Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Rheumatology-Specific EHRs: What’s Right and What’s Not (Yet)

Published on the Oct. 30, 2014, Rheumatology Network website

By Whitney L.J. Howell

Not using a rheumatology-focused electronic health record (EHR) yet? There’s no question that, as  rheumatologists confront some of the most complex, difficult-to-diagnose conditions in medicine, an EHR well-designed for rheumatology could be great for tracking unpredictable symptoms, monitoring complicated treatment plans, and assessing outcomes.

But does it exist?

According to a study by the market research firm KLAS (Ambulatory EMR by Specialty Study 2012: Finding the Fit,), most specialists including rheumatologists want EHR systems that address their specific needs and requirements. But it says that today’s specialty EHRs fall short, ranking lower in satisfaction (6 vs 7 out of a possible 10) than more generalized tools.

“It is extremely concerning that the average satisfaction in existing EHR implementation is alarmingly low,” said John Bartley, MD, chief medical director for cloud-based EHR vendor iPatientCare. He blames this on a disappointing record among current EHRs for providing specialty-focused, customizable features, for communicating adequately with other providers (labs, pharmacies and other doctors), and for offering satisfactory customer support.

The Benefit of Rheumatology-Focused EHRs

The American College of Rheumatology offers guidance on available rheumatology-template EHRs, and numerous vendors including Cerner, CureMD, 1st Provider’s Choice, and OmniMD do market template-based EHR systems customized for rheumatology.

Some experts say that specialized EHR systems are easier to learn quickly. Other useful features:

Stylus entry: Some systems, including Greenway, let providers circle joints with a stylus – harking back to pen and paper – to indicate problem areas.

Targeted popups:  A recent study from Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis found that these alerts often target pharmacists, not physicians. Physicians get confused and ignore them, potentially jeopardizing patient safety. A specialty-specific EHR could reduce this problem by offering only popups relevant to the user, the report said.

Pre-populated templates: Along with condition-specific decision support, prespecified options make it easier to complete face-to-face patient assessments. And drop-down menus that offer diagnosis variables may improve on keying the information in manually. (Experts say that’s true only if the user doesn’t need to click more than three times on a list.)

“One would think that having drop-down menu options based on those pre-coded by other rheumatologists might make charting super easy and fast,” said Rebecca Muntean MD, a rheumatologist at Providence Health & Services in Washington. “At the time same, it might lose the individualistic nuances that each patient with the same disease might have.”

Many industry leaders stressed the importance of having rheumatologists participate in EHR design and coding for their specialized systems. For example, Modernizing Medicine’s new product, EMA-Rheumatology, asks condition-specific questions based on content written by a panel of rheumatologists.

What Rheumatology EHRs Still Need

Other specialty features that knowledgeable sources say would be especially useful in rheumatology:

1.  Collecting patient-reported health assessments and disease activity information,

2.  Fields to capture therapy attempts that were unsuccessful, and

3.  Enhanced access to laboratory and diagnostic imaging reports

But the key missing ingredient, perhaps, is a way to make it worth rheumatologists’ investment of the time and attention to customize and then use a specialized system.

According to Vandana Ahluwalia MD, rheumatology chief at William Osler Health System in Ontario, Canada, getting providers to adopt a rheumatology EHR has been a stumbling block.

“We surveyed our rheumatologists to see if they were actually using our new EHR system and how they felt about it. We assumed they were expert or super users,” she said. “The majority said they weren’t using it.”

The hang-up? Implementing the EHR correctly demanded a large investment of time and energy to program the system. Most rheumatologists in the practice weren’t willing to shift their focus away from active patient care.

Ultimately, Ahluwalia predicted, implementing rheumatology EHRs will help create more consistent patient-care delivery across the specialty.

“It’s really important that we enter data in a standardized way so we can start to reduce the variation of care delivery,” she said. “We must create a way in which we all do the same things and do it according to set criteria or guidelines that deliver the best possible care that we can.”


To read the story at its original location: http://www.rheumatologynetwork.com/rheumatic-diseases/rheumatology-specific-ehrs-whats-right-and-whats-not-yet#sthash.ESY9AdAe.dpuf


October 30, 2014 Posted by | Healthcare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving ACA: A Guide for Rheumatologists

Published on the Dec. 19, 2013 Rheumatology Network website

By Whitney L.J. Howell

Healthcare reform implementation is in full swing. How will it affect rheumatologists? Questions remain, but industry experts say that much of the impact lies with rheumatologists themselves.

The specialty has already faced one healthcare delivery re-design: In the 1990s, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) proved disastrous for providers and facilities. Now, in similarly-designed accountable care organizations (ACO) touted under the Affordable Care Act, providers are assigned to share responsibility and payments for patient care.

For some, ACOs may conjure the ghosts of failed collaborative-care efforts under HMOs. But experts say that rheumatology’s response has been largely positive.

“Rheumatologists are more hopeful now,” said Rod Hochman MD, president and CEO of Providence Health & Services in Seattle. “There are lessons learned from the HMO experience. We know rheumatologists must ensure the healthcare system knows what they do and how they affect change.”

In fact, according to the 2013 Medscape Rheumatologist Compensation Report, 23%  of rheumatologists have participated in ACOs.

Preparing For Success

While positive attitudes will help during this transition, Hochman’s biggest concern is whether rheumatologists can educate their physician-colleagues about the impact of rheumatology services. Succeeding, he said, means demonstrating how rheumatology simultaneously improves patient care and controls costs.

“Rheumatologists must position themselves as musculoskeletal managers,” he said. “They’re uniquely situated to understand what’s needed or not and what therapies are possible, particularly with joint and back pain, before going for surgery.”

It’s crucial for rheumatologists to assume this role because musculoskeletal services often rank among a facility’s top five service lines, accounting for significant expenditures.

For example, rheumatologists can increase collaborations with orthopedists and neurosurgeons to determine whether a patient needs surgery. Or they can partner with primary clinicians to diagnose many causes of joint pain without extensive and expensive imaging studies.

Job Security

With cost control as a bedrock ACO principle, concerns exist within rheumatology that hospital-provider relationships could shrink. Instead of partnering with practices, some providers fear, facilities will opt for a single part-time rheumatologist to treat patients. Some evidence supports this concern – more than 80% rheumatologist providers spend fewer than four hours weekly treating inpatients, according to the Medscape report.

But Hochman believes relatively low numbers and skill-set specificity will protect rheumatologists.

“There will be few rheumatologists nationwide, so there shouldn’t be a big worry about being out of work. The focus should be maximizing abilities and relevance,” he said. “Understanding inflammatory disease is invaluable, so it isn’t a question of not working. It’s of getting reimbursed for work they do.”

Gathering Reimbursement

Recouping adequate payment in ACOs could prove difficult because rheumatologist-managed conditions, including joint pain or knee and hip replacements, face bundling.

“It’s going to be tricky as we go to bundled-episode payments from fee-for-service,” Hochman said. “Under fee-for-service, rheumatology has been predominantly outpatient, so things can’t get worse. They can only get better.”

He recommended that providers closely monitor reimbursement for biologic agents used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, as well as infusion therapy payments.

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is more wary of bundled payments, however. In a Nov. 12 letter to the U.S. Senate Finance Ways & Means Committee, the ACR expressed concern over the potential long-term impact.

“Bundled payments under one label or another will drive providers to identify patients with the best margins,” the ACR wrote. “This will result overall in less value and even worse access for the patients.”

Consequently, Hochman said, providers should discuss with payers how they’ll handle reimbursement and care management in ACOs. Based on Medscape report data, nearly 40% of rheumatologists would drop poorly-reimbursing payers.

Healthcare attorney Stephen M. Harris, a member of the Knapp, Petersen, Clarke firm in Glendale CA,  advised rheumatologists to determine whether participating in a Medicare ACO – which often uses primary services for patient assignment – prevents them from participating in others.

There are two ways to avoid this problem, he said:

  • Bill under a separate federal tax ID number (TIN): Provide some services under professional services or employee leasing agreements with facilities billing under their TIN. Or form a separate group that retains and bills for physicians or lets providers work part-time elsewhere. Physicians could also bill under their Social Security numbers.
  • Code differently: Select codes not categorized with primary care services. For example, code office visits as part of a global procedure fee. Beware, though: This method could limit reimbursement.

Ultimately, Hochman said, rheumatologists must integrate into care management in a way that avoids being seen as part of primary care.

“Rheumatologists will be teachers and managers of patient populations in ACOs,” Hochman said. “If I formed an ACO, I would ensure leadership had a couple of rheumatologists to manage the system and work with primary doctors.”

To read this article at its original location: http://www.rheumatologynetwork.com/articles/surviving-aca-guide-rheumatologists


December 20, 2013 Posted by | Healthcare, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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