Since January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have implemented incentive programs to drive meaningful use of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) technology – software and support tools that represent a roughly a $40B marketplace.
In August, CMS reported that $6.9B in total EMR incentives were paid to 143,800 physicians and hospitals – a number that will likely increase markedly in the coming quarters. This is because hospitals and eligible professionals know that to receive the highest possible financial incentive they must deploy and demonstrate meaningful use of an EMR before 2014.
Curiously, these incentives don’t seem to be enticing as only 20% of Medicare and Medicaid eligible providers are taking strides toward EMR implementation and only 55% of eligible hospitals have received an EMR incentive payment. We think they’re delaying investments for a few reasons.
· Implementation costs are high, and the financial return of EMR systems isn’t fully proven
· Poorly preforming EMR vendors are causing senior hospital executives to consider their options
· Clinical leadership unwilling to change the clinical processes required to derive value from an EMR system
· Creating and maintaining clinical content for a successful EMR system is very complex
Health information technology has, in many ways, been a calling for me. I passionately believe in the ability of technology and information to reduce costs, improve quality and transform healthcare. For the last seven years (I won’t say the “better part” as my wife and kids would probably not appreciate that characterization…on the other hand, they would quickly confirm that it has consumed most of my waking hours), I have collaborated with hundreds organizations in healthcare and technology across the public sector and the private sector to try and positively influence the adoption and use of health information technology. By many measures, this work has been successful.
Awareness levels and perceived value of health IT among doctors, hospitals, policymakers and many other audiences has improved dramatically. A wide majority of physicians in the U.S. have by now adopted technologies such as electronic health records and e-prescribing. Playing a small part in this progress to date has been the most gratifying work of my career.
But then came Dad and his own personal experience with health IT. My father’s experience as a patient has left me questioning the level of progress that has been achieved.
The health care crowd is abuzz with The New York Times revelation that Medicare billing rates seem to have increased by billions of dollars in parallel with increased adoption of EHR technologies for both hospitals and ambulatory services. The culprit for this unexpected increase is the measly E&M code. Evaluation and Management (E&M) is the portion of a medical visit where the doctor listens to your description of the problem, takes a history of previous medical issues, inquires about relatives that suffered from various ailments, asks about social habits and circumstances, lets you describe your symptoms as they affect your various body parts, examines your persona and proceeds with diagnosing and treating the condition that brought you to his/her office or hospital.
The more thorough this evaluation and management activity was, and the more complicated your problem is, and the more diagnostic tests are reviewed, and the more counseling the doctor gives you, the more money Medicare and all other insurers will pay your doctor. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?Continue reading…
Six months to the day after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the “preliminary rules” for Meaningful Use, the final rules are in. For clinicians and policymakers who want to see Electronic Health Records (EHRs) play a key role in driving improvements in the healthcare system, there’s a lot to like here.
For the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), the agency that oversees the federal health information technology incentive program, the Meaningful Use rules are a balancing act. On one hand, ONC wants to get as many clinicians and hospitals on board with simply adopting EHRs (and thus, the need to set a low bar). On the other hand, they want to ensure that once people start using EHRs, they are using them in a “meaningful” way to drive improvements in care (and thus, the need to set a high bar). I think ONC got that balance just about right.
Let me begin with a little background. In 2009, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, setting aside about $30 billion for incentives for ambulatory care providers and acute-care hospitals to adopt and “meaningfully use” EHRs. Congress specified that the executive branch would define Meaningful Use (MU) and would do so in three stages. The first stage was finalized in 2010 and its goals were simple – start getting doctors and hospitals on board with the use of EHRs. By most metrics, stage 1 was quite successful. The proportion of doctors and hospitals using EHRs jumped in 2011, and all signs suggested continued progress in 2012. Through July 2012, approximately 117,000 eligible professionals and 3,600 hospitals have received some sort of incentive payment.
As we read and parse the 900 or so pages of government-issued goodness, you can expect lots of commentary and discussion. Geek Doctor already has a summary and Motorcycle Guy can be expected to help us all parse the various health IT standards that have been newly blessed. Expect Brian Ahier to also be worth reading over the next couple of days.
I just wanted to highlight one thing about the newly released rules. As suspected, the actual use of the Direct Project will be a requirement. That means certified electronic health record (EHR) systems will have to implement it, and doctors and hospitals will have to exchange data with it. Awesome.
More importantly, this will be the first health IT interoperability standard with teeth. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be setting up an interoperability test server. It will not be enough to say that you support Direct. People will have to prove it. I love it. This has been the problem with Health Level 7 et al for years. No central standard for testing always means an unreliable and weak standard. Make no mistake, this is a critical and important move from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).
I am an EMR geek who isn’t so thrilled with the direction of EMR. So what, I have been asked, would make EMR something that is really meaningful? What would be the things that would truly help, and not just make more hoops for me to jump through? A lot of this is not in the hands of the gods of MU, but in the realm of the demons of reimbursement, but I will give it a try anyhow. Here’s my list:
Require all visits to have a simple summary.
One of the biggest problems I have with EMR is the “data diarrhea” it creates, throwing piles of words into notes that is not useful for anything but assuring compliance with billing codes. I waste a huge amount of time trying to figure out what specialists, colleagues, and even my own assessment and plan was for any given visit. Each note should have an easily accessible visit summary (but not at the bottom of 5 pages of droll historical data I already know because I sent them the patient in the first place!).
Allow coding gibberish to be hidden.
Related to #1 would be the ability to hide as much “fluff” in notes as possible. I only care about the review of systems and a repetition of past histories 1 out of 100 times. Most of the time I am only interested in the history of the present illness, pertinent physical findings, and the plan generated from any given encounter. The rest of the note (which is about 75% of the words used) should be hidden, accessed only if needed. It is only input into the note for billing purposes.
·The patient to whom it refers?
·The health provider that created it?
·The IT specialist who has the greatest control over it?
The notion of ownership is inadequate for health information. For instance, no one has an absolute right to destroy health information. But we all understand what it means to own an automobile: You can drive the car you own into a tree or into the ocean if you want to. No one has the legal right to do things like that to a “master copy” of health information.
All of the groups above have a complex series of rights and responsibilities relating to health information that should never be trivialized into ownership.
Not an unreasonable question considering just how many EHRs there are in the market today (north of 300) and all the buzz regarding growth in health IT adoption. There was even a recent post postulating that major EHR consolidation was “on the verge.” Even I have wondered at times why we have not seen any significant consolidation to date as there truly are far more vendors than this market can reasonably support.
But when we talk about EHR consolidation, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. In the acute care market, significant consolidation has already occurred. Those companies that did not participate in consolidating this market (Cerner, Epic & Meditech) seem to have faired well. Those that pursued a roll-up, acquisition strategy (Allscripts, GE, McKesson) have had more mixed results.
It is the ambulatory sector where one finds a multitude of vendors all vying for a piece of the market and it is this market that has not seen any significant consolidation to date and likely will not see such for several years to come for two dominant reasons.
Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, healthcare providers are now offered incentives to use electronic health records (EHRs).
A recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that by 2011, 55 percent of physicians reported they had adopted EHRs, indicating that EHR adoption is finally on the rise. Moreover, three in four adopters said their system met the Act’s criteria for meaningful use.
Healthcare providers deserve recognition for adopting EHR systems. Their journey to date has not been easy, with challenges ranging from unexpected expenses to the logistics of incorporating technology smoothly into their interactions with patients.
Adoption of an EHR in and of itself does not improve care. Having electronic access to data is just the first step. Quality is only improved when providers interpret data to connect the dots between diagnoses and treatment options.
Despite this widespread adoption EHRs, reliable market share data by vendor is still very hard to come by. So, when CMS recently updated its attestation data for midyear 2012, we took notice. Attestation, remember, is the process by which practitioners legally verify that they have used an EHR in way that merits one of those incentive payments. The data set includes more than 77,000 different attestations from 2011 through May of 2012 (note that it is not immediately clear why the data set has different totals than the CMS press release).
The sheer number of options for hospitals and providers stood out to us immediately. There are 405 separate EHR vendors that hospitals or providers have used to attest to meaningful use, with 336 of these providing ambulatory EHR products. It’s worth pausing here to note that by our count of the data found on the CMS Certified Health IT Product List, there are more than 550 separate ambulatory vendors with complete EHRs approved by CMS, meaning that despite the huge number of options, there were still well over 200 approved ambulatory vendors that have not had a single user qualify for an incentive payment yet!
Despite this enormous number of options, users attesting were fairly concentrated in the top vendors. Of these 336, the top 15 vendors represented 75% of all providers attesting. On the inpatient side, this concentration was even more pronounced, with the top 6 representing 75% of the total hospital attestations.
When we organize and dig into the data, a few other points stand out.