Category Archives: Healthcare

Terry Edwards

Managing the surprisingly troublesome impact of real-time healthcare on clinical decision-making

By Terry Edwards  /  08 Jun 2017

We live in an age of instant gratification. From the texts we send friends and family to the orders we place on Amazon.com, we’ve come to expect immediate results: instant responses, next-day shipping, etc.

The idea of immediacy in healthcare communications is not new. In fact, in 2015, healthcare analyst Gartner outlined a vision for what it dubbed the “real-time health system”—a landscape where healthcare professionals will be constantly aware of what’s happening within their systems and with their patients.

As a person living in the digital age, you’ve probably experienced real-time awareness in other parts of your life: the repetitive dings of received text messages, the intermittent beeps of calendar alerts, the near-constant hum as your smartphone vibrates over and over to let you know your mother, children and cousins have uploaded photos to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, as I’m typing this piece, I’ve heard alerts for two personal text messages that I’ve yet to look at (the temptation is maddening), four work-related emails (that I did have to stop and look at), a notification that someone commented on a thread I replied to on Facebook and more.

While there’s definitely a benefit to each of us knowing what’s happening in our expanded universe in real time—and we can easily draw a direct line to the benefits that doctors, nurses and patients would experience if they could communicate instantaneously while coordinating care—the influx of information is simply overwhelming.

And when alarm fatigue sets in, important messages get missed, the communication cycle breaks down and what was once a valuable resource becomes a liability. Overwhelmed and inundated clinicians cannot optimally use their invaluable expertise to make effective clinical decisions that deliver great health outcomes.

Aggregating, analyzing and managing the distribution of clinical information

Managing the flow of data and alert fatigue is a real challenge that clinicians and the IT teams that support them need to understand. Clinicians need “just the facts, ma’am,” so to speak, and they need to know which set of facts pertain directly to them and the patients for whom they are caring. Receiving more than enough information is not always a good thing, especially when the situation calls for fast thinking and quick decisions.

Investments made in technologies implemented over the past several years have enabled healthcare as an industry to generate very large amounts of digitized clinical information. The challenge is to aggregate this patient data in real time to generate new knowledge about a patient and distribute it in a way that does not inundate the clinician recipients with unnecessary information. Physicians and nurses should receive information they need in order to act in that moment. Everything else is noise.

Implementing communication-driven workflows

Once new knowledge is made available and deemed relevant to a given clinical situation, it’s important to enable workflows that drive this information to the right care team members, who can take action in that moment. Hospital-based communication workflows must encompass all modalities, adhere to strict security mandates and facilitate reliable exchanges among clinicians across boundaries (e.g., acute, pre-acute and post-acute care settings). This kind of clinical integration is the future of healthcare communications.

If clinicians are inundated with unnecessary information, messages and alerts, combined with a communication workflow that creates barriers to a) finding the right care team member to contact, b) finding the contact method that the clinician prefers and c) knowing whether the intended recipient received the message, the workflow is flawed and is inhibiting the decision-making that leads to higher standards of patient care.

Leveraging clinical expertise

The personal judgment of experienced healthcare professionals is irreplaceable in effective, real-time decision-making. Technological advances are no doubt improving healthcare, but human intuition can never be replaced by a new device or software. However, that intuition can be inhibited by technologies if they are not strategically implemented and managed. In this sense, real-time healthcare could, ironically, be eroding quality.

To truly leverage the hundreds of collective years of clinical expertise housed in the minds of your hospital’s medical staff—the expertise that yields great outcomes—you must remove the barriers to effective communication. Collecting patient data in real time is an important part of that. But analyzing and aggregating that data into digestible, valuable pieces of information that can be easily shared and collaborated on is the follow-through that is often overlooked.

The gravitation toward instant gratification isn’t going away. And it’s important to understand that the concept doesn’t apply simply to generating patient data as healthcare events are occurring, but also to the ability to extract the significant portions and begin collaborating with the broader care team to interpret the data and derive a plan to deliver high-value care.

The important role nurses play in care transition and reducing readmissions

By Denise Barbera, RN, BSN, MA, chief nursing officer at HealthSouth  /  24 May 2017

In its simplest form, “care transition” is defined as a hospital discharge or movement from one care setting to another. The risk that readmissions pose to patient safety requires that transitional care processes are under constant evaluation.

Nurses are the linchpin in the coordination of patient care, and thus are best equipped to coordinate a successful transition. The bedside nurse, for example, may understand a great deal more about the patient’s needs as they travel through the care continuum than other care team members. And when those needs are communicated effectively, the nurse is given the opportunity to extend to the patient high-value care beyond organizational boundaries.

Nurses create transitional care plans by compiling all the pertinent patient information and creating instructions to be followed. Then they share the plan in detail with all members of the new care team so that the handoff is seamless for both the patient and the new unit or facility.

The most important factor in transition of care is communication during the handoff process.

What to communicate and when

The goal of the handoff is to safely transfer the patient from one care setting to another (or to discharge the patient from the hospital completely) by exchanging the necessary information with, and by effectively transferring the responsibility of care to, either a new care team or the patient’s family.

It’s a lot to put on any nurse’s plate, but by standardizing and implementing an effective and comprehensive transition communication process, nurses can elevate patient safety, avoid adverse events that lead to costly readmissions and decrease patient anxiety during the transfer process.

It’s important to remember that the transfer process doesn’t apply only to moving a patient from an acute setting to the home or a post-acute environment. There are many different handoff scenarios within the same organization, unit and floor that need your close attention.

For example, nurses should be prepared to provide handoff communication:

  • At shift change
  • During a break
  • When patients are transferred within the hospital (e.g., from the ER to ICU, from radiology to the OR, etc.)

It’s extremely important for the purposes of continuity of care that the communication between the nurse and either the new team of clinicians or the family prepares them in such a way that they’re able to anticipate the patient’s needs and make timely decisions.

At a high level, to adequately prepare the new care team, the following should be included in the handoff communication:

  • Patient care instructions
  • Treatment description
  • Medication history
  • Services received
  • Any recent or anticipated changes

More specifically, and especially in the case of transfers to a new care team or facility, an effective care transition communication plan will include:

  • Patient’s name and age
  • Reason for admission
  • Pertinent co-morbidities
  • Code status
  • Current isolation or precautions
  • Elopement risk
  • Lab results—including any pending and/or abnormal findings
  • Relevant diagnostic studies
  • Fall risk assessment
  • Any assessment findings that are appropriate to the patient’s current health

Many times, nurses on the receiving team care for patients for whom they lack pertinent health data. For example, EKG results are often left out of the transition communication between hospitals and subacute rehabilitation facilities. In this case, if a patient has an episode of chest pain, the receiving team could conduct an EKG on their own, but without prior results to compare with, they can’t successfully rule out something dangerous, such as angina. So, they may err on the side of patient safety and send the patient back to the hospital, resulting in a readmission. However, if an EKG result is included in the transition communication, the receiving team can conduct an EKG on their own, compare the results with the EKG performed at the hospital, and determine whether there is an emergent need for a readmission or the issue is something they can safely handle in their own setting.

Pay extra close attention to medication communications

While including all pertinent test results in the handoff communication is extremely important, there’s another area that needs special attention, because it causes more admissions than any other factor: medication.

It’s estimated that 30% of hospitalized patients have at least one discrepancy on discharge medication reconciliation. Communicating medication details is an area that poses the greatest risk for error as well as the greatest opportunity to effect a positive outcome. In fact, over 66% of emergency readmissions for patients over 65 years old are due to adverse medication events.

Breaches in handoff, such as failure to include specific details of the patient’s medication history and future dosage needs, have dire consequences.

However, defective handoffs are also known to cause problems beyond adverse events. Issues such as delays in care, inappropriate treatment, and increased length of stay arise when transition communication is not strategically planned and delivered.

There are many root causes of a defective handoff, but since nurses play the most important role in the transition communication process, you must strategically develop and communicate the transitional care plan—not only by considering what information you believe should be communicated, but by extending a dialogue to the receiving team and understanding what information they feel is necessary to provide the best follow-up care possible.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: 

KEY RESOURCES: NURSES AND CARE TEAM COLLABORATION
Nurses are vital to effective care team collaboration. Read on for resources you can use to build your own strategy.

What to expect from MACRA: The early years

By Caitlin Greenbaum, Director of Health Policy & Strategy, The Health Management Academy   /  09 May 2017

MACRA legislation passed in April 2015. When the initial version of the rule came down, the industry collectively braced for declining revenues, the avalanche of administrative paperwork and the increase in overhead costs that would be required to comply.

When the final rule was issued in October 2016, the tempered requirements seemed to point toward fewer projected negative payment adjustments in 2019, the target year for MACRA’s first Quality Payment Program distributions, and the tension subsided a little.

Even with the new allowances in reporting and threshold scores, the MACRA structure makes clear that there’s an abundance of work to be done, especially around efforts to promote care coordination and communication.

Year 1: 2017-2018

Now that we’re already into 2017, the first official reporting year, tensions are rising again because, even though most physicians acknowledge they are going to participate, the majority have not yet plotted their course or defined a compliance strategy.

And if you’re in the group that hasn’t figured it all out yet, the good news is you’re not alone.

According to a recent poll conducted by The Health Management Academy, almost half of the physician and practice leaders who participated are not moving very quickly toward adopting value-based payment models. In fact, only 4% claimed to be moving “very quickly” while almost 40% admitted to moving “very slowly” toward value-based care.

Somewhat surprisingly, the same is true even for large hospital systems. These organizations are perceived to be the driving force, the ones moving the fastest toward the end goal of value-based care, and yet, per a similar poll, few of the large systems are moving very quickly.

Only 8% of large hospital systems polled are moving swiftly toward implementing value-based payment models. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

The Quality Payment Program, however, is going to be the catalyst for healthcare organizations, both large and small, moving more aggressively toward these models in the next couple of years.

The MACRA structure and how you fit in

By now, you know that reimbursements are going to be variable based on performance, even if you’re still practicing in a fee-for-service structure and, like most, have not yet begun practicing in the more advanced tracks.

There are four participation categories, which fall underneath two broad tracks—the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM) track.

The four MACRA Quality Payment Program participation categories. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

The two categories in the middle of the chart are bridge areas, and won’t apply to many providers right now, but they can be considered as stepping stones from MIPS to the Advanced APM track.

The MIPS track equates to fee‑for‑service, and most physicians will, at least initially, fall into this track. They’ll balance their steps toward embracing more downside risk by continuing to practice fee-for-service medicine, and so they must prepare to report performance metrics and have payments adjusted based on those metrics in 2019.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Advanced APM track. To reach “Advanced APM Qualifying Clinician” status, physicians must engage significantly in certain downside risk-bearing payment models. In this track, participating physicians will enjoy fewer reporting requirements and more financial incentives, while still being held accountable for delivering high-value care. The only way to sustain a profitable practice in this track is to eliminate wasteful workflows that result in inefficient and unreliable communication processes among all members of the broader care team, even if they are not directly affiliated with your practice.

Year 2: 2018-2019

In the first months of 2018, physicians practicing in the MIPS track—again, that will be most of you—will be required to report metrics in three performance categories based on at least 90 consecutive days of work. This should come as more good news, because if you haven’t started measuring yet, or you’re not impressed by your initial metrics, you still have time to pivot before the data is due in early 2018.

CMS will use that data to give each physician a composite score, which will determine the payment adjustment he or she receives in 2019.

The Quality Payment Program’s initially proposed rule was accompanied by disheartening projections in terms of payment adjustments, particularly for solo physicians and small practices. While the finalized October 2016-issued rule basically guaranteed that all physicians who submit any performance data will receive at least a neutral payment adjustment, physicians are still bracing themselves for less-than-average profit margins.

As MIPS is largely a budget-neutral program, less risk equals less reward. Since fewer physicians will be subject to negative payment adjustments in 2019 (see Image 3 below), fewer dollars will be available to distribute to those who perform well.

Only 20%—versus 87%—of physicians in smaller practices are projected to experience negative payment adjustments in 2019. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

Simply put, the best way to ensure your adjustment is as high as possible is to garner a high composite score.

Effectively coordinating care with your patients’ broader care teams as accurately and efficiently as possible to reduce waste and unnecessary overhead costs is a good first step toward achieving high scores in all four MIPS performance categories.

Back to the present

One of the goals of MACRA is to drive the costs out of treatment while still providing high-value care. Physicians will be in a much better position to deliver this dichotomy, and advance to a more rewarding reporting track, when the barriers to real-time care coordination have been broken down.

Seamless care team communication and collaboration among interdisciplinary, and often disparate, providers will be a foundation on which you can lay the groundwork for improved care coordination, which leads to less waste, improved efficiencies, and ultimately better outcomes, all of which underlie value-based care and the successful reduction of healthcare costs.

Source: “Making Sense of MACRA” webinar. The Health Management Academy and PerfectServe. March 2017. 

Watch the full webinar to learn even more about MACRA and how it applies to your practice.

Mobile charge capture: A simple change to your business practices with significant outcomes

By Michelle McCleerey, PhD, MA, MEd, MBA, RN  /  19 Jul 2016

While there are conflicting perspectives on the physician shortage, there is resolute agreement that the demand for primary and specialty care is growing due to the expanding older population. Concurrently, the challenges for physician practices, which are needed to provide that care, are also increasing. Older patients require 2–3 times the amount of specialty and primary care to treat and manage chronic conditions and age-related illnesses. Unfortunately, in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment, many practices are struggling to survive.

As has never been experienced previously, practices are facing daunting obstacles to care delivery due to rising operating costs, regulatory burdens and barriers to receiving pay/reimbursement. The cost to operate a practice has increased at twice the rate as the consumer index due to increasing rent, malpractice insurance, liability coverage, health insurance and personnel expenses. Mounting regulatory requirements have not only served to increase overhead, but have also consumed valuable patient care time with oppressive documentation and administrative requirements for HIPAA, Meaningful Use, prior authorization and quality mandates.

Now in the wake of the time-consuming and costly protracted transition to ICD-10 and EHR implementation, physicians are struggling to get paid. In part, this is due to the ACA which has introduced reimbursement cuts and increased penalties. Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began to apply the value-based payment modifier to adjust reimbursement amounts to reflect the quality and cost of care provided. Those practices not meeting performance standards will receive less reimbursement. In addition, this year, the penalty for non-participation in the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) increased to a 2% reduction in the CMS market basket update. Further, the increased number of patients with insurance provided through state exchanges or the Federal marketplace has exacerbated the payment problem. These patients typically have very high deductibles, along with a 90-day window to pay premiums, posing more obstacles to the collection of co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. Notoriously, it should be noted that the CMS also takes longer to reimburse physicians as compared to private payers. Moreover, the ICD-10 transition has resulted in increased claims denials, resulting in labor-intensive, time-consuming efforts to overturn the same.

Confronted with these challenges, paradoxically, many physicians have had to reduce the number of patients they see, further eroding financial return. However, for those struggling practices, indiscriminate cost slashing is not the answer as physicians must finely balance improved operational efficiency with the achievement of the aims of quality patient care. This is where innovative technology can play a key role. Smart investment needs to target technology that is able to:

  • Reduce operational expenses
  • Ease regulatory compliance and the documentation demand
  • Facilitate physician workflow
  • Increase patient care time
  • Generate more revenue

One such technology that meets the above criteria is mobile charge capture functionality within a secure messaging application. This would enable physicians to quickly and easily capture charges at the point of care and automatically and securely communicate this information to billing staff or a billing application.

To ensure there is no increased burden to physicians, this process must only take a couple “clicks” or a matter of seconds. For example, the application must have immediate accessible “favorite” codes composed of those services and diagnoses used most frequently and denoted by the terms most familiar to that particular practice, rather than formal codes and code definitions. Additionally, when needing to find a rarely used code not contained within favorites, the application should provide decision-support enabling the easy selection of the right ICD-10 code to be associated with the CPT code. Also, there should be code bundles available so multiple code combinations can be assigned to a patient in a single click.

This prompt and speedy process replaces the manual paper-and-pencil method in which physicians retrospectively attempt to make a note of the procedures performed —sometimes days or even weeks after the encounter. Consequently, quite often, not all services that were provided are recalled. These “notes” were then provided to the practice billing team who then must interpret the right procedure and identify the correct codes for billing purposes. Often because of the lack of detail within the notes, the specific details of the procedure are lost, reducing the amount of reimbursement received on top of the lost charges due to poor memory.

These issues could be virtually eliminated with smart mobile charge capture functionality. Additionally, this functionality enables the ability to easily add and document PQRS codes while facilitating patient rounding, with a customized patient list and direct access to previous charges, and with the ability to rapidly “clone” them for the day’s visit. This information would also be visible across the entire group of physicians, if desired.

By automating and expediting the charge capture process, there is a direct impact on the practice’s financial homeostasis:

  • The elimination of lost charges and improved coding specificity directly translates into higher revenue.
  • The coding decision support and the inability to mismatch CPT and ICD-10 codes mean reduced potential for costly and time-consuming audits and claims denials.
  • The easy documentation of PQRS avoids the 2% CMS penalty and facilitates compliance.
  • The immediate transmission of charges to billing staff speeds the time to billing, reducing the amount of time to payment received.
  • The number of FTEs required to support the coding and billing process can be dramatically reduced markedly decreasing operational expenses.

Most importantly, such technology can allow physicians to spend more time doing what they want to do and what we need them to do—caring for and treating patients.

Terry Hayes

Building an effective care team collaboration strategy: 4 focal points

By Terry Hayes, MSN, CPNP, CNOR  /  23 Jun 2016

Part 2 of a 3-part series in conjunction with our nurse leadership webinar series.

The need to unify physicians, nurses and other care team members through effective communication at the point of care is growing in significance. According to a 2015 Gartner report, 80 percent of providers report deploying fragmented communication technologies, which results in degraded care team communication and collaboration.

Collaboration is both a process and an outcome. It affects the patient experience, outcomes and care occurring across a variety of settings in an increasingly complex and mobile environment.

To resolve the fragmented and non-secure communication encountered in healthcare, true care team collaboration is dependent on consolidating disparate technologies into a single solution capable of directly addressing the communication obstacles degrading patient care today.

To some, this may sound like an unachievable goal, but with a strategic plan focused in areas that facilitate workflow processes and communication leading to improved patient care, it is attainable.

You may wonder, where do I even begin? Many organizations, in response to specific challenges, have deployed single-point technologies that provide only incremental gains. True communication and collaboration requires a comprehensive strategy, and to begin you must carefully evaluate your entire communication landscape. You’ll need to assess your current technologies, HIPAA compliance plan, near miss or sentinel event occurrences, nursing time to reach providers and consult notifications procedures – all of which will highlight your communication strengths and weaknesses.

Developing a comprehensive care team collaboration strategy spans four major areas of consideration. Failure to address any one of these areas may leave you with an incomplete solution. Each organization is unique, certainly, but departments and organizations must work together to create an environment ripe for collaboration.

  • Clinical – Mobile technologies are becoming more prevalent in healthcare settings, thus the need to leverage these technologies to facilitate secure communication amongst the care team is becoming increasingly important. A clinical communications solution should enable communication-driven workflows to facilitate timely care team communication. The solution should facilitate direct conversations among nurses and physicians via the preferred mode of contact – be it a mobile phone, pager, email or office land line. By triaging incoming calls and applying personalized algorithms for call placement, care team members reach the correct physician without searching through call schedules.
  • Operational – Once your plan is in place, bringing it to life warrants consideration and considerable forethought. A well-defined adoption strategy will be key to a successful implementation. Clinical champions help drive decisions and engage end users. Leadership engagement is often the most essential driver of adoption of any initiative, plan or policy. You should also consider and plan around timelines, specific tasks and resource requirements.
  • Technical – To achieve success, understanding and addressing technical infrastructure is a must. The strength of your Wi-Fi and cellular networks should be evaluated. Does your organization have a device strategy or do you have a BYOD policy? Do you desire integration with clinical systems and is the solution you are considering interoperable?
  • Financial – In any financial consideration, ultimate ROI and total cost of ownership are needed to justify approaches. When you close communication gaps across the extended care team to facilitate patient care collaboration, you can potentially improve referral revenue, decrease readmissions and avoid penalty costs. The ability to do mobile charge capture at the bedside, and to quickly and fully document exam and procedure details at the point of care will result in revenue recognition and improved cash flow for physicians.

There is no short list of considerations when it comes to building an effective care team collaboration strategy. However, if you focus on these four areas, gain support of leadership and identify a solution that hits these marks, you will be well on your way to effectively addressing your communication and collaboration needs.


Interested in learning more? Read part 1  and part 3 of this series on nurse leadership in care team collaboration.