would warrant police intervention.
Unfortunately for me, these “illegal operation” errors weren’t without consequence. It turned out that our system had something wrong at its core, eventually causing our entire computer network to crash, giving us no access to patient records for several days.
The reality of computer errors is that the deeper the error is — the closer it is to the core of the operating system — the wider the consequences when it causes trouble. That’s when the “blue screen of death” or (on a mac) the “beach ball of death” show up on our screens. That’s when the “illegal operation” progresses to a “fatal error.”
The Fatal Error in Health Care
Yeah, this makes me nervous too.
We have such an error in our health care system. It’s absolutely central to nearly all care that is given, at the very heart of the operating system. It’s a problem that increased access to care won’t fix, that repealing the SGR, or forestalling ICD-10 won’t help.
It’s a problem with something that is starts at the very beginning of health care itself.
The health care system is not about health.
Continue reading “Fatal Error”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Coding, Coding Errors, Costs, culture of health, ICD-10, payors, practice management, Providers, Rob Lamberts, sick care system
Apr 7, 2014
If you blinked on Thursday, you might’ve missed the House passing the latest Medicare’doc fix’ (see here for its 30-seconds of deliberation).
After posting the bill in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, House leaders faced opposition over its stop-gap approach and some of the cuts employed to offset the cost of the bill. With some arm-twisting, they managed to suppress objections for the handful of seconds necessary to hammer the gavel and call it done.
The Senate is due to take the bill up Monday evening, and it is highly likely to pass (this time it should actually get a vote). Since it is about to become the law of the land, let’s take a look at what’s inside. There’s a little slice of fun in here for everyone.
First and, theoretically, foremost, the bill blocks the pending cuts to doctors under the long-broken Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. It would maintain existing physician pay rates for another twelve months, through March 31, 2015.
Not coincidentally, a vote to raise the debt limit will likely come due again at about that time.
Second, the bill continues, for a comparable period, the package of so-called Medicare extenders: a hodge podge of policies that boost payments in rural areas, suspend caps on certain benefits and other otherwise sunsetting policies that each have their niche constituencies. Many of these items have been reauthorized by Congress for over 15 years.
Third, the bill includes some new policies that put out fires of their own, or effectuate high priority programs for well-placed Members of Congress. These include:
- An additional six month extension of the Two Midnights Rule, which drew a bright line distinction between presumptive inpatient and outpatient hospital stays but has created significant confusion and objections among many hospitals;
- A one-year delay of ICD-10 implementation, to October 1, 2015 (this is the second time Congress has acted to delay ICD-10);
- Elimination of the ACA cap on deductibles for employer-sponsored health plans; and
- Two provisions aiming to improve mental health services, including the Excellence in Mental Health Act that, among other things, improves funding for community mental health centers.
Woah, some of you are saying. Dial back to that 2nd bullet. While the transition to ICD-10 has been controversial since it was first proposed in 2005, just last month CMS Administrator Tavenner said there would be no more delays (last year, the Administration voluntarily delayed the program from 2013 to 2014).
Healthcare providers have been battening down the hatches and preparing for this colossal transition from ICD-9 and its 14,000 codes to ICD-10 and its 69,000. Word on the street is that the provision was included primarily to earn cred with specialty physician groups, whose support for the bill was in question for concern about other provisions (see the bullet re: misvalued – aka overvalued – codes below).
Turns out, the specialty doc associations by and large opposed the bill anyway, and the healthcare sector is now left grappling with this unexpected turn.
Continue reading “Unpacking the Doc Fix”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Billy Wynne, Doc Fix, ICD-10, SGR Fix, skilled nursing facilities, sustainable growth rate (SGR), Two Midnights Rule
Mar 30, 2014
By ANDY ORAM
HIMSS has opened and closed in Florida and I’m in Boston with snow up to my rectus abdominis. After several years of watching keynote pageants and scarfing up the amenities at HIMSS conferences, I decided to stay home this year.
Writing articles from earlier conferences certainly called on all my energy and talents. In 2010 I called for more open source and standards in the health care field. In 2012 I decried short-term thinking and lack of interest in real health transformation. In 2013 I highlighted how far providers and vendors were from effective patient engagement.
In general, I’ve found that my attendance at HIMSS leads moaning and carping about the state of health IT. So this year I figured I could sit in my office while moaning and carping about the state of health IT.
In particular, my theme this year is how health IT is outrunning the institutions that need it, and what will happen to those left behind.
The scissors crisis: more IT expenditures and decreasing revenues
Although the trade and mainstream press discuss various funding challenges faced by hospitals and other health providers, I haven’t seen anyone put it all together and lay out the dismal prospects these institutions have for fiscal health. Essentially, everything they need to do in information technology will require a lot more money, and all the income trends are declining.
Certainly the long-term payoff for the investment in information technology could be cost reductions–but only after many years, and only if it’s done right. And certainly, some institutions are flush with cash and are even buying up others. What we’re seeing in health care is a microcosm of the income gap seen throughout the world. To cite Billie Holliday: them that’s got shall get; them that’s not shall lose.
Here are the trends in IT:
Meaningful Use requires the purchase of electronic health records, which run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars just for licensing fees. Training, maintenance, storage, security, and other costs add even more. The incentive payments from the federal government come nowhere near covering the costs. EHR providers who offer their record systems on the Web (Software as a Service) tend to be cheaper than the older wave of EHRs. Open source solutions also cost much less than proprietary ones, but have made little headway in the US.
Hot on the heals of Meaningful Use is ICD-10 compliance, a major upgrade to the diagnostic codes assigned to patient conditions. Training costs (and the inevitable loss of productivity caused by transitions) could be staggering. Some 80% of providers may miss the government’s deadline. The American Medical Association, citing estimated prices for a small practice of $56,639 to $226,105 (p. 2), recently urged the government to back off on requiring ICD-10. Their point of view seems to be that ICD-10 might have benefits, but far less than other things the providers need money for. Having already put off its deadline, the Department refuses to bend further.
Continue reading “HIMSS Unplugged”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: analytics, Beyond Core, bundled payments, Health Fidelty, HIMSS 2014, ICD-10
Mar 10, 2014
Karen DeSalvo started as the new National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology on January 13, 2014. After my brief discussion with her last week, I can already tell she’s a good listener, aware of the issues, and is passionate about using healthcare IT as a tool to improve population health.
She is a cheerleader for IT, not an informatics expert. She’ll rely on others to help with the IT details, and that’s appropriate.
What advice would I give her, given the current state of healthcare IT stakeholders?
1. Rethink the Certification Program - With a new National Coordinator, we have an opportunity to redesign certification. As I’ve written about previously some of the 2014 Certification test procedures have negatively impacted the healthcare IT industry by being overly prescriptive and by requiring functionality/workflows that are unlikely to be used in the real world.
One of the most negative aspects of 2014 certification is the concept of “certification only”. No actual clinical use or attestation is required but software must be engineered to incorporate standards/processes which are not yet mature. An example is the “transmit” portion of the view/download/transmit patient/family engagement requirements.
There is not yet an ecosystem for patients to ‘transmit’ using CCDA and Direct, yet vendors are required to implement complex functionality that few will use. Another example is the use of QRDA I and QRDA III for quality reporting.
CMS cannot yet receive such files but EHRs must send them in order to be certified. The result of this certification burden is a delay in 2014 certified product availability.
Continue reading “A Little Advice for Karen DeSalvo”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: CMS, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, HIT, ICD-10, John Halamka, Karen DeSalvo, MU Stage 2, ONC, The ACA
Jan 22, 2014