EHR and Health IT Consulting
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EHR and Health IT Consulting
Technical Doctor's insights and information collated from various sources on EHR selection, EHR implementation, EMR relevance for providers and decision makers
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Methods for Improving Patient Access to Health Information

Methods for Improving Patient Access to Health Information | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

The latest hearing held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) resulted in more than the call to delay Stage 3 Meaningful Use. It also provided numerous methods that federal legislators and healthcare organizations can take to improve patient access to health information.

Each of the three witnesses offered insight into the barriers preventing patients from having timely access to their health information in a highly useable electronic form.

First up was Raj Ratwani, PhD, who serves as Scientific Director at National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare at MedStar Health and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

For Ratwani, the major issue surrounding patient access to health information is usability.

"Patients must have easy access to their health information to improve health outcomes, facilitate patient and family engagement in care, and to reduce safety risks. Critically, this information must be presented in a manner that is both understandable and useful," he stated in his opening remarks.

In comments specific to the critical nature of patient use of health IT, Ratwani identified three critical factors: access, functionality, and information quality.

Of the first, he noted that patients "should be able to easily access all of their health information, securely, and in one place" and that "interoperability is crucial to patient access."

Of the second, he emphasized the need for user-centered design when presenting health information to patients and making patient engagement a part of the clinician's workflow.

"The information and capabilities of the system must be useful for the patient," he stated. "The design of system capabilities, such as patient-provider communication, should be intelligently integrated with the workflow processes of the clinician so that the clinicians are able to support the patient in a timely manner."

Lastly, Ratwani tied to quality of information to its usefulness to patients. "Information must be accurate and meaningful to the patient, presented in a manner that can be easily understood, and that will help them gain insights," he added.

According to a second witness, Kathy Giusti, MBA, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the potential of patient health IT to improve health outcomes hinges of EHR integration, aggregation, and sharing of data.

For Giusti, patient engagement begins with education to ensure that patients are aware of the tools available to them to help manage their own care. "Physicians, hospitals, advocacy organizations, and the government must ensure that patients are educated on how best to use the technology," shenoted.

EHR integration plays an important picture in enabling providers to have a complete picture of a patient's health at the point of care rather than having to access disparate sources of clinical data.

"The greatest efficiency will come from our ability to integrate EHRs across the vast number of specialized doctors and centers that patients now see," she maintained. "That data must be integrated into a centralized portal that we as patients feel like we own, share, update, and provide."

Giusti's final observation on patient access to health information centered on the importance of analyzing large stores of health information for research purposes, such as in her organization's work on cancer.

"The ability to understand, integrate, aggregate and analyze EHRs is on the critical path to improving outcomes and accelerating cures. We have shown the impact of data sharing in one uncommon, fatal disease," she closed.

The hearing's third witness shifted the focus of patient access to information to Congressional intervention. In his opening remarks, Intel Felllow and General Manager for Health and Life Sciences at Intel Corporation Eric Dishman called on Congress to do four things:

  • Advance health IT standards and current interoperability initiatives
  • Remove legal and financial obstacles to health data sharing and access
  • Continue shift to value-based care models
  • Eliminate social and economic barriers to health data access

Altogether, the testimony of three witnesses highlight the many moving pieces involved in ensuring patient access to health information.

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How EHR Technology Will Evolve to Support Healthcare Reform

How EHR Technology Will Evolve to Support Healthcare Reform | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

The design of early EHR technology was driven primarily by the desire to recreate paper charts in digital form. Just as with paper charts, initial EHR systems were meant only to capture information from the clinical episode — the idea of sharing that information across the care continuum wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Since then, EHR technology has evolved from solely a documentation tool into a resource capable of helping coordinate care, manage population health, and demonstrate value and outcomes.

Three major capabilities have emerged that define a modern EHR:

Decision support: EHRs have grown in their ability to intelligently organize a vast amount of information, then make it readily available to clinicians as they care for patients. While EHRs still contain all of the elements of paper charts, decision support tools present that highly relevant knowledge in ways that enrich decision making.

eRx database: The sheer number of pharmaceuticals on the market has increased dramatically, so doctors can no longer be expected to memorize the full arsenal of drug treatment options at their disposal. While providers may have relied on memory 20 years ago, today they can use medication database tools to assist in their treatment planning.

Analytics tools: Leveraging powerful analytics enables data to be used to enhance patient care. These tools give providers the data and insight they need to unleash their full clinical expertise.

Yet despite all of these advances, EHR technology still has room for improvement. New features and functionalities will arise, especially those that further facilitate data-driven collaborative care, will further advance this technology, and expand its capabilities to help the industry continue to improve patient care.

Bringing patients into the care continuum

Much of the EHR development effort today has shifted from an "informatics" focus toward an emphasis on improving the experiences of clinicians and patients. This evolution puts less attention on additional data capture and more on the true nature of the doctor/patient interaction. It is a more nuanced "form-fitting" of EHR technology, directly responding to the needs of the physician and patient.

The concept of patient engagement, in particular, is driving EHR progress. Up until now, developers have worked to enable access to care and the portability of medical records. Going forward, these endeavors must be augmented to include multiple ways to proactively reach out to patients and achieve a high level of engagement. Rather than relying on a physician to reach out and tell them what to do, patients in the very near future will demand fully patient-centric technology that is oriented toward helping them manage their own care, costs and wellness.

As patients begin to manage more of their care, healthcare tools will need to be more aligned with how and where people live and work. From a technology standpoint, this trend toward connected, patient-centered care dovetails with the increased use of mobile technology. (It is interesting to note that the number of mobile devices in existence now exceeds the entire population of the planet, according to data from digital analysts at GSMA Intelligence.) The combination of the two shows the need to capitalize on these devices and how patients use them in their daily lives and incorporate them into patient care to better actual outcomes.

Enhancing data and analytics capabilities

The need for better connectivity won’t end with patients, either. The emergence of extensions of care — such as the urgent care center, retail pharmacy chains and others —means that EHRs will have to be optimized to make data aggregation, integration and analysis much easier. When there are multiple points of entry into healthcare, every party will need to efficiently access and view a range of data holistically.

Analytics, especially as it relates to population health management, must continue to expand and improve. It needs to move beyond simply identifying a given at-risk population to helping personalize patient outreach and care plans in ways that align with each patient’s unique profile, influencing and improving care on a more individualized level.

In addition, as providers shoulder growing amounts of risk, technology will have to start incorporating cost basis functions. Providers will need to account for costs, timing, resource utilization and delivery across the continuum of care — much like supply chain functions. If patients ultimately have an equal financial responsibility for healthcare costs, then they, too, will need access to care and cost data. Solutions for patient self-management will likely evolve to offer both clinical and financial analysis.

The EHR stepping stone

The EHR will continue to be an important platform in the healthcare landscape of tomorrow — but it won’t be the only platform. There will be clinical records, of course, but also care management solutions, cost analysis technologies and value-based care tools that emulate the characteristics of supply chain. Each of these solutions will have to be fully interoperable; capable of sharing information easily, accurately and efficiently.

The way healthcare is delivered and consumed is certain to change significantly over the years. We have to be prepared to work together with different technologies – and an expanded number of specialized platforms – to ensure a successful transformation.  

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A “Collaborative Consult” Could Greatly Improve EMR Value

Over the past several years, EMRs have taken some steps forward. At least in some cases, analytics have improved, vendors have begun offering cloud or on-premise install versions of their products and user interfaces have even improved.

But one problem with EMRs that seems to be nearly unfixable is the need for providers to stare at an EMR screen, leaving patients to fidget uncomfortably while they wait for a bit of face-to-face contact and discussion. Sure, you’ll see scribes in hospital emergency departments, allowing ED docs to speak to patients without interruption, but in the outpatient settings where patients spend most of their time, the EMR screen is king.

Such a focus on the EMR display isn’t unreasonable, given the importance of the data being entered, but as critics have noted countless times, it does make it more likely that the provider will miss subtle clues as to the patient’s condition, and possibly end up offering lower-quality care than they would have if they had an old-fashioned computerless encounter.

I have long thought, however, that there’s a solution to this problem which would be helpful to both the physician and the patient, one which would literally make sure that patients and doctors are on the same page. I’m speaking of a new group of settings for EMRs designed specifically to let patients collaborate with physicians.

Such an EMR setting, as I envision it, would begin with a section depicting a dummy patient of the appropriate gender.The patient would touch the areas of the body which were causing them problems, while the doctor typed up a narrative version of the problem presentation. The two (patient and doctor) would then zoom in together to more specific descriptions of what the patient’s trouble might be, and the doctor would educate the patient as to what kind of treatment these different conditions might require.

At that point, depending on what condition(s) the doctor chose as requiring further study, lists of potential tests would come up. If a patient wanted to learn what these tests were intended to accomplish, they’d have the liberty to drill down and learn, say, what a CBC measures and why.  The patient would also see, where possible, the data (such as high cholesterol levels) which caused the doctor to seek further insight.

If the patient had a known illness being managed by the physician, such as heart disease, a tour through a 3-D visual model of the heart would also be part of the collaboration, allowing the doctor to educate the patient effectively as to what they were jointly trying to accomplish (such as halting heart muscle thickening).

The final step in this patient-doctor process would come with the system presenting a list of current medications taken by the patient, and if appropriate, new medications that might address any new or recurring symptoms the patient was experiencing.

The final result would come in the form of a PDF, e-mailed to the patient or printed out for their use, offering an overview of their shared journey. The doctor might have to spend a few minutes adding details to their notes after the patient left, but for the most part, the collaborative consult would have met everyone’s needs.

Now you tell me:  Why aren’t we doing this now?  Wouldn’t it make much more sense, and take much more advantage of the powerful desktops, tablets and smartphones we have, than having a provider stare at a screen for most of their visit with a patient?

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IBM’s Watson Extracts EHR Patient Data to Improve Care

IBM’s Watson Extracts EHR Patient Data to Improve Care | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Anyone who enjoys watching the quiz show Jeopardy! has heard about the computer system Watson, which was initially developed to compete on the show but has since garnered the attention of leaders across a variety of industries. Watson can even be used to better analyze EHR patient data and lead to improved quality of care.

The company division IBM Watson Health has announced today that it is working with Epic and the Mayo Clinic to apply some of the computing capabilities of Watson to analyzing EHR patient data and systems in order to boost patient health outcomes. Providers will also gain advantages when applying Watson’s power to EHRs and gaining faster analysis of the many issues that affect a patient’s health and wellness.EHR Patient Data

Using secure, cloud-based Watson services will help physicians with clinical decision making and understanding of patients’ medical conditions. Over the last year, Epic has exchanged more than 80 million patient health records within its community and outside of it.

“Building on our recent announcement of IBM Watson Health, we are collaborating with Epic and Mayo Clinic in another important validation of the potential of Watson to be used broadly across the healthcare industry,” Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President of IBM Watson, remarked in a public statement. “This is just the first step in our vision to bring more personalized care to individual patients by connecting traditional sources of patient information with the growing pools of dynamic and constantly growing healthcare information.”

The hope is to have Watson and Epic software be utilized to effectively create patient treatment protocols and more customized health management solutions for patients with chronic conditions. Watson would be used to bring forth relevant case studies and medical knowledge that is applicable to treating a patient when doctors and other healthcare professionals share EHR patient data with Watson in real-time.

Epic will be incorporating Watson’s computing features into its clinical decision support tools including Health Level -7 (HL7) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Through this combined system, clinicians will be able to more quickly access the knowledge necessary to more effectively treat patients and improve health outcomes.

IBM and Mayo Clinic is collaborating on ways to revolutionize cognitive computing by applying it to clinical trials matching among cancer patients. With the streamlined and accurate processes available through Watson’s computing capabilities, physicians are able to register patients much faster in relevant clinical trials that are customized to each individual’s needs. With more than 1 million patients seen at the Mayo Clinic every year and more than 1,000 clinical trials available year-round, integrating Watson should lead to significant progress in quickly assigning patients to innovative studies.

“Patients need answers, and Watson helps provide them quickly and more thoroughly. We are excited by Watson’s potential to efficiently provide clinical trials information at the point of care,” Dr. Steven Alberts, an oncologist at Mayo Clinic, said in a public statement.

IBM’s Watson offers significant opportunity for healthcare providers to bring about high-quality care through the use of cognitive computing capabilities tailored to each individual patient.

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Three Vendors are Driving Patient Engagement and Portal Use

Three Vendors are Driving Patient Engagement and Portal Use | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Driving patient engagement is still vital for the healthcare sector despite certain inconsistencies from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Even though CMS has proposed new Stage 2 Meaningful Use regulations that drop the 5 percent requirement of patients viewing, downloading, and transmitting their health information to just one patient per provider, the organization still expects eligible professionals and hospitals to meet a much larger percentage – currently proposed to be 25 percent – of patients viewing their medical data through patient portals under the Stage 3 Meaningful Use requirements. As such, providers would be wise to continue integrating patient engagement strategies at their facility.

Vendors play a vital part in developing effective patient portals to assist providers in driving patient engagement among their community of consumers. A report from the research firm KLAS examined which vendors in particular have been most useful in moving forward patient portal adoption amidst healthcare providers.Driving Patient Engagement

Athenahealth, Epic, and Medfusion were reported to be at the top of their game when it comes to increasing portal adoption throughout the patient population. More than half of the customers under all three vendors report that at least 20 percent of their patients have accessed the patient portal. This is well above the previous 5 percent threshold that CMS initially unrolled under Stage 2 Meaningful Use regulations.

KLAS discovered these findings after interviewing 186 medical provider organizations on which vendors have really made a difference in meeting their needs and advancing health IT and patient engagement for a brighter tomorrow.

The KLAS report focused on three main areas regarding patient portal strategies: enterprise, ambulatory, and EMR agnostic. A variety of factors associated with increasing patient portal adoption were addressed in the report including product performance and vendor guidance.

“Value-based care is forcing patient portals to evolve from being merely tools for reactive regulatory compliance to becoming valuable instruments that allow patients to proactively engage in their own care,” said report author Coray Tate. “Providers report that vendor guidance and functionality that patients find useful, such as billing and self-scheduling, are the most effective ways to encourage portal adoption among patients.”

A study published by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) further outlines the use of the patient portal particularly among teenagers and parents. The researchers studied the attitudes of these two groups through one teen digital bulletin board, one parent digital bulletin board, and two focus groups for each faction. Videos and transcripts from the sessions were then analyzed.

The results showed that both teenagers and parents found that patient portals are beneficial and should be used to help teens better manage their own healthcare. Some teenagers were concerned that physicians would not be keeping certain information private and will let their parents see data that is meant to be protected. One parent said: “This kind of access will help my teen become much more interested in her healthcare and also motivate her to take control. And that will be great.”

With greater teamwork between vendors, providers, and the patients themselves, there should be a rise in the use of portals and patient engagement.

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Three Ways Front-Office Staff Can Improve Collections

Three Ways Front-Office Staff Can Improve Collections | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Cash flow at medical practices can be especially slow in the first and second quarters of the year as many patients with consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) have not yet met their deductibles.

The cash flow problem is worsening as CDHPs become more popular. According to a National Business Group on Health survey, more than half (57 percent) of employers are implementing or expanding CDHPs. This leaves many patients 100 percent responsible for their healthcare costs until they meet that deductible.

If you’re one of the independent practices — especially one with fewer than 10 staff members — dealing with this issue, here are three ways your front-office staff can help you navigate this growing problem:

1. They can focus on detailed eligibility verification. Train your staff to always confirm if a patient has coverage and if he has a copay or deductible. At a minimum, understand if the deductible has been met, but try to obtain a real-time deductible balance. Your staff should also understand benefit details tied to the services you offer and confirm if you are considered in-network for the patient. The more information on hand, the more you can prepare the patient for what his responsibility may be.

 2. They can be prepared to collect at time of service. Your front-office staff is the most important resource in the process of collecting payments up front and collecting on outstanding bills. With benefits and deductible information in hand before a patient walks in the door, your staff is already in a better position for the conversation. And it’s extremely important to establish the systems to manage and collect money because once a patient walks out the door, collection rates drop to 50 percent to 70 percent for small-dollar payments from insured patients, and to only 10 percent from self-pay patients. Make the money conversation part of your practice’s DNA and you will change your business.

3. They can offer a variety of payment options. When McKinsey surveyed consumers to ask why they would opt not to pay a medical bill, respondents cited a lack of options for payment plans, poor timing of bills, and difficulties coping with confusing statements or policies as barriers. The shift to a retail-centric approach in healthcare is here. Smartphones have built-in one-touch payment capabilities and major retail chains are working healthcare into their daily store offerings. Patients want to know what they owe up front and have multiple options to pay, especially when their responsibility is increasing. Make it easy for your patients. Accept credit or debit cards. Allow payments through mobile devices, cards on file, patient portals, monthly billing plans, or payment by check. Think of your front desk as a point of sale terminal and help your staff shift their mindset to work with patients to collect those funds any way a patient will pay.

Bonus Tip: All of these tips can be leveraged without investing in much more than staff time. Your cash flow should go up and your bad debt should decrease to help reduce your revenue cycle.

I encourage you to investigate tools and software solutions that can help your staff be even more efficient and effective with these steps. There are tools that focus on streamlining the eligibility verification process and that can provide additional insurance details in one place.

Check your EHR system for possible add-ons or leverage other Web-based solutions that focus on not only eligibility but also provide additional features for your front desk such as payment or scheduling. Look for a tool that streamlines work flow and gives you a point-of-sale system that meets your patients’ retail expectations. This can greatly reduce the expenditure on staff time and ultimately create a seamless front-desk experience.

With this continued growth in patient responsibility, practices have to adapt their systems and expect that a larger portion of their income is coming directly from the patient.

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Tech Tools to Boost Patient Collections

Tech Tools to Boost Patient Collections | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

With the proliferation of high-deductible health plans under the Affordable Care Act, patient payments have become a bigger chunk of many practices' revenue. As a result, experts say physicians should be developing more sophisticated collection strategies that take advantage of technology to help get money in the door.

Used effectively, technology can help smaller practices stay on top of patients' coverage and financial responsibilities under the new high-deductible plans, as they may be new to both practice and patient. Many newly insured patients are unaware of the service-level details of their policies. So it's important to give your staff readily available information about coverage, balances, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Technology can help you streamline processes at the front desk to facilitate collection at time of service, provided that you invest in staff training, said Colleen Fusetti, a director at FluidEdge Consulting in Malvern, Pa.

"You need to put a lot of emphasis on training staff to use the technology and understand patient balances and payment options so that they, in turn, can educate the patient," she said. "The ability to collect drops considerably after the patient walks away from the front desk."

Fusetti and other revenue cycle management experts also offered these tips for getting the most out of your technology tools to improve patient collections:

• Set up a patient portal. The portal allows patients to check their eligibility and claims data and view or pay their balances online.

• Integrate an insurance eligibility service into your practice management and EHR systems. Some services allow you to run a verification check on every patient scheduled for a visit over the next few days so that you can reach out to patients in advance to get new insurance information, if needed.

• Use an automated appointment reminder service. The services not only remind patients about upcoming appointments but also link patients to the portal where they can see any pending balances, make payments, and review their coverage before arriving.

• Consider online credit card processing. You can accept credit or debit card payments from any Internet-enabled device linked to a mobile card swiper.

• Set up automatic payments. Many merchant service companies offer an option to keep patients' credit card information on file securely. After discussing financial responsibility for a future procedure or service, patients can decide whether to authorize a one-time payment pending final calculation of their bill or set up a payment plan with recurring payments.

• Take advantage of online resources. The AMA offers a Point-of-Care Pricing Toolkit free to its members. The resource provides tools to help practices collect what patients owe at the time of service.

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Baystate Health's CIO on the Key to Solving Healthcare's Challenges

Baystate Health's CIO on the Key to Solving Healthcare's Challenges | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference this year, the buzz throughout the halls of McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago has been largely around population health, analytics, health information exchange (HIE), and patient engagement. But according to Joel Vengco, vice president and CIO at the Springfield, Mass.-based Baystate Health, many healthcare leaders are forgetting a core piece to the puzzle—access to data.

Vengco has provided the vision, plan, and execution behind the December 2014 launch of the Springfield-based TechSpring Innovation Center, a collaborative initiative that will match private enterprises with partners from Baystate to take on some of healthcare’s most difficult challenges. Vengco says that TechSpring offers partners flexible space to work and the ability to collaborate directly with care providers from Baystate Health on their projects, assessing providers' needs and creating solutions to address those needs. On April 13 at HIMSS15, Vengco sat down with HCI Associate Editor Rajiv Leventhal to talk about this project, as well as what's further needed for the healthcare industry to meet its growing challenges. Below are excerpts of that interview.
HCI: Tell me more about the idea behind and goals of TechSpring. 
Vengco: We want to crowdsource innovation. There are so many problems in healthcare as a result of this new focus on value-based care. Don't get me wrong, these are good problems, but with them comes lots of challenges, and you need a lot solutions to address those issues. The vendor market today does not have all the answers, so TechSpring is an invitation for the globe to partner with health systems like Baystate Health to utilize assets including data, experts, the environment and clinical organizations, and bring solutions that we absolutely need in healthcare today. In today's environment, failing fast is a good thing. Inventing quickly and winning big is a capability that our systems have provided to us. So TechSpring is focused on bringing those solutions to market. 
What kind of solutions? 
Solutions beyond the electronic health record (EHR)—features and functions that are needed for caregivers that can take their  work and engagement to another level. Take a look at other industries that focus on consumer services, and think about how we can deliver solutions to our patients to enable us to engage with them. Consumer-based products such as Uber and OpenTable are examples of what we can address and achieve today in healthcare.  
The other part of this is around patient engagement and mobile apps. It's about turning hospitals and care delivery into the experience of the future; no longer are the four walls of buildings the way you should deliver care. How do we invite other industries to help us develop capabilities that consumers use to engage with us frequently? And of course, analytics is a big deal too. I don't believe that we have solved the big data issues, so let's bring in vendors and start-ups from this industry and others to utilize the data for these kinds of models. People from other industries can say, "Hey I've done this in the financial sector and it's worked." 
Can this kind of idea be the gateway to an open healthcare ecosystem?
Absolutely. It's a way to liberate the data, and a platform for innovators to develop solutions to create an ecosystem of capabilities and solutions for providers and patients to access. One of the things that's the focus is to fail fast and win big. Part of what we want for innovators to understand is when you come in to TechSpring, it's up to you to solve some of these challenges, in the way we believe we can solve them. It's okay to fail. Healthcare software in the past has been plagued with the idea that everything is part of a larger system, and that's an issue when you want to make everything so perfect. The life cycle becomes a multi-year journey. You can get to solutions in sprints as well. 
There's a huge issue to getting access to data from sourced systems, such as legacy EHR systems. Having access to data is paramount to getting to population health, analytics, and new care delivery models. We often forget about that core piece of the puzzle. TechSpring is pushing different ways to get there, via FHIR (fast healthcare interoperability resources) standards, and asking our vendors to move with application program interfaces (APIs). All of these pieces are critical for us. 
The feds have certainly put great pressure on vendors, though. Is that why they try to be so "perfect?"
You're right. Innovation has been stifled because of mandates that have have forced people to put resources into addressing problems such as EHR certifications and meaningful use, and not other challenges in healthcare. Even more relevant is to have the ability to crowdsource innovation. These larger vendors should feel compelled to grow inorganically to partner with these other innovators that are coming up with solutions.
Vendors are reluctant to open up their databases, as they want to be the solution provider for everything, though that's not possible. So many commercial vendors and start-ups are out there that can deliver solutions. There was a study a few years ago on the impact that holding onto data has on healthcare. They found that if data was open for innovators to get access to, it would be a $40 billion industry. There is lots of innovation still to be done. 
You presented yesterday during HIMSS' HIE Symposium. How is this lack of data liberation affecting data exchange?
We started a regional HIE, Pioneer Valley Information Exchange (PVIX), in western Massachusetts, and the single biggest issue right now by far is the cost of creating the connection from the EHR to the HIE. EHR vendor costs are inhibiting members to joining—smaller practices are finding the costs outrageous. The problem isn't the technology, it's that the up-front costs and transaction fees from EHR vendors makes interoperability expensive. I would say interoperability should be free.
Legislation won't change it. The feds won't develop legislation to force vendors to open their data, nor should they. But they can do different things to put pressure on vendors such as pushing open APIs, and pushing ways to access this data, perhaps through certification measures and through meaningful use. 
So you would say the biggest challenge in healthcare is...?
Access to that data is the single biggest challenge. There are cultural challenges as well, as sharing data with competitive organizations is still something that providers don't like. It comes back to the idea that we shouldn't be competing with the data, but instead what we should do with the data. Vendors should start to create larger alliances, and by that I don't mean just CommonWell with 60 percent of the patient population. It should be CommonWell plus Epic plus everyone else, so you have 100 percent of the population. But Epic may not ever agree to that, they may believe that their 40 percent share will continue to grow and be interoperable. But having data available will create more opportunities for patients and providers. 
So the "buzz" at HIMSS will focus a lot on patient engagement, and vehicles to engage patients like mobility. There will also be analytics buzz. Those two pieces bring you to population health management. However, what I'm really focused on is how these vendors and how these innovators are going to help us get access to the data. I'll be speaking with many of our vendors and partners to move the needle on data liberation. That is most important thing in healthcare today. We aren't there yet with the data, and that's the biggest issue for us.

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Do Patient Engagement Measures Address Privacy Concerns?

Do Patient Engagement Measures Address Privacy Concerns? | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

With patient engagement measures playing a significant role in the recently released Stage 3 Meaningful Use proposed ruling, it becomes more imperative than in prior years to better understand how to effectively engage patients in their own healthcare. More companies are conducting market research surveys and other polls to find out how health IT and healthcare reform is perceived from the patient perspective.

Nuance Communications is one such company that has polled approximately 3,000 patients from the US, the United Kingdom, and Germany to learn more about patients’ views on healthcare technology. The survey, called Healthcare from the Patient Perspective, found that patients in Germany value privacy during a physical exam while those in the UK and the US care more about the physician being fully engaged and showing eye contact during a visit. Important findings like these may need to be further addressed within patient engagement measures.

Dr. Nick van Terheyden, Chief Medical Information Officer of Nuance Communications, spoke with about the findings from this survey. Since van Terheyden is passionate about both clinical and patient advocacy, he was pleased with the survey results.

“One of the biggest surprises came from the differences between the countries. The UK and the US were similar in people’s perspective around technology and the physician interaction as well as what troubled them about it,” said Dr. van Terheyden. “In many instances, patients feel this technology is reducing their quality time with the clinician. From the German side of the survey, their primary concern with the introduction of technology was the security and confidentiality issue.”

“There was a concern about having additional people like scribes in the office,” he continued. “For me as a clinician, I think we take for granted the interaction that we have with our patients. They walk in with an incredible level of trust with their clinician. Patients lay their heart out to their physician to help him or her understand your problems and to share deep, personal details about one’s clinical condition. The fundamental basis of clinical medicine is honesty between the patient and the clinician.”

The Chief Medical Information Officer explained that adding an extra individual such as a scribe, nurse, or other healthcare professional into the exam room has made some patients, specifically those in Germany, less likely to open up and share all of their health issues with the physician.

“[This finding] needs to be taken account of as we try and support clinicians and patients in the office setting,” stated Dr. van Terheyden.

While there may be some concerns with the use of scribes among patients from Germany, there are also some benefits to having another professional document the patient-doctor interaction, especially with regard to reaching patient engagement measures. For example, the use of scribes could allow physicians to focus on the patients instead of data entry and essentially give both patients and doctors more time to interact.

The use of scribes is “one of the emerging trends under a great deal of discussion. From a clinician standpoint, one of the things they see is supporting infrastructure around them that allows them to focus on the patient,” said Dr. van Terheyden. “What came out clearly from the survey is the feeling of being rushed. Forty percent of patients feel rushed during their visit. If asked to classify the quality of the interaction, it was about the focus of the physician, eye contact, and attention to the patient. All of this technology has detracted from that.”

The use of a scribe or possibly recording tools could solve some of the issues surrounding the patient-doctor relationship. However, both privacy and documentation quality concerns of a scribe may need to be addressed before healthcare providers adopt this service, the Nuance Communications CMIO explained.

The survey showed that a significant number of patients spend less than 10 minutes with their physician during an average visit. Dr. Nick van Terheyden went on to offer solutions on ways to increase the amount of time and quality of time doctors spend with patients.

The healthcare industry would benefit from doctors “using other clinical resources to take on activities, using technology to become more efficient, [and] using telemedicine.”

“Sometimes the interaction that occurs in a patient’s home using a video exchange can be perceived as high quality because they didn’t have to spend 40 minutes waiting or driving. Technology can apply some potential solutions that might improve the amount or quality of time physicians spend with patients,” stated Dr. Nick van Terheyden.

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The Dire Need for Healthcare Interoperability

The Dire Need for Healthcare Interoperability | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

In a recently published study, "Emergency Physician Perceptions of Medically Unnecessary Advanced Diagnostic Imaging," physician Hemal Kanzaria and co-authors uncovered that 97 percent of the over 700 responding ED physicians admit that nearly one in four advanced diagnostic imaging studies they personally order are "medically unnecessary." Worse yet, most in-hospital diagnostic imaging studies cost about five times more than their independent counterparts for the same work.

"The main perceived contributors were fear of missing a low-probability diagnosis and fear of litigation," according to the study abstract. The real contributor is that emergency physicians, and virtually every other consulting physician, is being forced to treat immediate crisis in the blind under looming threat of litigation, a callously perverse system that costs Medicare and Medicaid hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and the overall healthcare system arguably close to a trillion dollars per year in waste.

Emergency physicians, hospitalists, specialists, and even primary-care doctors, which pretty much covers anyone with a prescription pad, order lots of unnecessary or redundant tests not because the vast majority are intentionally wasteful but, because they, with rare exceptions, have no idea of what has or has not been done before them and must treat patients in the moment of crisis, not in the continuum of care.

This does not mean that ED doctors are bad at their jobs. It's just that doctors working in teams are proven to provide better care at lower cost. Much lower cost. As much as 30 percent.

Doctors work best if they can work in teams using the same information. Unfortunately, EHRs do not provide the kind of information that doctors need to be effective. They need information that helps them make informed decisions and they need to be responsible for all care and costs. When this happens, the quality of care improves. People get and stay healthier, and, costs go down.

Interoperability Hurdles

So, has spending $24.6 billion in taxpayer dollars on EHR systems been a bad idea? Not irreversibly. Some conflicts of interest that strongly inhibit the flow of data need to be addressed first:

1. It's good for EHR vendors to make it as hard as possible to move data to a competing system, denying the healthcare system as a whole.

2. It's good business for hospitals and their sub-specialist employees, whose stability relies on a steady stream of people in medical crisis, to keep data within their own walls and away from competitors.

3. It's good business for the industry as a whole because a free-flow of data means price, quality, and effectiveness transparency, forcing healthcare to compete like the rest of the economy.

And, the federal government obliges everyone with a cloak to hide behind: HIPAA.

The public is the only stakeholder in healthcare that restricting access to data is not good for.

The key to saving our healthcare system is to achieve a free flow of data and to convert that data into actionable clinical, price, and quality information for primary-care physicians, called interoperability.

Interoperability is the ability for different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged. It solves three of the most vexing problems the healthcare system and its providers face:

1. It unites a fragmented healthcare delivery system;

2. It streamlines and standardizes communication among providers; and,

3. It eliminates duplication of services.

Three Solutions to Move Forward

Karen DeSalvo, a physician and the former national coordinator for health information technology, set a goal to get the basic infrastructure in place by 2017 and to have a fully interoperable national system by 2024. That deadline has since been moved to 2017.

Considering that literally hundreds of thousands of doctors do not have or cannot afford EHR systems, nor can they afford to jump through the annual labyrinth of regulatory hoops to meet the federal government's definition of "meaningful use," and over 150 EHR manufacturers fighting for the only thing that keeps them in business — proprietary data — this goal is not only unrealistic, it is disingenuous.

But, there are companies already operational and their population health, analytics, and quality measurement systems combined with primary-care practice operational transformation, best practices training, and support that unleashes the power of that information, already generating high quality care and superior clinical outcomes at lower cost.

They do this by cutting waste and managing chronic disease effectively, which keeps patients out of the hospital. As a result, they must be independent of hospitals to avoid the conflict of interest.

Hospitals and their unions, whose lament you are already hearing, realize their vulnerability, and will fight unless you change the system to protect them. Hospitals are necessary to the public welfare and our national security.

Three simple actions can accelerate the process:

1. Funding the expansion of our interoperability capabilities and use of a common population health and analytics system with practice transformation, and requiring EHR companies to format their data in the same way and put it in the same place;

2. Limiting "out-of-network" payments to a reasonable percentage of Medicare to protect both patients and providers to protect patients and shared savings and risk programs from predatory practices; and,

3. Indemnifying doctors that use and document best practices from frivolous lawsuits.

With the kind of savings programs like these can deliver, investing the savings from just four or five Medicare beneficiaries per year for each enabled primary-care practice,  the return on investment generates savings of 100 times or more.

The hardest part is mentally disengaging from the misperception that hospitals are healthcare providers. They are not. Hospitals are medical crisis treatment and rehabilitation facilities. Hospitals cannot so much as dispense an aspirin without a doctor's approval, and doctors need to be clear of conflict of interest.

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Making Health IT Lead Patient Engagement Improvements

Making Health IT Lead Patient Engagement Improvements | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Enhancing the quality of patient care and expanding patient engagement improvements are key areas that healthcare providers are focused on today. Through the utilization of new health IT tools, many medical professionals are seeing improvements in patient care processes throughout their practices.

Physicians’ Alliance, Ltd. (PAL) is one organization that has put their efforts into advancing patient care by adopting a leading analytics platform from Geneia, a vendor of software solutions for the healthcare industry.  PAL runs 22 practices throughout Pennsylvania and this analytics platform may lead to lowering medical costs and improving the quality of care for more than 500,000 patients, according to a company press release.

Victoria Martell, Quality Initiatives Coordinator at PAL, spoke with about some of their efforts toward improving patient care and the benefits of the new analytics platform. The organization has only implemented the technology within the last week and it may take more time to garner the exact advantages the analytics system will bring.

“I can tell from what little exposure I’ve had to it is that it’s definitely a powerful tool,” Martell said. “I’m very hopeful that it will provide us with a deeper dive into the information we’ll need to offer better care or identify areas of costs and utilization that can help us create better care management programs for our patients.”

The analytics platform may even “save the community and the patient [costs] in the long run.” Another Geneia client found that the platform offers information that can assist in lowering prescription costs and targeting patients that have high medical spending but have not seen their primary care provider in the last year.

According to Martell, analytics software and other health IT tools can help in “identifying patients that have gaps in their care such as quality measures, cancer screenings, adult immunizations, and patients with chronic diseases who haven’t had tests that monitor the diseases.”

“It will help us identify patients who might not have had those tests completed,” Martell explained. “In turn, we can reach out to them to ensure they are able to obtain the care that they need so we can better manage their conditions. This will also help prevent and identify diseases early on, so it will be more treatable.”

When it comes to using these tools for clinical analysis, Martell believes that they will improve patient health outcomes at PAL. The way this will be achieved is by identifying patients with gaps in their care and working on managing disease to prevent more serious or fatal outcomes.

“[These tools can help us by] identifying patients who have gaps in care especially with disease management,” Martell said. “If we’re able to identify patients who might not be seeing primary care providers or specialists regularly enough to help manage their chronic diseases, we can come up with a care plan strategy and a care team that leads to ultimately better care in the long run.”

Quality care and patient engagement improvements are also significant goals at PAL and Martell spoke about the processes and health IT tools needed to enhance the patient experience.

“Patient engagement is new and previously the patient would only sit and listen to the provider. Now technology allows for more availability of patients to reach out to providers rather than just a phone call. It is slowly coming around,” Martell mentioned. “We had a struggle early on with our patient portal. We struggled with having patients wanting to utilize the patient portal. Over time, they’ve seen the benefits of it and use it a lot now.”

“The Physicians Alliance is also a Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home. Obtaining this recognition, we had to demonstrate the ability to encourage patient engagement,” Martell explained. “Through our care teams and patient education that we have available, patients seem to be more apt to converse with us and ask questions. The providers have more time to spend with patients because we were able to shift things that the providers didn’t necessarily need to do [and transfer it over to] qualified nurses. This allowed the providers to have the time to sit and work with the patient.”

Victoria Martell also spoke on the benefits of EHR systems for impacting patient engagement improvements and patient care. When looking at the provider side of things, EHR technology can help enhance tracking of patient needs and helps improve efficiencies across a hospital or physician practice. The EHR system at PAL is able to flag reminders for clinical staff on any upcoming tests or immunizations patients may need.

When it comes to the new analytics platform, Martell said: “The system can integrate with our scheduling system and can compare what is needed for a patient and provide a ‘report card’ for that patient so that information can be used for an upcoming visit. It will help the nurse and provider team work with the patients to ensure that needed screenings are completed.”

Martell also discussed how Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements have affected patient engagement improvements. PAL has reported Stage 2 Meaningful Use at their practices and Martell believes these requirements have increased patient engagement.

“One of the core elements of reporting [Stage 2 Meaningful Use] is patient engagement through the use of the patient portal. Prior to us striving to achieve Stage 2, our portal usage was not meeting the thresholds needed. We had to evaluate our workflows and how we presented portals to patients,” Martell stated. “Informing patients that they don’t need to sit on hold on the phone [by using the portal instead] really had increased patient awareness and we now see portal usage has substantially increased since July of 2014.”

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Why Patients, Providers Support Health Information Exchange

Why Patients, Providers Support Health Information Exchange | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

The latest Stage 3 Meaningful Use proposed rule emphasizes the expansion of health information exchange (HIE) due to the significant benefits of greater access to medical data.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) offers a multitude of HIE benefits through its website. First, it allows for better tracking and management of patient health records. HIES also serve as a system for reducing medical errors and increasing patient safety.179210469

Healthcare efficiency increases, as health information exchange reduces paperwork and redundant data entry. Additionally, HIEs enhance public health reporting and patient monitoring as well as ensures a functional level of interoperability among EHR systems within individual physician practices and hospitals.

On the other side of the potential benefits from HIE expansion, one study argues that there may be more correlation between HIEs and better patient health outcomes versus a more direct cause toward improved quality of care.

A newsletter from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis reported on a research paper published in the journal Health Affairs that found little evidence of HIEs directly causing improvements in the medical sector.

Researchers from the university analyzed 27 studies reporting on the benefits of HIEs and found that it may be too early to tell whether health information exchange systems are truly revolutionizing care and lowering costs. The researchers believe there may be more of a correlation between HIEs and medical benefits.

“We need to eliminate any confounding issues implicating the correlation between benefits and HIE,” Professors Nir Menachemi, one of the study’s authors, told the source. “For example, how do we know that the correlation between computerization and good outcomes isn’t really just being driven by the fact that early adopters of HIE are exemplary healthcare providers? We need to rule out those kinds of things.”

Despite any potential criticism of health information exchange, patients themselves are calling for more efficient sharing of medical information across hospitals and physicians. According to a survey conducted by ORC International and released by the Society of Participatory Medicine, 75 percent of polled Americans believe their health information should be readily available and shared among hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers.

Additionally, a large majority of respondents – 87 percent – are vehemently against being billed for the exchange of vital health data among healthcare providers. Unfortunately, even after a physician practice sets up the technology necessary to transmit health data, the facility may get charged additionally every time they send and receive information.

Almost 20 percent of polled Americans experienced a problem that they or a family member had when receiving care because their medical records could not be accessed by a different healthcare provider. Many physicians also cite delays in accessing current patient data as a major barrier in offering medical treatment.

Whether health information exchange leads to significant benefits or improves the quality of care, the viewpoints of both physicians and patients is that easily accessible and readily available health information is a necessity.

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Can An EMR Focus on Patient Care in the Current Reimbursement Environment?

Can An EMR Focus on Patient Care in the Current Reimbursement Environment? | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

I think it’s a bit much to say that they are mutually exclusive. I think you can have both. However, I think that very few EHR vendors have both right now. Hirdey is absolutely right that no doctor would buy an EHR if they didn’t take care of the revenue needs of a practice. That is the first feature that most doctors look for when looking at EHR software.

As in most parts of life, you get what you pay for. Doctors are willing to pay for something that will increase their revenue. That’s why the EHR incentives worked so good (even if it’s fuzzy math). They saw some government money and so they adopted EHR to go after the money. I can’t remember someone ever asking if the EHR would make them more effective clinicians. I can’t remember them asking if the EHR would help them provide better patient care.

It’s kind of sad thing that are reimbursement system is so disconnected from the quality of care a doctor provides. The good news is that now that reimbursement is tackled and meaningful use is tackled, I have hope that EHR vendors will start to differentiate themselves from other EHR vendors based on their clinical abilities.

What do you think? Are we heading for a new era of EHR that’s more focused on clinical and patient outcomes and less on maximizing reimbursement? Or at least that we’ll see both?

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How EHR Portals Can Increase and Optimize Patient Engagement

How EHR Portals Can Increase and Optimize Patient Engagement | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

In order for patient engagement to be effective, providers need to learn how to integrate patients as partners in care, the Senior Director of Clinical Applications at Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS) added.

However, efforts to do so are impeded by struggles to provide patients with adequate methods of accessing information. Patient portals, which are often included on a hospital’s EHR, seem to be the most prevalent method by which patients may engage with their health information, but as Cheadle pointed out, patient portals present considerable hurdles in increasing patient engagement.

“Consumers said that a provider’s website needs improvement,” Cheadle said. “That we could not find the portal easily on the website, and if we did find the portal, they’re not easy to use, and they did not have an ability to find the information -- either it wasn’t there or wasn’t the relevant information that the patient was looking for.”

Throughout the webcast, Cheadle provided strategies on how providers can increase patient engagement via the patient portal, as well as on where the healthcare industry is today in implementing that patient engagement.


A huge economic industry expected to reach $9 million by 2017, patient portals on EHRs are major drivers of measuring patient engagement. Cheadle explained how patient portals have been used by the federal government to measure meaningful use success, and to subsequently reward outstanding providers or providers who are not up to par.

However, as Cheadle pointed out, most patients don’t visit with their physicians often, making the current model for EHRs and patient portals ineffective. Although patient behavioral and social data have an underscored importance, much provider technology doesn’t align itself with these goals, making it hard to implement truly meaningful patient engagement.

Data sharing

A critical aspect of patient engagement is patient access to medical information. That patient data sharing is the primary job of the patient portal, but as Cheadle explained, these portals don’t seem to be performing that job adequately.

She stated that portals have been fairly well implemented amongst many providers, but there are still no widespread positive results.

“Despite the success of the implementation of portals across the United States, our readmission rates into our hospitals is remaining relatively consistent,” she said. “We have not reduced the high cost of readmissions into the healthcare setting.”

Cheadle continued the rest of the webcast by explaining different strategies providers can implement to make best use of their patient portals to increase patient engagement.

What can we do?

Cheadle explained that it is important to use the overall structure of patient portals and change the way in which providers use them to engage with the patient. The means using a patient-by-patient, individualistic approach to patient engagement.

By using pre-existing parameters for the healthcare provider’s business model, physicians can alter their engagement strategies to integrate the needs of the patient and to incorporate the patient as a part of his or her own care team.

Creating patient partnerships

Cheadle suggested creating a balance and a feasibility in improving patient engagement by selecting top priorities and implementing them with excellence. Incorporating the patient as a part of the care team should be among those priorities.

“By having more patient involvement, that activation of the patients in their care journey, their longitudinal healthcare journey, we’re really looking to leave behind that unilateral decision-making, that white coat paralysis that happens to all of us when go in to see the doctor,” Cheadle said.

An important aspect of integrating patient portals into patient lives is to do so at a basic level. Cheadle suggested using this kind of technology for patients to do simple tasks such as update insurance information or medication and allergy information in the waiting room.

Determine consumer preference

Ultimately, Cheadle asserted, making patient portals more consumer-centric will make patients more likely to utilize them. This means establishing what a specific patient may want out of their portal.

Cheadle suggested engaging with patients’ health histories-- gathering information about what they already know about their health conditions and feedback regarding the kinds of care they have received in the past. This will help providers to shape what kinds of information patients would like to receive from their portals.

Two components of patient portals, convenient reminders and photos, are really helping patients to engage. Convenient reminders can offer scheduling assistance or allow patients to remember to get a routine screening. Photos allow patients to see what is going on in their bodies-- the progressing growth of a baby, or the healing of a broken bone, for example.

Education strategies

It is simply not enough to emphasize portal use, Cheadle said. Providers need to explain to consumers what to do with them as well. This means explaining how often they should use it, when to use it, and for what purposes.

This process may replace printouts used to outline patient self-care which often get discarded upon leaving the physician’s office.

“What if instead I said to the patient as they leave the emergency room in my discharge process, ‘hey, let me show you where your information is on your portal.’ What would that look like?” Cheadle said.

Taking a moment like the one Cheadle described is an opportunity not only to show patients the structure of the portal and how to access it, but to explain to them for what purposes they should be utilizing it.

Optimization of care

How do we use these strategies to optimize patient care? Cheadle said by providing patients with the skills and the resources to provide more health information during their next visit. By helping patients engage with their health information on the portal, as well as with any data collected via wearable technologies, patients can increase their own health knowledge and help their physicians increase the quality of their treatment.

Cheadle also emphasized the importance of opening dialogue over all points of care in order to foster an environment in which patients feel comfortable expressing health concerns.

“From an overall perspective just as a healthcare provider, really encouraging me as a healthcare provider to talk differently, to engage differently, maybe to take off my coat when I meet with the patient,” Cheadle said.

Keys to success

These patient engagement strategies are just a piece of the puzzle in terms of healthcare industry shifts, Cheadle said.

“In the big picture, we are in a huge healthcare shift, a huge change,” she said. “What we have not identified is that we are at a point where we have patient reform where we can engage and activate that curiosity by patients about their health and wellness, where we can begin to leverage that to improve overall their desired clinical outcomes.”

Through integrating these strategies to increase and optimize patient engagement, Cheadle said overall quality of care can flourish.

“I truly believe it is through these engagement strategies, these key strategies, that we can ultimately impact overall care.”

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Get Your Medical Practice Paid: 4 Revenue Tips

Get Your Medical Practice Paid: 4 Revenue Tips | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

It seems pretty obvious: You do the work, you get paid. But unfortunately for many in the healthcare business, it’s not always that black and white.

There are so many obstacles to proper payment, including: complex and confusing billing systems; patients unable to pay their office copay, co-insurance, or deductibles; high outstanding accounts receivable; improper coding vs. documentation; etc. All this and more can lead to outstanding bills and ultimately low cash flow for the practice.

Here are some tips to make sure your practice gets the compensation it deserves:

The Right Code: ICD-10

With the new ICD-10 rules taking effect Oct. 1, it’s imperative that your practice management software and EHR are up to date and that the billers in your practice are trained and ready to go. Improper documentation at some point in the chain of work can lead to a deficit in your bottom line. Make sure that your software is ICD-10-ready.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Pay Attention to the Details

Doctors, office managers, and certain staff should be able to access at-a-glance details and have the ability to generate reports if they are employing an efficient billing system. Every doctor should be able to easily access the following data:

• Average daily and monthly revenue categorized by HCPCs and insurance

• Number of outstanding accounts receivable

• Cash value of outstanding accounts receivable

• Number of audits paid/failed status

• Payment and claim status

• Outstanding revenue by HCPCs and insurance

• Monthly adjustment reports

If you are a doctor in a private practice and can’t access this critical information, then at a minimum, you should require a weekly billing report from billing staff or your outsourced billing service. This weekly report should cover the items listed above and will allow you great insight into the "health" of your practice.

Verify Patients’ Benefits Before Their Visit

At the very least, verify patient's benefits before they leave your office. It sounds fairly obvious, but many practices don’t get the patients’ copay before they see the doctor. This could be rectified as easily as keeping patients’ credit cards on file, so it can be the default if the patient fails to bring cash to their visit. Better yet, utilize a practice management system that seamlessly updates you with this information so that you can easily charge in the office. You’d be surprised how something so simple can increase practice cash flow.

Claim Denied? Don’t Let It Go

Make sure your billing staff is diligent about following up on denied claims. Making sure your billing staff or billing service has the right codes can significantly improve this denial rate, but when it does happen, don’t let it go. There should always be follow up on denied claims, but ideally, your billing staff or service should try to catch coding errors before they’re made. Catching coding errors is often better handled by a sophisticated, outsourced billing service — just make sure it offers a transparent view into billing success.

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Patient Engagement: Much Bigger Than Patient Portals

Patient Engagement: Much Bigger Than Patient Portals | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

There is no doubt that the topic of patient engagement has taken center stage in healthcare. It was the hot topic at HIMSS 2015 where a major national study was unveiled, Three Perspectives of Patient Engagement. And that was just one of the many sessions, events, and booths focused on patient engagement at the event.

Thanks to Meaningful Use, a lot of the focus on patient engagement has been around patient portals. It makes sense since practices have to meet specific thresholds in both MU2 and MU3 for portal use. They certainly play a key role in providing patients with access to medical records, test results, and even tools like online scheduling and billpay. The benefits have not gone unnoticed by providers. Over 80% of doctors believe a patient portal helps with patient satisfaction and 71% believe it helps with patient/physicians communication. The benefits haven’t gone unnoticed by patients either. Two-thirds of patients say they would be more loyal to physicians who provides a portal through an EHR.

Despite the undeniable value of portals, they are just one component of true patient engagement. This was clear in the presentation about the new national study released at HIMSS. According to the presentation, the biggest problem in creating patient engagement isn’t providing access to health information. The problem is shifting the attitudes and expectations of both clinicians and patients.

Resolving this problem requires a major culture change in healthcare. Despite the fact that patients and providers say they want improved access, communication, and outcomes and that patient engagement may hold the key, change is slow.

The reason is actually pretty simple. A shift in the culture towards a truly patient-centric model requires changes at every interaction and that involves every person across the spectrum. In many cases this means not only shifting attitudes but also the way things are done. That can require adding, changes, or maximizing technology. While technology plays this critical role, it is much bigger than portals alone.

It starts with finding the appropriate provider and goes all the way until the final bill is paid. The new patient-centric model looks something like this:

Patients can search for providers online, see patient reviews, and book an appointment from home.

Patients can easily find answers to questions about the practice on their website.

When the patient does call the office, the phone is answered quickly and so is the inquiry.

The patient receives a reminder through the means of their choice—text, email, or phone, and can complete pre-registration information to speed up check in and the encounter.

The patient doesn’t have a long wait time after check in, and if there is a delay, someone alerts the patient and gives them the option to reschedule.

In the exam room, the patient encounter runs smoothly as all the relevant patient information is at hand and the provider can refer to their mobile HER, which allows the physician to maintain eye contact and share information and images with the patient.

The patient receives education and a visit summary before leaving the practice.

The patient receives a follow text or email with directions to leave a review of the practice.

The patient can follow up on the patient portal to see lab results or review medical record information.

The patient receives an email or text with a link to their bill to pay online.

The patient has an ongoing connection to the practice through regular emails, social media, practice blog, and/or newsletter.

There are lots of other little things a practice can do to provide a positive experience that makes them want to come back and helps them feel more engaged in their own wellness and can even improve outcomes.

This consumer-like experience is really what patients want not just a portal. They want a strong relationship with their provider and to be in control of medical decisions or participate in shared decision-making with their doctors.

There is a huge opportunity here for all healthcare providers to begin shifting the way they relate to patients and provide care. It’s a chance to go beyond Meaningful Use and portals and look at the entire patient experience, including a new element to patient care—convenience.

As smaller practices are more nimble, they may find it easier to make these changes than large practices. This can be a unique competitive advantage that smaller practices can take advantage of.

Today, there are also a lot of affordable, easy-to-use solutions for patient engagement and practice marketing that can help. A practice can now easily create an engaging website, provide an online scheduling widget, share positive reviews, and send mass emails and texts with news and information. When combined with an electronic health record and best practices in billing, any practice can become a truly patient-centric practice. Then, the ability to meet those portal use thresholds becomes an easy to achieve by-product of a larger patient engagement strategy.

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Patient Portal Adoption Diverges Among Older Generation

Patient Portal Adoption Diverges Among Older Generation | EHR and Health IT Consulting |
Under the Stage 3 Meaningful Use proposed rule, providers would need to ensure that at least 25 percent of their patients accessed, downloaded, and transmitted their medical information. While this exact percentage may change after the comment period, providers know that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will continue pushing patient engagement and patient portal adoption throughout the healthcare sector.

However, one of the reasons that providers are struggling in ensuring patients access and download their health data through the patient portal is due to the aging population of their typical consumers. Since the baby boomer generation is aging and older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, this sect of the population dominates the healthcare field.Patient Portal Adoption

Researchers from Northwestern University published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association about the common discrepancies of patient portal adoption among elderly patients.

Out of 534 adults, the youngest subjects studied were 55 years of age and others were more than 65 years old. The Northwestern Medicine Electronic Data Warehouse was used to study the behavior of patients when registering for the portal and using it to monitor their health. While the majority of patients in the study had their patient portal access code created for them, only of 57.5 percent of those individuals registered their accounts.

Health literacy and a college graduation background actually boosted the likelihood of patient portal adoption and registration. As a background, patient portals often include the ability to view protected health data like lab results and medical history and offer drug prescription refill options, appointment scheduling, and secure messaging capabilities.

Out of all who registered their portal, 90 percent of those subjects messaged their physician and 96 percent examined a test result. Additionally, 55 percent of subjects ordered a reauthorization while only 11 percent monitored their vital health statistics. Higher education was linked with prescription reauthorization requests.

The researchers from Northwestern University found some significant differences among the older generation regarding their patient portal adoption. Some key differences include health literacy, education, and racial disparities.

“There were fewer disparities in the use of the patient portal’s functions, but some observations have important clinical consequences. Highly educated patients were consistently more likely to use the patient portal for prescription refill requests. Alternative methods are available, but they can be more time consuming for the patient and cannot be used when the clinic is closed,” the researchers wrote in the published paper. “Patients with an adequate level of health literacy were nearly 8 times more likely than those with limited health literacy to use the secure patient–physician messaging function.”

Patient portal implementation is expanding throughout the country and providers are gearing up to meet patient engagement objectives under the meaningful use requirements. However, there are clear disparities with regard to patient portal adoption that providers need to be aware of. Essentially, the researchers concluded that providers who implement patient portals in their medical practice should also create strategies for monitoring and decreasing discrepancies in the use of these tools.
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Lessons All Practices Can Learn from the Concierge Model

Lessons All Practices Can Learn from the Concierge Model | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Starting a private practice requires a heavy dose of entrepreneurial spirit. Keeping one afloat requires a keen mind for business operations.

Rather than shrugging his shoulders at an overly complex healthcare system, internal medicine physician Tom Lee founded a practice that focused on fixing some of the glaring flaws in healthcare delivery at the practice level.

One Medical, a large concierge practice, epitomizes what’s required to succeed in private practice: ambition, innovation, and efficiency. Even if you’re not pursuing a concierge model for your practice, this practice's success still has several lessons to offer healthcare providers looking to maintain some autonomy through a private practice. It may also offer a window into the future of the physician-patient relationship.

Here are three things private practice providers can take from Lee’s success.

 Build Your Foundation on Technology

Despite seeing an average of 35 percent fewer patients per day than the average practice, One Medical already boasts patient numbers in the thousands as well as a reported growth rate of 50 percent.

Can seeing fewer patients while growing at a meteoric rate be anything other than a paradox?

The answer seems to be yes. This coupling of rapid growth without tortuous physician hours and work flows is best explained by the practice’s effective use of technology to increase the operational efficiency.

It’s no secret that One Medical receives significant backing from venture capital firms — much of which is likely due to Lee’s success with Epocrates, which he cofounded. But instead of exclusively spending those assets on new office buildings and advertising, Lee invested heavily in technology, specifically iOS and Android apps.

As part of the annual $199 membership fee, One Medical patients receive access to the practice’s app from which they can book online appointments, renew prescriptions, and even get a review of their medical information and have subscriptions sent to a pharmacy or tests scheduled.

This same functionality can be found in many patient portals, though these features are less common on mobile devices at the moment.

Instead of worrying about how the patient portal-esque app would fulfill meaningful use requirements, Lee seized the opportunity to automate all the clerical processes he could. As a result, One Medical employs half as many office staffers per provider as the normal practice.

Center the Experience Around the Patient

One Medical’s emphasis on technology streamlines the way the practice functions, and improves the patient experience. Creating a useful mobile application wasn’t done for reimbursement purposes, but rather to create a more intuitive experience for patients.

Many practices lack this focus on the patient experience. Instead of taking the time to make sure the patient is comfortable with a diagnosis, providers must rush the examination in order to move on to the next patient.

This directly contradicts the mindset of the modern consumer, and it only feeds healthcare’s reputation for anachronistic operating models. Consumers now use their experience with a service provider as validation for continuing to choose that provider. Failing to focus on experience is a surefire way to lose patients — perhaps driving them to competitors who do seem to have the time to talk longer in the exam room.

Remember that One Medical physicians see less patients? That’s so they can dedicate more time with each individual.

To be sure, technology powers the customer experience by making the healthcare provider more efficient and enabling him to prioritize the patient. But using the lack of technology as an excuse for the poor engagement is self-defeating.

Patients now expect a holistic experience from providers, beginning with digital access to health information and ending with follow-up after the appointment.

Look Past the Status Quo

Physicians have a reputation for being resistant to change. However, the current reimbursement system mire and the myriad of new regulations aren’t asking physicians to change; these forces are demanding it.

Doing things the same old way simply won’t suffice. A concierge model may not be the answer for every practice, but it does serve as an example of what’s possible with technology and the right priorities. Luckily for independent practices, there’s an expansive market of medical software that supplies the raw materials for building a more effective, patient-centered practice.

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As CMS Becomes Lenient, Providers Tackle Patient Engagement

As CMS Becomes Lenient, Providers Tackle Patient Engagement | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

While patient engagement remains a top priority for many medical organizations across the country, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed ruling modifying meaningful use requirements and specifically relenting on a major patient engagement objective.

Previously, Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements called for 5 percent of a provider’s patient base to access, download, and/or transmit their electronic health information, but now this objective has been changed for the years 2015 to 2017 in the proposed ruling. If the proposed rule becomes initiated as part of the meaningful use requirements for the next several years, eligible hospitals and physicians will need to ensure that just one patient views, downloads, or transmits their electronic medical data.

Even though CMS may be changing some patient engagement requirements, healthcare providers are still geared toward improving patient satisfaction as well as medication adherence. At the 2015 HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, the company TowerView Health was announced the winner of the 9th annual Venture+ Forum pitch competition meant for startups, according to the company’s press release.

Last week, 15 startup companies were chosen to take part in pitching live presentations to a panel of investors and healthcare experts. TowerView Health pitched to the investors a solution that assists patients with chronic diseases manage their complicated medication schedules.

TowerView’s pillbox allows patients to receive a pre-filled medication tray directly from their pharmacist. This pillbox is capable of sending reminders to patients if they miss a dose or don’t take a prescribed drug on time. The company works with health plans and at-risk providers to offer this particular service to patients for free.

“HIMSS and the mHealth Summit are focused on creating opportunities, providing business-building content, fostering partnerships and supporting entrepreneurs and early-stage companies developing innovative new health technologies.  The Venture+ Forum is an excellent resource for companies to network and connect with healthcare providers, payers, channels, institutions and strategic dealmakers,” Richard Scarfo, Vice President of Personal Connected Health Alliance at HIMSS, said in the press release.

TowerView Health isn’t the only organization looking to increase patient engagement. For example, HealthPrize Technologies, LLC and MeadWestvaco are collaborating on a new patient engagement and medication adherence platform, according to a news release.

Another organization called IntegraMed Fertility has adopted web-based patient engagement applications that are likely to revolutionize care and patient satisfaction through this network. The Patient PLUS portal from Anthelio Healthcare Solutions provides a much-desired self-service aspect that’s missing from much of the medical industry. These self-service capabilities include automating appointment scheduling and pre-registration. It also allows for viewing and accessing medical histories, electronic records, laboratory results, and radiology reports while at home or in a healthcare setting. Secure messaging tools for strengthening the patient-physician relationship are also available through this portal.

“Patient PULSE is a perfect fit for these patient-centered clinics, as it provides a multitude of ways to personalize the patient portal experience, providing additional support and communication opportunities for patients while empowering them to take a more active role in their care,” Asif Ahmad, CEO of Anthelio Healthcare Solutions, said in a public statement.

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Future of EHRs: Interoperability, Population Health, and the Cloud

Future of EHRs: Interoperability, Population Health, and the Cloud | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Ever since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was passed in 2009 and the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs were established, healthcare providers have been quickly implementing EHR systems and adopting health IT tools. The overall movement toward improved quality of care and greater access to healthcare information will likely stimulate the future of EHRs.

Before predictions regarding the future of EHRs and their designs can be considered, it is critical to examine the history and evolution of EHR technology over the last five decades. The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics discussed how the earliest developments in EHR design took place in the 1960s and 1970s.  Healthcare leaders began forming organizations as early as the 1980s to develop standards for the increased use of EHR systems across the sector.

The very first health IT platforms, developed by Lockheed in the mid-1960s, were called clinical information systems. This particular system has been modified over the years and is now part of Allscripts’ platforms.  The clinical information system was capable of having multiple users on at once due to its high processing speed. During the same period, the University of Utah developed the Health Evaluation through Logical Processing (HELP) system and later Massachusetts General Hospital created the Computer Stored Ambulatory Record (COSTAR).

The COSTAR platform was able to separate key healthcare processes into separate entities such as accounting or billing versus clinical information. The federal government adopted an EHR system in the 1970s through the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Computerized Patient Record System.

Over the last several decades, there have been even more developments in EHR design and implementation, especially since the federal government constructed meaningful use objectives under the EHR Incentive Programs. In 1991, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report analyzing the effects of paper health records and making a case for the use of EHR systems. The report also covered challenges to EHR adoption such as costs, privacy and security concerns, and a lack of national standards.

In 2000, the IOM also published its infamous report To Err is Human in which the high rates of medical errors were discussed and health IT systems were addressed as a potential solution. The history surrounding health IT will likely impact the future of EHRs, as the same principles toward better quality of care, lower costs, and improving patient health outcomes are at the forefront of EHR adoption. spoke with three leaders in the healthcare IT industry to discuss the future of EHRs and the trends to expect over the coming years. Bob Robke, Vice President of Interoperability at Cerner Corporation, mentioned the importance of healthcare data sharing across multiple platforms.

“We’re moving out of the era of EHR implementation and adoption and into the era of interoperability,” Robke said. “Now that we’ve automated the health record, the next phase is connecting all of the information in the EHR. We need interoperability and open platforms to accomplish this.”

The functionalities possible in future EHR systems will also focus greatly on interoperability and Big Data. As telehealth functions spread across the country, patient health outside of the medical facility will be greatly considered.

“Interoperability has the potential to unlock a richer set of data that clinicians can use to help improve the care they provide to patients,” Robke explained. “More than ever, clinicians will need access to information about the patient’s care that happens outside of their four walls as healthcare moves from fee-for-service to value-based models.”

When asked what healthcare trends are affecting the design of EHR systems, Robke replied, “There is a lot of exciting work being done to advance open standards that enable information stored in one EHR to be accessed by other systems. A good example of this is the work being driven by the Argonaut Project to advance the development and adoption of the FHIR standard. We’re big supporters of the SMART on FHIR approach that allows information to be accessed from directly within the EHR workflow, and are enabling that within the Cerner EHR.”

Health information exchange and EHR interoperability will continue to impact the future of EHRs over the coming decades, as the healthcare industry continues to strive toward meaningful use of health IT systems. Robke spoke on the benefits of health information exchange and the strategic actions of the Commonwell Health Alliance, which is geared toward nationwide healthcare data exchange.

“Interoperability is a critical next step in the EHR world. Interoperability can provide clinicians with the data they need to manage the health of their populations and truly put the patient at the center of care,” Robke explained. “For interoperability to succeed, it will require all of the different information system suppliers coming together to find ways to connect their platforms, like those vendors who have joined together in the CommonWell Health Alliance. The great thing about CommonWell is vendors representing 70 percent of the acute market share in the U.S. have joined together to make interoperability a reality.”

When discussing how telemedicine and population health measures will affect the future of EHRs and the development of health IT platforms, Robke stated: “Connecting different information sources are key to successful telehealth and population health management strategies. Health care organizations need to access a patient’s full health history regardless of where that care was provided or what information system houses that information.”

“And yet, when it comes to results, there is an alarming failure in the healthcare industry.  Despite huge investments in enterprise systems, venerable healthcare organizations failing even at the basics like exchanging information electronically, communicating amongst care teams, and engaging patients,” Bush elaborated on the topic. “Some are even going bankrupt!  The shortcomings of software – the cost, the inability to share information at scale, the demands for onsite management and maintenance, and the sluggish pace of innovation—are chiefly responsible for this.”

The revenue cycle in the healthcare industry will also have a great impact on the future design of EHR systems and trends within this sector, Bush explained. The costs of investing in complex technologies will affect the future adoption rates while the financial incentives of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs will also stimulate hospitals and physician practices.

“That’s why I believe that health care leaders are going to start thinking in terms of the total cost of driving results, not the total cost of ownership, when they contemplate the HIT of the future,” Jonathan Bush explained. “It’s crucial in the current landscape to adopt a cost calculation that accounts for labor and operational costs across several departments, as well as the opportunity costs of an underperforming system. As CIOs and health system boards are increasingly held to account for their investment decisions, I think we’ll start to see a new model for total cost of ownership emerge—and a fleet of next-generation services emerge to keep up.”

When asked what functionalities he thinks health IT systems will be able to obtain in the future, Bush replied: “Malleable IT strategies available from the cloud will reinvent what we ever thought HIT was capable of.  I agree with a recent IDC report and its vision for a future filled with ‘3rd Platform EHRs’ capable of functions we just don’t see in software today.”

“Those functionalities would include easy access to data; population-wide analytics; and network intelligence that crowd sources the wisdom of many to improve overall performance,” he continued. “These functionalities are already being built in to service value-based care organizations.  The promise is better healthcare in an accountable care environment.”

Next, the Athenahealth CEO discussed the importance of connectedness and interoperability when it comes to the design of EHR technology and future trends in health IT.

“Connectedness is a huge barrier to humanity in health care, as well as to the design of intelligent IT systems,” Bush said. “Achieving connectedness, or the meaningful use of health IT, isn’t reliant on getting all providers onto one system.”

“I believe that the one-size-fits all mantra is finally waning and that healthcare will continue to demand what I like to think of as the ultimate ‘backbone’ solution: lightweight technology that can unite data across multiple platforms and support advanced levels of care coordination and connectedness. That sort of infrastructure is not only more cost effective, nimble, and future-proof; it’s also best for patient choice and access and — ultimately — quality care.”

Some of the typical trends that are affecting the future of EHR technology include telehealth, population health management, accountable care, and health information exchange. Population health management in particular will affect the development of analytics software and statistical measurements vital for demonstrating healthcare quality improvements.

“The arrival of population health is, and will continue to be, huge. It’s trending in M&A, has wound its ways into vendors’ capability descriptions, and is on the required ‘must support’ list for healthcare organizations of all sizes,” Jonathan Bush explained.

“To do population health correctly, EHRs will need to gain insight into patient populations, translate that insight into meaningful knowledge for care teams, and enable a new standard of connectedness to manage and deliver care. To do such complex, hairy, and crucial processes, EHRs will have to leverage a combination of software, knowledge, and work.  Software alone simply isn’t cut out to do the job.” also spoke with Practice Fusion Founder and Chief Executive Officer Ryan Howard about future trends in EHR design. Howard spoke about the importance of data sharing among health IT systems.

“The single biggest trend will be cloud-based EHRs. The biggest single problem in the space is not deployment of EHRs. It is sending data back and forth whether it’s for quality and accountable care or sharing data with a payer or a lab or other doctors,” said Howard. “In every spirit of this, data from EHR needs to be shared with another EHR system.”

“The challenges of that is to install software offsite. Most of the major competitors have enterprise solutions. The data is incredibly difficult to get out. A cloud-based model inherently has an exponential cognitive scale that allows it to do this easily,” Howard explained. “In our case, when we connected to Quest, every doctor on our platform has a connection to Quest now because they’re all the same multi-tenant cloud-based systems. I think the biggest problems in health IT will be solved by simple integration into the cloud.”

Howard was of the same opinion as the other CEOs when it comes to the functionalities EHRs will need in the coming years. Interconnectedness, interoperability, or the efficient sharing of health data between disparate systems will become a necessity in the quest to improve patient care and health outcomes.

“The biggest single thing [that will affect the future of EHRs] is that systems need to seamlessly connect to each other,” the Practice Fusion CEO stated. “Most of the systems are pretty robust, but I think the major cloud-based systems will need to interoperate. I think the major cloud-based vendors in the marketplace will connect and all their doctors will be able to interoperate. I think all the doctors will migrate to cloud-based systems.”

“This is only possible in a web-based or cloud-based model where the population data is in one place,” Howard said. “There’s very little value in doing this in a solution that’s installed in the doctor’s office. In that situation, all the data isn’t in one place and, in a population health management program, you’re constantly rolling out new rules and tackling new chronic conditions.”

When asked what healthcare trends will affect the design of EHR systems, Howard replied: “Population health management in addition to the electronic health records role in enabling telemedicine will all be key in the marketplace. Unless you have the patient’s record which only exists in the EHR, then there will be very little value on the telemedicine platform.”

“However, if I’m using a telemedicine platform that’s connected to the EHR, I have all that data in real-time. Most EHRs that are certified do drug-drug and drug-allergy checking dynamically in the system. That’s a good example of the value that comes from the platform.”

In predicting the coming impacts in EHR developments, Howard said, “cloud-based systems, population health management, private care management, and big data” are the major catalysts in health IT design.

“I think most vendors don’t have a population health management solution. The challenges of that is that population health does not work unless all the data is in one place,” Howard stated. “For population health management to work, take a look at diabetes. What the system is doing in a population health management model is that it is constantly monitoring your patient on a day-to-day basis.”

If a patient hasn’t had a required test done, “the system should automatically be reaching out to that patient to drive awareness – get them to book an appointment – and the system should also be prompting the physician with the standard of care during the visit.”

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Factors that Make a Patient Portal Successful

Factors that Make a Patient Portal Successful | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Medical practices across the country are searching for that special ingredient that will get patients to sign up for — and keep coming back to — their portal. Unfortunately, it's proven to be very hard to find.

Still, some healthcare systems are finding it much easier to secure patient engagement than others.

Take Kaiser Permanente, for example. Currently 4.5 million of its members are using its portal, more than 90 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the portal, and 98 percent would come back to the portal.

That's according to Judy Derman, director of member engagement in the digital services group at Kaiser Permanente, who presented at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago.

During her session entitled "Provider Perspectives on Patient Adoption of Portals, Secure Messaging," which she copresented with Susan Hull, CEO of Wellspring Consulting, and family physician David Willis, CMIO of CommunityHealth IT and medical director for the Heart of Florida FQHC, Derman shared some of the strategies Kaiser uses that may help your practice get patients engaged.

Marketing the portal
Kaiser's marketing strategy included promoting the portal through a variety of methods at a variety of touch points, said Derman. Just as everyone learns through different methods, there's no one-size-fits-all approach that works when marketing to a wide variety of people, she said.

"I think the key ... is the integration into every single contact, every newsletter, every article, every time you turn around," she said. "You just need to use every avenue."

Getting patients engaged
While great marketing might get patients to sign up for the portal initially, the tricky part for practices often arises when attempting to get patients to continue using it.

One way to get patients coming back is to offer the features that they respond to most favorably, such as online bill pay and secure messaging.

You also might want to consider providing patients with online access to test results as often as possible. In fact, this is one of Kaiser's most popular portal features, said Derman. While there are, of course, situations in which tests can't be released online, most can be and should be, she said.

Another popular portal feature among Kaiser's patients is the ability to share digital images via the portal, said Derman. While many physicians initially feared that patients might use the feature inappropriately, they were pleasantly surprised, she said. "Every single time ... they do use it appropriately."

Making it personal
If you feel like you've exhausted all your options in attempting to get patients to use your portal, you might want to try to shift your perspective.

During the presentation, Hull, who is also a nurse and co-leader of the ANI Consumer eHealth efforts and serves on the ONC's Content Standards Workgroup, stressed that while patients are slow to engage with the portal, providers and other clinicians' may also be slow to engage with the portal when they are healthcare consumers. In fact, only about 30 percent to 40 percent of nurses are actually using their own patient portals and personal health records, said Hull. 

To truly see the benefits, limitations, and barriers to portal adoption, providers may need to begin engaging with portals more when they, and their families, are patients, she said.

"I think patient adoption of portals and provider adoption of portals and our collective experience will drive one another ...," said Hull.

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Patient Portals and Tracking Devices Driving Engagement

Patient Portals and Tracking Devices Driving Engagement | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

As EHR systems, patient portals, telemedicine, electronic prescribing, and other technologies continue affecting the healthcare industry, more stakeholders are considering how these tools are impacting patient engagement. For instance, a Harris Poll survey released by ambulatory healthcare IT vendor eClinicalWorks polled 2,000 adults across the country and found that 84 percent of respondents have access to a patient portal through their physician’s practice.

Another interesting finding from the poll is that adults older than 55 years of age are actually more likely to access their medical records through these tools than adults between 18 to 54 years of age.147504495

The use of patient portals is increasing, as 60 percent of respondents claimed to prefer scheduling doctor appointments via the portal or other secure website. The survey also examined how healthcare providers regarded patient portals.

The biggest benefit of the patient portal, according to three out of four polled physicians, was enabling patients to view their own medical record and creating a platform for sharing data among doctors. Sending alerts and appointment reminders to patients was also cited as a major benefit of the portal. More than one in two (56 percent) physicians also support the ease of appointment scheduling through the patient portal.

Wearable devices and telehealth initiatives are also impacting patients around the nation. The survey shows that 37 percent of people who wear a fitness tracking device tend to wear it every day. Additionally, almost four out of five people who use wearable devices at least twice a month find it essential for their physicians to have this information.

Along with questions on wearable devices, the survey also examined patient views on telemedicine. The results show that 64 percent of adults would sometimes prefer a telehealth visit over an in-person visit for following up with a prior health concern. Additionally, two out of three doctors found that fitness trackers, health apps, and patient portals have all transformed the typical conversation between patients and physicians.

As previously reported, Nuance Communications has also conducted a survey across Germany, the US, and the United Kingdom on the patient perspective of new healthcare technologies.

“One of the things that came out [of the survey] was that patients like the fact that their physicians are using technologies,” Dr. Nick van Terheyden, Chief Medical Information Officer of Nuance Communications, told “Obviously, it’s come with some challenges and specific problems. Our desire is to smooth that over and make the technology work better for the interaction.”

Some advice the CMIO offers is to rearrange the doctor’s office and to ensure physicians are more focused on the patient instead of note-taking. Whether using scribes or a laptop and facing the patient, physicians can incorporate the new technologies to engage the consumer. Dr. Nick van Terheyden also spoke about the benefits of tracking devices.

“We’re seeing this big move and explosion of these devices that are tracking information and I’ve heard pushback from my colleagues who say ‘I don’t want 1,500 blood pressure recordings from my patients’ and I would agree with that,” said van Terheyden. “What you are interested in is a high density representation of that in chart form that shows blood pressure is stable, or declining, or increasing. That’s highly valuable information.”

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This is what patient safety means to me

What does patient safety mean to you?

I believe patients get the safest care when

  1. The patient is known as an individual.
  2. The health care team gives the patient their undivided attention.
  3. The team is well-supported with efficient workflows and organized, easily accessible information.
  4. The health professionals find joy in their work.

By being “known” I mean, that the nurses and physicians know the patient as a real person, what their life is like, who are their supports, what are their goals. Inherent in being “known” is continuity — the same medical assistants, nurses and physicians work with the patient at each visit and between visits. Relationship-centered care.

By “undivided attention” I mean that the physicians and other providers can listen intently to the patient and think deeply, without being distracted by multi-tasking, and without being diverted by clerical tasks such as data gathering and data entry.

By “organized, accessible information” I mean an EHR that reduces the cognitive workload of information management; checklists that make it easy to do the right thing; and the supportive use of clinical metrics to empower frontline workers to improve care.

I learned this guiding principles from Borgess Health in Michigan: “We will know who you are and we will be ready for you.” This is a powerful promise to patients; delivering on this promise requires knowing the patient, providing undivided attention, and being well-supported by efficient workflows.

And finally, and most importantly,  I believe the best way to achieve a safe and satisfying experience for patients is to create an environment that is safe and satisfying for the workers, an environment that nurtures the intrinsic professionalism of the physicians and other staff — where the health care team can experience joy in practice. In sum, I believe that achieving the triple aim is dependent on the quadruple aim; that care of the patient requires care of the providers.

I believe that most health professionals come to work each day to serve their patients, to make a difference in their patients’ lives. If the environment helps people meet these professional goals, by making information easily accessible, by limiting the distracting burdens of regulatory compliance, by fostering relationships, then I believe the members of the health care team will give the patients their all, and the results will be safer, more satisfying care.

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Why Can’t Release of Records Be Automated Through A Patient Portal?

Why Can’t Release of Records Be Automated Through A Patient Portal? | EHR and Health IT Consulting |
I was in a recent discussion with one of the leading providers of release of information services, HealthPort about EHR’s impact on the release of health records. In our discussion, I asked why the release of health records can’t be completely automated through a patient portal. In my mind, meaningful use is requiring that healthcare organizations put a patient’s record up on a patient portal, so shouldn’t that mean that the release and disclosure of patient records would become obsolete?

Of course, I was applying a limited view to what’s required when a disclosure happens and who is making the records request. In most cases, it’s not the patient requesting the record and these third parties don’t have access to the patient’s portal. Plus, the release and disclosure of patient records often requires accessing multiple systems along with assessing which information is appropriately included in the disclosure. The former is a challenge that can be solved, but the later is a complex beast that’s full of nuance.

In order to clarify some of these challenges and explain why a patient portal won’t replace all records requests, here’s a short interview with Jan McDavid, Esq., General Counsel at HealthPort.

Q: What are HIPAA requirements around “charging” for copies of records, and what are considered “reasonable” costs?

A: HIPAA is very clear that its pricing applies only to copies provided to “individuals,, which HIPAA defines as the person who receives treatment—the patient. HIPAA guidance pertains only to patient requests for medical records, approximately seven percent of all requests received by healthcare providers.

The majority of records are requested by physicians for continuing care, governments for entitlement benefits, insurers, and inquiries from attorneys, according to internal data from HealthPort’s 2014 record release activity nationwide.

Within the realm of patient requests, providers can charge patients no more than their labor costs to produce the record, plus supplies and shipping. No upfront fee to search or retrieve records may be charged to patients.

Q: Why shouldn’t records just be free now that they are electronic?

While many believe the cost to produce records should be negated once information is digital, there are misperceptions and logistics that must be understood. The process of disclosure management (release of information) involves many steps that still require human intelligence and intervention—especially on the front end of the process (receiving, validating and approving the request). Here are three examples:

The authorization must be adhered to strictly, which often requires contacting the requester and explaining that some of the records they requested may not be available, or may require very specific patient authorization.

Information is commonly pulled together from multiple sources and systems (paper and electronic) to fulfill a request. While providers are working toward completely electronic environments, almost all still have a combination of paper and electronic. Depending on who makes the request, every single page of a record may require review.

Staff releasing records must be trained on HIPAA, HITECH, the Omnibus Rule, state and federal subpoena requirements, and specific state and federal laws for drug, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, mental health, cancer, genetics, minors, pregnancy, etc.

Q: If the EHR is in the portal, what other records aren’t in the EHR that HIM staff has been aggregating in a records request?

A: Not all patient information is automatically included within the patient portal view, nor should it be. Each provider organization determines what EHR information is posted to the portal and what patients can do within the portal (e.g. requesting refills, scheduling appointments, viewing lab results, etc.). HIM experts are key in these decisions.
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Three Tech Tools Your Practice Should Be Using, and Why

Three Tech Tools Your Practice Should Be Using, and Why | EHR and Health IT Consulting |

Physician-patient communication has never been more significant and critical for successful practice operations. Here’s why.

Patients today are well connected socially and electronically and have very high expectations — actually demands — for relevant, timely, and action-oriented responses from physicians and practices. On other side, physicians have more reasons to initiate communication with patients to be sure they are responsive, adherent, and moving their own healthcare needs along as directed.

Below are the three ways physicians should be using technology to better engage and communicate with their patients:

1. Patient Portals. Physicians often resist changes to their work processes and fear patients will be confused by the data pushed to them through a portal. However, looking at the benefits the patient portal offers, more practices are using patient portals as a resource. Through the portal, patients can view valuable and updated health information online and ask questions for immediate or later response. But also these portals can generate an increase in patient loyalty because practices are providing more context and information beyond what is said during the appointment.  When the portal demonstrates an “above and beyond” attitude by your practice, patients will respond favorably. Practices can utilize patient portals the most by including key features of open access scheduling, patient education, two-way messaging, and patient reported outcomes.

2. Video conferencing.  Video conferencing can be an incredibly effective tool in the employment of remote telemedicine. First, physicians and patients can reduce the costs associated with regular office visits. Second, video conferencing can have uses beyond the private practice by making physician-to-physician connections for consultations and referrals easier and faster. Video conferencing solutions can surely influence efficiency for healthcare providers by expanding their reach, providing quality care on-demand, and reducing costs.


3. EHR Platforms.  To meet requirements in the second stage of the government's EHR incentive program, at least 5 percent of a practice’s patients view, transmit, or download their personal health information. By implementing a certified EHR that has user-engaging patient portals, practices can also improve patient care and patient loyalty. Additionally, an EHR platform designed with a user-engaging patient portal, may offer a new experience for patients, especially if they can access information through properly secured mobile apps.

We have entered an era in which patients can easily access their medical records; and pay their bills, request appointments, research health topics, review personal health information, complete medical forms, and update their profiles and contact information online. That is, as long as practices embrace the technology that enables patients to do so.

Physician practices should be ready for the new age of patient communication because the speed at which patients desire and demand information has shifted from soon, to instantaneous.

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