- In private practices, the physicians typically don’t carry over any cash from year to year, so the practice starts in January from a cash position of zero.
- Most deductibles begin in January – if practices don’t collect deductibles at time of service, they find themselves hurting because their revenue goes way down.
- The Medicare debacle every year creates improper (lower) reimbursement as Congress struggles to the last possible minute over physician payments. (Here’s a simple yet helpful exercise for Congress. Congress, close your eyes and think of your favorite Medicare-age person. Is it you, your wife, your mother, your father, your neighbor or best friend? Now think of that person not being able to see a doctor when they need to because all doctors have opted out of Medicare and the only place they can get care is the local Emergency Room. It is a very ugly picture. What other profession is MADE to accept payment that is less than it costs to provide? Who do you love, Congress, who won’t be able to get care?)
- Many annual maintenance contracts come due in January
- Deals on large purchases are good (think EMRs) as vendors try to book revenue in the current year. Practices tend to make commitments to purchases now that will have to be paid for in the new year
What’s a practice to do?
Everyone knows what a mess we’ve had in the past when CMS has had to pay according to the SGR, then it was reversed at the last minute and CMS had to pay additional amounts on services they had considered paid in full – a headache no matter how good your software is.
To avoid that, CMS will hold any claims for 10 business days before re-evaluating based on any change in the Medicare fee schedule for 2012. This will not actually hold anyone’s payments, as Medicare pays their claims in 14 days.
CMS made the following announcement today:
Like other medical conditions, behavioral health issues span the spectrum from mild to significant mental illness (SMI). There are many national studies, such as the Impact Model, showing the benefits of identification and treatment of depression in the primary care setting. Many practices have added a mental health clinician or social worker to their staff to expand on-site care for those needing lower level behavioral health services and to reduce the stigma for patients accessing mental health services. It is care for those with more significant mental illness that becomes challenging to the primary care practice.
What is the relationship of SMI to physical health?
The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare reports that 3 out of 5 individuals with a SMI die from a preventable health condition. In general, the life expectancy of a person with SMI is 25 years less than the average population. They have a higher incidence of chronic medical conditions for individuals exacerbated by smoking, obesity, homelessness, and sometimes by the very drugs used to treat their psychiatric condition. There are many reasons for the lack of medical care for these individuals including social isolation, cost, transportation, and inability to fit in to a primary care practice culture of focused discussions. Many use the emergency department for routine care rather than establishing and maintaining a relationship with a primary care practice.
Barriers to behavioral health services and to primary care for behavioral health patients
Mary Pat: Where does the name of your company, Lutrum, come from?
Ed Garay: When I was developing a name for this company, I didn’t want to be like every other healthcare IT services company with health, md, medical, etc. as part of their name. I wanted it to represent something deeper about what we do and who we are as an IT organization. Although we are IT specialists, I realized that one of the things that I am always working with my team on is to listen and understand our clients needs. Which lead me to creating the name, Lutrum. Lutrum is a slight variant of the Latin word Lutra. Lutra means otter in English. And the otter symbolizes empathy.
Mary Pat: What led up to you starting your own business?
Ed Garay: In late 2000, I worked as an IT Director for an organization that continued to downsize. I came to a career crossroad. With starting to support under 100 systems, and the network running in tip-top shape, there was really no need for me to be there full-time in the long run. So, do I look for another job that cant possibly be as fulfilling as where I was, or do I take a leap of faith and start up my own business and share my knowledge with the masses? Through the feedback of mentors and other resources that knew me personally and professionally, I was highly motivated to take the leap of faith and have never looked back. My business career has evolved over the years and has naturally lead me to Lutrum.
Mary Pat: What are Managed IT Services?
Many physicians have some type of lab testing capability in their practices, with most practice labs classified as Waived Labs, which means having a Certificate of Waiver. This Certificate enables a practice to perform simple tests including tests such as urine dipsticks, rapid Strep A for sore throats, Mono Tests, pregnancy slide tests on urine, and Rapid Flu tests.
There is little effort required to become or maintain a Waived Lab
There are no personnel qualification requirements, and the only regulation is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the test packages. In order to obtain a Certificate of Waiver, an application form (the CMS116 form) must be completed and submitted to CLIA at the state CLIA office. The CLIA office will issue a CLIA identification number and the practice will receive a bill for the Certificate of Waiver for $150. Life is wonderfully simple at a Certificate of Waiver level.
One of the most exciting trends in modern healthcare can be found at the intersection of two larger societal changes: the shifting demographics of an aging Baby-Boomer population, and the fast adoption of smart mobile devices and mobile application platforms. As robust, secure and intuitive mHealth applications are adopted, patients are more empowered to monitor and share their health data outside of a traditional medical office or hospital setting. As healthcare delivery system already short on providers becomes even more taxed, mHealth applications will allow the system as a whole (patients, caregivers, loved ones, and payers) to navigate health decisions in a more efficient and informed way.
This quote from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2010 Survey of Health Care Consumers says it all:
Boomers view tech-enabled health products as a way to foster control and ongoing independence for themselves, especially in light of the rise in incidence in chronic disease with aging, and their desire to reduce costs. Nearly 56% of boomers show a high willingness to use in-home health monitoring devices in tandem with care of their primary physician.
What are the advantages of pushing home health medical data from the source to the care provider?
- Minimum lag time between data collection and the clinicians ability to review it.
- Reduction in errors associated with human intervention in data entry.
- Intuitive and simple interfaces promote active patient involvement and caregiver communication in healthcare management.
- Secure sharing of PHI (Protected Health Information) with patient, family members, and approved internal and external stakeholders in health.
Here are just a few of the companies and products available now (or in the near future) that might change your mind about where and how health data is captured and shared. Each of these products automates the capture of health data and the transfer of the data in a usable format to an Electronic Health Record.
Near Field Communications
NFC (Near Field Communications) is a wireless technology that allows for quick transfer of data between two sensors that are fairly close (an inch or two) together. The secure transfer allows for seamless data tracking inside caregivers workflow. For example: medical supplies, drugs, injectables and fluids can be fitted with low cost sensors that are swiped past a patients sensor to indicate they will be administered to the patient, and then again past the providers sensor to indicate a finished procedure, capturing time of administration, dosage, and patient information without slowing down the care to enter this critical data by writing them down, typing them in, or just resolving to remember them for later entry.
Gentag makes the data sensors and applications that manufacturers can use to send data via cell phone to the hospital or physician for seamless inclusion in the electronic medical record (EMR). Monitoring of blood pressure, fever, weight management and urinalysis are just a few of the ways Gentag has improved data capture in healthcare.
iMPak Health makes a cholesterol monitor the size of a credit card that accepts a small blood sample to process for triglyceride levels. The data is uploaded wirelessly to a cell phone that transmits it to a health provider.
Smart Fabrics and Wearable Monitors
Researchers at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain developed a fascinating concept for an Intelligent T-Shirt that uses sensors woven into a washable fabric to create a hospital garment that does more than preserve the patients modesty. The sensors in the fabric can detect and record temperature, bioelectric impulses (for ECG monitoring), as well as the patients location, current resting position, and level of physical activity.
Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design graduate Pedro Nakazato Andrade has designed a dynamic cast called Bones that collects muscle activity data around a fracture area by using electromyographic (EMG) sensors to report the patients progress to physicians automatically. This could reduce the need for follow-up visits and imaging, or change the specifics of rehabilitation.
The Basis Band is a wristwatch-type accessory that monitors heart rate by directing light into the skin to image blood flow. It also uses a heat sensor for skin temperature changes, an accelerometer for recording movement and activity, and sensors for galvanic skin response. The band also gives customers access to a free, web-based health dashboard to oversee the data the device collects and transmits.
There are still some considerable hurdles to full adoption of mobile home health monitoring. Very few patients use only one medical device, so not only do monitoring devices need to work with networked EHR technologies, they have to be integrated with each other to present a comprehensive picture of health to providers and Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). Also, as patients navigate the system of generalists, specialists, and emergency care providers, the possibility of encountering multiple software and hardware platforms will require flexible, integrated solutions that can run on any device. As with any networked application of sensitive data, security and availability are major factors in a success deployment. Unless patients can count on the privacy of their data, and providers can count on the uptime of their software, healthcare systems wont be able to realize the full benefit of mHealth installations. On top of that, more monitoring of patient health means that there will be even more data to be collected on each patient, and on the population as a whole. While more data means more opportunity for large scale research and analysis for the public benefit, it also means more data has to be secured and protected as a part of the health record, requiring even more security and storage resources. And finally, the Food and Drug Administration will have a large say in the future of mHealth application development through industry regulation. Device makers and application developers will certainly have to work within a governmental framework which will have a large say in the time-to-market of many possible products.
With all that being said, the opportunity to meet the demographic challenges of an already stressed healthcare system with mobile home health monitoring and Electronic Health Records will be one of the major themes of the future of both the heath and technology industries.
I haven’t written much about the impending 29% Medicare physician payment cut. This threatened cut has happened every year for the past 10 years. Every year at the last second, Washington is convinced that if cuts take place, physicians really will stop seeing Medicare patients and they halt the cut.
It’s not a bluff. Physicians can’t afford to see Medicare patients, TriCare (ex-military) patients and disabled patients with Medicare benefits now, and they will drop out by the tens of thousands if they get paid any less. Any businessperson worth their salt will tell you that when revenue does not exceed expenses, you do not have a sustainable business model. Physician have cut expenses to the bone, taken deep cuts in their salaries and ultimately have sold their practices when they just can’t make it anymore.
But never mind the doctor, what about the patients? What happens to them when physicians stop seeing Medicare patients? Texas Medical Association has made an outstanding video that explains it in language we can all understand.