Looking to build a complete picture of your member’s health?

By Lesley Brown, SVP of Project Management at Halfpenny Technologies

The potential benefits to health plans of compiling a complete picture of their member’s health status are plentiful. 

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It really goes without saying that the more data and information you have about your members, the better help and guidance you can give them. You can ensure they receive the most appropriate and best care without unnecessary replication of services.  And importantly… without redundant costs!  For a long time, health plans have been reasonably content with the data that they obtain from medical claims.  But as payers become more engaged in actual care management and strive for value based care for their members, many are realizing that the data from claims offers only a part of this comprehensive picture.  Some of the pertinent detail, such as a lab test value, is often absent from a claim. Some care may not always result in an insurance claim.

The utilization of clinical data, such as that obtained from a continuity of care document (CCD) from a physician’s practice, can help enrich this health record for your members.  And the brilliant thing is – you do not need to wait for that first visit to the doctor with you as their medical insurer to occur.  If the member has remained with their doctor but changed insurance plans, their historical information will still be in their clinical medical record.

Unfortunately, gathering all this clinical data from multiple sources in order to take advantage of it is not as easy as it may sound.  There are many health information systems, such as EMR’s and LIS’s, that are in use by physician groups and hospitals. These medical record systems are built in a proprietary way in order to ensure a market share or niche for the vendor.  As a result, they use different templates and store common data elements in different formats. This is all thanks in part to variations in the interruption of industry standards.  Due to this variation these electronic record systems struggle to communicate with each other, never mind a vested third party that might be looking to take advantage of this goldmine of clinical data.  You’ve heard the term – there is a lack of “interoperability” in healthcare.  As a result, health plans that are interested in gathering this clinical data so they can compile a more complete picture of their member’s health are faced with a project that is time consuming, extremely expensive, and often results in failure.

Looking for some assistance in collecting clinical data?  Halfpenny Technologies (HTI) has been in the clinical data exchange business for more than 15 years. Over that time, HTI has built reusable interfaces that connect to 90%+ of the top EHR vendors and LIS/HIS systems.  HTI’s vendor agnostic approach allows the receipt of any EHR or LIS data format and in return health plans can receive clinical data in the layout of their choice. Halfpenny Technologies’ continued investment in innovative solutions has uniquely positioned the company as a national provider of clinical data exchange solutions to the health care industry.

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What is the state of Clinical Data Exchange for Health Plans?

By: Lesley Brown, SVP Project Management at Halfpenny Technologies

As health care in the U.S. evolves, health plans and other risk bearing entities such as ACOs, have shown an ever increasing desire to acquire clinical data for their members.   This need is fast becoming more than a necessity, as value based care begins to drive reimbursements, revenue adjustment factors and quality performance, to name just a few.   While many health plans already have access to select quantities of clinical data (think Lab results, maybe even ADT data) their appetite is now evolving towards obtaining member Continuity of Care (CCD) data.  CCD is now heralded as the “superset” of clinical data, all the medical history, test results, medications for a member in one document.

Too bad then that the coordination and exchange of this clinical data from physician practice EHRs has become a significant pain point for many health plans and clinical data integration into payer systems has made minimal advancement in the past few years.  The challenges that health plans need to overcome range from technical ones, a lack of real clinical interoperability despite Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 2 and HL7 C-CDA requirements & specifications, to business ones, often a lack of clear business value and use case evaluation can stymie the best of endeavors.

Where and how to start?  Some of the common approaches payers can take for clinical data integration include building out point to point integrations (but who has time or resources for that!), accessing a state or local HIE (this is often limited by HIEs demands for standard data structures as well as a lack of data normalization) or partnering with one of a wide variety of vendors who claim they can facilitate non-claims based clinical data integration (many of whom fall short when attempts to validate data exchange are attempted).  Regardless of the integration arrangement health plans should be advised to start small and stay focused, successful data exchange projects have a value proposition and can demonstrate cost savings or increased revenue.  Examples include, risk adjustment factors that could benefit from the diagnosis list contained in a physician practice medical record or replacement of expensive chart reviews with defined data elements from an EHR.

Halfpenny Technologies (HTI) has been in the clinical data exchange business for more than 15 years and over that time have built reusable interfaces that connect to 90%+ of the top EHR vendors and LIS/HIS systems.  HTI’s vendor agnostic approach allows the receipt of any EHR or LIS data format and in return health plans can receive clinical data in the layout of their choice. Halfpenny Technologies’ continued investment in innovative solutions has uniquely positioned the company as a national provider of clinical data exchange solutions to the health care industry.

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EHR Adoption for All – Now and Not Later!

The American healthcare system is fragmented, costly, hence underperforming. Despite significant islands of excellence, overall demographic measures position the U.S. far from the top of the developed countries, while health expenditure is the highest, and rising at an accelerating rate. There is a broad consensus that these trends are unsustainable and a change is mandated.  And while the type of change is still open for debate, the current law is threatened with repeal, and incentive payments may be cut or scaled down, it is generally agreed that health information technology (HIT) must play a significant role.

Despite playing a leading role in the development of health information systems and healthcare informatics research, such advances were slow to trickle down to the rank-and-file physicians in the US, and the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) lags significantly compared to other nations. Among the many reasons for this gap are lack of orchestrated effort and cost.  In the last several years we have witnessed a major change.  Government initiatives endorse and mandate the use of HIT across the continuum of care. The flurry of activities is accompanied by numerous new regulations that are difficult to comprehend and to comply with, especially by the providers that are supposed to implement them. They also result in higher development and implementation cost of new HIT systems and sustain a large and costly echo-system, thus maintaining a significant barrier to wider adoption.

Coupled with the technology initiative, there is also a move towards more comprehensive, integrated, community-based care delivery systems. ACO (Accountable Care Organization) is the new buzz word that describes a population-based, yet patient-centric, approach that promises to deliver cost-effective, comprehensive care. This has been long overdue. For many decades, healthcare delivery has been moving away from the community-based Primary Care Physician (PCP) model towards the partialist/specialist model coupled with healthcare consumerism.  Unique to the government’s ACO approach, is the combination of HIT and reporting measures to ensure quality of care and measure population health improvements. This initiative is attractive to practices and healthcare organizations since it promises to split any realized savings with the ACO.

Reviewing the draft regulations for ACOs, it appears that relatively small groups of physicians can form such an ACO. After all, this is a community-based approach, and a minimum of 5000 Medicare beneficiaries is required. However, a high bar is set by requiring appropriate administrative and clinical systems to be in place. Since only about 10% of physicians have even the most basic form of sanctioned EHRs, the cost of the required technology is likely to exclude many community physicians from participating in this community-based initiative.

The most basic building block of the HIT initiative is a compliant EHR whose data is standardized, potentially sharable, and can be queried in any meaningful way. The government EHR adoption incentive programs mostly address eligible providers. There are many physicians who are not eligible for participation. Thus, with or without incentives, the cost of EHR technology is still a significant barrier, most likely to postpone wide spread adoption, at levels such as in the Netherlands or Great Britain, for many more years. In turn, reduced levels of adoption will reduce and delay the effectiveness of many initiatives such as quality measures and ACOs.  As CMS and ONC ratchet-up the technology and compliance requirements, it is even more important to ensure faster and wider adoption of EHR technology by all physicians.

For effective delivery of coordinated healthcare in the community, there are many more participants than the physicians. Care coordinators, dietitians, social workers and many others are involved. Most are not eligible providers, but require supporting technological solutions that are not covered by current initiatives. It is quite likely that initiatives such as the adoption incentives and shared savings for ACOs will not cover the cost of the initial investment in technology required for effective population-based community healthcare. Perhaps it is the time to reassess our current approach, and focus more on wider adoption of EHRs and other first-line support systems for all providers (physicians and non-physicians) rather than follow, at this time, increasingly sophisticated schemes.

Gai Elhanan, MD is Chief Medical Information Officer at Halfpenny Technologies, Inc., a leading provider of clinical data exchange solutions.

When Splitting Up is for the Best

Centralizing. One-stop-shopping. Consolidating. Sole sourcing. Streamlining. All of these actions have one common denominator; unifying a set of activities under one umbrella. Why not? It’s easier, more convenient, and should be cost effective, right? Maybe, but perhaps not when it comes to hospitals, labs, and physicians needing their lab orders to be routed to more than one testing laboratory for various legit reasons.

Ordering lab tests can be a complex process, even within a health network. Oftentimes a single lab order should be divided into two or more requisitions. The reasons can be many. The physician’s office can perform one or more of the tests in the office. The insurance company requires the separation. It’s most cost effective to send one of the tests to an outside lab. The order needs to go to a third-party subcontracted by the first lab. The provider prefers to bill insurance companies directly in order to obtain markup revenue, regardless if test is or is not conducted in their office. Hence, this is definitely an instance when splitting up is for the better.

Since test results from labs due influence nearly 70% of all healthcare decisions made today while representing only 2% of total healthcare costs, hospitals, labs, and physicians should have the choice and flexibility of splitting a requisition when needed. But let’s throw another monkey wrench, so to speak, into the mix while we’re at it. Does the hospital, lab, or physician office have an existing electronic health record (EHR) system in operation to automate and streamline the clinician’s workflow, reduce any errors and offset costs? What happens when there is an EHR system in place? What happens when there isn’t? How does an EHR system facilitate splitting an order? Better yet, how do you split a requisition without an EHR system?

Questions, questions, and more questions. Well, here are some answers.

The best action is to provide hospitals, labs and physician offices with a simple way to divide a single lab order into two or multiple, with or without an EHR system. A foolproof method to automatically split orders right from the start, during order entry and based rules on sample type, storage temperature, testing location, test type, order location, billing status, CPT code, order choice priority or type, insurance, physician preference and/or other measures.

Halfpenny Technologies (HTI), a leading provider of healthcare connectivity and integration solutions, offers hospitals, labs and physicians the means to split a single lab req into two or more requisitions with or without an existing physician EHR system. This capability is not only priceless, but essential as most physicians utilize multiple labs and route their test orders in accordance with the patient’s insurance, type of tests required, billing practices, or their own preferences.

Here’s how Halfpenny generates split requisitions. With an EHR system, Halfpenny receives the lab order from the EHR and automatically splits it according to rules controlled by authorized users and then prints specific labels, requisitions, and/or manifests as needed and routes the orders to the correct testing laboratory based on the hospital or physician’s workflow requirements. When the results are received, Halfpenny re-bundles and forwards them into the appropriate patient record within the EHR.

When there is not a physician EHR system, Halfpenny will implement one of its own proprietary solutions, ITF-Portal® or ITF-GoDoc® MobileOE, to facilitate the order entry directly and split the req utilizing the same rules described above. Either way, the split successfully occurs and the results can be combined and incorporated into an EHR system if available or viewed within one or both of the HTI solutions.

Splitting up a req to be routed to the correct testing laboratory is not only in the best interest of hospitals, labs, and physicians, but in the long run it’s also in the best interest of the patient who receives better care and better patient services. It saves valuable time, unnecessary costs and precious manpower. If you are still sole sourcing your lab orders to one facility, look a little further to the many benefits and advantages of splitting up a requisition. You might realize that breaking up is not so hard to do after all.

What is the Right Connectivity Strategy for My Outreach Program

and how about them U of A Wildcats; I think they have a real chance this year in the NCAA!

Let’s review the environment. In many areas of the country, the penetration rate of physician of EHR/EMRs will drive from a lowly 20% to nearly 80%. This adoption rate is fundamental to the changes necessary to drive more effective and efficient healthcare. But let’s also be honest, too; it is also driven by funding from good old Uncle Sam. These physicians and physician groups will also want to comply with meaningful use criteria to qualify for stimulus funding to underwrite their costs of entering the new electronic medical record and health record era.

Meaningful use criteria, as many already know, in stage one, two and three begin and then accelerate sophisticated use of these systems. Early stages mandate the storage of discrete data like lab which comprises nearly 80 to 90% of the potential data within an EMR. Let also not be modest; laboratory diagnostic data represents probably the largest data source for diagnostic efforts of physicians. No bias here! Later stages mandate Order Entry so drug-to-dug, drug-to-disease interactions can be checked, and – drum roll, please – laboratory ordering which eliminates errors, reduces manual data entry, (there is a solid ROI behind clean orders and getting paid, but that’s another blog) and promoting quality and efficiency across the spectrum of care.

It only makes sense. Reality check number one; there are at least 375 different EMRs out there that we know about. We are learning about new ones on the pace of a couple per month. It is the Wild West, and it sort of feels like a there is a stampede coming over the hill doesn’t it?

If you are one of the 75% of hospitals laboratories in America with an outreach program or are a reference lab, you could be facing this stamped and that’s actually not the worse part. The worst part is they are all DOCTORS!!!!! (By the way, I hope our Chief Medical Information Officer does not read this blog, but I couldn’t help throwing that analogy in. You should see him when he is mad; he turns all sort of funny shades of red and purple! Anyway…) So, you are facing the stampede and wondering what’s the right strategy. Okay, let’s start with the options.

Option 1. My IT department controls an Interface Engine. Why can’t I just connect my orders and results to it, and let them connect to all the different EMR’s? Sounds simple, right?

Here are a couple questions to ask yourself.  Does your IT department have a lot of extra time on their hands? Have they already completed the ICD9 to ICD10 and 4010 to 5010 conversions? Are they prepared to handle the stampede? Can they deal with 375 different EMR systems? Are they good with doctors?

Option 2. I could use the physician access system/portal vendor I am currently doing business with! Sounds good, doesn’t it? If you are using one of them, they probably already have some connections out there. You have used them for quite some time. You like them or maybe not.

Okay, here are a couple questions to ask yourself. Are they prepared to handle the stampede? Can they scale to the demand you have and all of their other customer’s needs, too? Is EMR connectivity a sideline or are they really in this business with both feet? How is there service now? What might it be like when things get really crazy?

Option 3. Use the local HIE. This one usually comes from corporate. “We don’t want you wasting time building interfaces to EMR’s, because we have that covered with this here strategic relationship with the state’s HIE!”

Okay, you have got my pattern figured out. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Who is faster at building interfaces to my clients’ EMR, the HIE or my competitor? Can you afford to wait? Does the HIE initiative take care of the special requirements and workflow of lab order and result processing? How are the specimens going to be received? Will I be able to get paid with the information they are sending? How will MRN, Event, Episode or Account Numbers be associated with the order when transmitted to the LIS? Will the physician be presented with ask-at-order-entry-questions? Will an ABN get printed, signed and will the transaction contain an indicator of same? Is the HIE technology biased in any way that might prevent it from interfacing really well to all my customers EMRs?

(Note to reader: some HIE technology vendors are also EMR vendors and may not play nice with other EMRs or heavily influenced by your competitor. You get the picture. Their goals may not coincide with your goals to protect and grow your business.  At the worst case, you might want your own strategy in place or at least a backup!)

Option 4. Find a vendor who does this for a living: just this.

Big Finish – I hope you find the rather weak attempts at humor and analogy not too distracting. There is merit within each option and other’s I haven’t mentioned, but I pick on each pretty hard for a purpose. There is a are large demand for connectivity now and we expect it to grow.  Your strategy and options deserve careful consideration and potentially a multifaceted approach. If you already have a strategy, great, what’s your back up plan? If you don’t have a strategy, it’s probably time to start the process.  I welcome any and all comments, thoughts, concerns as long as they are positive and constructive, for the rest I’d like to introduce you to our CMIO; he’d love to hear from you!!!!!

(Note to reader: Our CMIO, Dr. Gai, is actually an incredibly smart, nice, and visionary individual. His face doesn’t turn red when he gets mad either. I’ve never actually seen him mad, and I enjoy his company. I just made all this up to see if he would read my blog!)