Now that the healthcare industry can work with clarity on care coordination strategies and programs, a new expansion of ACO models, trends in patient behavior and the companion issue of provider scope of practice have quickly emerged as critically-relevant spotlights. Historical perspective helps.
Simply put, even with the political tumult this fall, there is strong bipartisan support for aligning payment and care delivery models with improving quality to create a smarter and sustainable healthcare system, backed by historical precedent.
For me and my colleagues in the trenches of pursuing fiscally sound care delivery nearly a decade ago, it is well remembered that the origins of accountable care reside within a 2004 HHS document entitled “The Decade of Health Information Technology: Delivering Consumer-centric and Information-rich Health Care.” This “Framework for Strategic Action” (as it is also known) was delivered to then-HHS Secretary and GOP-appointee Tommy Thompson. And it was delivered by the nation’s first National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr. David Brailer.
The document’s goals of introducing health IT solutions to clinical practices, electronically connecting clinicians, using “information tools” to personalize care and advance population health reporting followed an executive order calling for widespread adoption of interoperable EHRs within 10 years.
In a time of EHR naysayers, mean-spirited election year politics, and press misinterpretation (ONC and CMS do not intend to relax patient engagement provisions), it’s important that we all send a unified message about our progress on the national priorities we’ve developed by consensus.
1. Query-based exchange – every country in the world that I’ve advised (Japan, China, New Zealand, Scotland/UK, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Singapore) has started with push-based exchange,replacing paper and fax machines with standards-based technology and policy. Once “push” is done and builds confidence with stakeholders, “pull” or query-response exchange is the obvious next step. Although there are gaps to be filled, we can and should make progress on this next phase of exchange. The naysayers need to realize that there is a process for advancing interoperability and we’ll all working as fast as we can. Query-based exchange will be built on top of the foundation created by Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2.
2. Billing – although several reports have linked EHRs to billing fraud/abuse and the recent OIG survey seeks to explore the connection between EHR implementation and increased reimbursement, the real issue is that EHRs, when implemented properly, can enhance clinical documentation. The work of the next two years as we prepare for ICD-10 is to embrace emerging natural language processing technologies and structured data entry to create highly reproducible/auditable clinical documentation that supports the billing process. Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2 have added content and vocabulary standards that will ensure future documentation is much more codified.
3. Safety – some have argued that electronic health records introduce new errors and safety concerns. Although it is true that bad software implemented badly can cause harm, the vast majority of certified EHR technology enhances workflow and reduces error. Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2 enhance medication accuracy and create a foundation for improved decision support. The HealtheDecisions initiative will bring us guidelines/protocols that add substantial safety to today’s EHRs.
Oh, that clever Center for Public Integrity. Look what they’ve gone and done now! My, oh my. According to the article, doctors are much of the the problem, billing “billions” of Medicare upcharges according to the center.
But what if the medical coding game itself is flawed? Stop for a moment and imagine what it would look like if lawyers billed like doctors. Suddenly, we see how bizarre the world of government billing codes and chart-completion mandates has become.
Not long ago I asked readers what my time is worth on a per-hour basis. Collectively and independently, they settled on a number of about $500/hr (see the comments). Now look for a moment at what Medicare pays, even at its highest level of billing for a physician’s time for evlauation and management of a medical problem: for 40 minutes of a physician’s time, it’s $140 (or $210/hr) before taxes. Again, we see another disconnect as to how doctors are valued in our current system.
Doctors are working long hours to collect these fairly low fees from Medicare while jumping more hoops than ever to do so. They have become pseudo-experts at the coding game, trying to get as much money for their extra efforts as legally possible. But these fees paid by Medicare do not cover payments for time spent on phone calls, e-mails, and working insurance denials. These services are still considered by our system as gratis. To partially counteract this coding problem, doctors realized (and the government insisted) that doctors use electronic medical records.
But when independent doctors set out to implement these records they quickly discovered that the expense and long-term maintenance costs of local office-based EMRs could not compete with more sophisticated systems already in use by their neighboring large health care systems. Because of ever-increasing cost-of-living and overhead costs, not to mention the threats of large fee cuts, doctors have migrated to large health systems faster than ever. With the fancier electronic record at those systems (streamlined for billing, collections, and marketing) fields required for higher billing codes (but not always material to the problem at hand) are completed in less time. So are doctors really the problem?