Dishing on Big Data: Information Exchange and the Future of Health Care

When it comes to life in the modern world, data reigns supreme. Whether you care to admit it—or even think about it—the fact is, you cannot escape the influence of data. And in some cases, that’s a good thing. No, I’m not talking about the discount offer for your favorite restaurant that suddenly appears on your Facebook news feed just minutes after you’ve perused the menu online—though that’s definitely a data benefit, too. In this article, though, I want to focus on the benefits of big data with respect to health care—in terms of cost, quality, and efficiency.

If you’re a healthcare provider, there’s a good chance you’re already helping lay the foundation for a very bright—and data-driven—healthcare future. That’s because the government and other healthcare stakeholders already have implemented a variety of programs and systems—like PQRS and ICD-10—aimed at promoting quality data collection. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the US continues to make strides toward achieving the healthcare “triple aim”—that is, the nationwide push toward better access, lower cost, and improved accountability in health care—providers can expect data to step into an even bigger role in the delivery of, and payment for, their services.

Of course, you can’t have a conversation about data without mentioning technology. To return to the food theme, if data is the basket full of raw ingredients, then technology is the oven that turns those ingredients into something useful (and delicious). And that’s where EMR comes into the picture—er, kitchen. Because in today’s healthcare landscape, EMR isn’t just a tool for documentation; it’s a means of participating in—and benefitting from—the collective effort to amass meaningful information that has the potential to:

  • foster evidence-based practice;
  • improve patient outcomes; and
  • uncover trends—both globally and regionally—that influence the efficacy of care.

But, for those things to happen, providers cannot use their EMR systems in isolation. More importantly, EMRs cannot be designed solely for isolated use. To stay relevant in a value-driven healthcare system, EMRs must allow for interoperability—that is, the ability for different systems and organizations to exchange information, and thus, work together for an overarching purpose. In a healthcare context, this means successful, seamless data transmission across all healthcare platforms. This allows a patient’s entire care team to have access to up-to-date information about the patient and his or her treatment progress—making care delivery much more efficient and effective. It has the potential to take care quality to a whole new level—not to mention reinforce physical therapy’s place on the overall care continuum.

So, if interoperability isn’t on your EMR vendor’s roadmap—or even its radar—then it might be time to explore other options. That said, the US, as a country, still has a few significant hurdles to overcome in the road to total interoperability. As this article explains, the architecture that currently exists is laden with “trouble spots” that lead to “errors, omissions, and variability that are impeding data exchange.” Even more concerning, though, are the barriers created by current laws—or lack thereof—that prevent this type of information exchange from happening at all. While most of those laws are designed with privacy and security in mind, they—like technology—must evolve to align with changing care delivery models and payment structures.

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In a perfect world, all healthcare stakeholders would have access to all of the information relevant to their various functions—from plan of care development to payment for services rendered. Getting to that “heathcare utopia” will take time; after all, Rome—like interoperability—wasn’t built in a day. Still, it’s important that physical therapists—and all other types of providers—prepare themselves for a world in which data is the main ingredient in the recipe for creating a stronger, healthier society.


4 Reasons You Should Use an EMR for Practice Management

When you think about your EMR, documentation might be the first thing that comes to mind. And while defensible documentation is crucial—and should be the main component of your EMR—there are other perks your software vendor can offer you. One of the most efficient, cost-effective options available through your EMR is a practice management suite. Think you already have your processes on lock? Even if you do, you can further streamline your business when you take advantage of all of the benefits your software offers.

As this InformationWeek article explains, “Ideally, EHR and practice management systems work together so that patient registrations become patient health records, and the diagnosis recorded into the EHR turns into a properly coded insurance claim.” Sounds pretty slick, right? If you aren’t convinced yet, here are five mission-critical practice management functions made oh-so-simple with an EMR:

1. Capture Patient Demographics

When a patient enters your clinic, you’ve likely gathered all of his or her demographics before the appointment. You’ve got names, numbers, insurance information, and addresses. But, where do you store it all? Are you leaving PHI in paper files on your front desk or in a filing cabinet—thus putting your practice at risk for a HIPAA violation?

The best way to collect—and store—patient demographics is by entering this information into your secure EMR. Your EMR should provide a patient intake form option. That way, you can be sure you’ve collected all the relevant information, confirmed that it’s up to date, and stored all of it in a secure, cloud-based system. And if you ever need to access any patient info, it’s just a few clicks away. No more digging through stacks of paper—or shuffling through filing cabinets—to locate your patient data.

2. Schedule Appointments

Just like those stacks of files, your appointment book shouldn’t be left to the whims the paper gods—and at risk for HIPAA violations, natural disasters, or misplacement. With the right EMR, you can easily schedule patients, color-code their appointments, manage multiple schedules, and even send automatic appointment reminders. You’ll save time and money when you let your EMR help you decrease no-shows through a seamless scheduling system.

3. Maintain Payer List

With an EMR, you can easily assign the appropriate payers to each of your patients, and it’s simple to keep a comprehensive list that’s available for updating at any moment. Plus, your EMR should offer documentation safeguards based on your payer list. For example, your Medicare patients should trigger certain documentation alerts. With the right EMR, you can control all of this within your payer settings.

4. Generate Reports

Your EMR contains a wealth of information, and when paired with your documentation, you can generate and analyze a number of metrics through easy-to-run reports. With a good EMR in place, you can track no-shows, provider productivity, completed documentation, and even PQRS progress. Running these reports regularly will give you true insight into your business.

5. Submit Clean Claims

The first step to submitting clean claims is creating clean documentation. Your EMR should already have that down pat. But, does your EMR automatically generate CPT codes that flow into your billing software or to your billing service? If not, it absolutely should. Dr. Heidi Jannenga explains in this article that using “a medical billing software or service that is integrated with your EMR means that demographic and billing data will be seamlessly transmitted from your documentation system to your billing company.” The more you can automate processes through your EMR, the more time—and effort—you can save doing routine tasks. And that, ultimately, allows you to spend more time doing what you love: helping patients.

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If you’re looking to improve your processes, look no further than your EMR’s practice management system. As this HealthIT.gov article simply states, “79% of providers report that with an EHR, their practice functions more efficiently.” Are you taking advantage of everything your EMR has to offer?


6 Ways an EMR Keeps Your Data Safe from Hackers

Sadly, the Internet is full of folks looking to steal your personal information, and while most people probably are keenly aware of the need to protect their Social Security numbers (SSNs) and credit card accounts, many don’t realize that their medical identities also are vulnerable to hackers. According to NBC News, the Ponemon Institute estimates more than 2.3 million adult Americans have either been the victim of or know someone who has been a victim of medical identity theft during or before 2014. Even scarier? The institute’s fifth annual survey revealed that medical identity theft rose by 22% in 2014—and that rate shows no signs of slowing down. Forbes reports that in this year alone, three major health insurers—Anthem, Premera, and CareFirst—were hacked. These major data breaches exposed tens of millions of patient records, leaving those patients at risk for medical identity theft.

Using stolen patient information, criminals can fraudulently receive medical care—inherently altering victims’ medical records and racking up costly medical bills in those patients’ names. If you’re a medical provider, the responsibility of preventing data breaches—and the legal and financial consequences of failing to do so—is on you. But you aren’t in this fight alone. Here are several ways top-notch cloud-based EMR systems keep your patient data safe:

1. Bank-level security encryption

An industry standard, bank-level security encryption scrambles up your information (sort of like my breakfast this morning), so you can safely transmit it over the Internet using a cypher (i.e., an encryption algorithm)—like a 256-bit or better Secure Socket Layer (SSL)—and a cipher key. Furthermore, as this resource explains, “Data transmitted over an SSL connection cannot be tampered with or forged without the two parties becoming immediately aware of the tampering.”

2. Password guidelines

Password-protected access is a given for any technology company worth its salt, but your EMR also should have strict password guidelines to better protect your patient data. For extra security, look for the TRUSTe Certified Privacy badge on your EMR vendor’s website. To earn the privilege of displaying that badge, the EMR must:

  1. employ strict password guidelines that ensure complete login security, and
  2. feature unique password-protected access to ensure HIPAA compliance.

3. Automatic data backups

When was the last time you backed up your data? (Insert cricket noises.) Yeah, that’s what I thought. Not to worry: your EMR has your back. Armed with automatic data backups—with multiple replication processes to boot—your EMR will never lose your all-important patient data, even if you lose power or Internet connection.

4. An audit trail

This special feature helps discourage hackers—and fraud in general—by tracking user activity (criminals don’t want to get caught, after all). So long as providers keep it turned on, an audit trail maintains a chronological record of all attempts to access patient data. It records the data accessed, who accessed it, and when and from where it was accessed.

5. Specialized staff

Great customer service reps are hard to find, but when it comes to protecting your patients’ protected health information (PHI), the search is crucial. That’s why awesome EMR vendors take the time to hire and train staff who are well-versed in online security measures and at the ready to provide you with their expertise.

6. Data centers

To ensure HIPAA compliance, the best EMRs house all their—and thus, your—data at state-of-the-art data centers. These data centers must possess bank-level security and supreme encryption methods that render data unreadable—even if hackers somehow get to it. WebPT, for example, stores all of its data at IO Data Center, a Tier III-Certified facility that provides multiple layers of access control, including a defensible perimeter, video surveillance, biometric screening, and round-the­-clock security guards.

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Often, the victims of medical identity theft remain unaware of the crime for months—or even years. Upon discovery, victims usually have a difficult time determining how it happened, and they often struggle to undo the damage. Make sure your patients don’t fall victim to medical identity theft. Web-based physical therapy software vendors—specifically, those that built their systems from scratch with the Internet in mind—are your practice’s best defense against cyber attackers.


How Much Downtime Should Your Physical Therapy Software Actually Experience?

In your personal life, downtime is great: sitting on a beach, sipping a fruity drink, and doing absolutely nothing. But when it comes to the physical therapy software you use in your professional life as a PT, the last thing you want is downtime. Yet, the sinking feeling of receiving an email from your vendor alerting you to yet another downtime—or worse, logging in to see that the system is down—may be all too familiar. You need your software to work—or else you can’t. And that begs the question, “How much downtime should your physical therapy software actually experience?”

Some companies experience frequent—yet brief—periods of downtime. Others experience chunks of sustained downtime—like Epic EMR, which was out for nearly two days in 2014. In fact, the issue of downtime is so prevalent in the healthcare industry that For the Record magazine even created an emergency downtime plan. But, when it comes “down” to it, system-wide downtime in a web­-based EMR shouldn’t happen very often at all. In fact, some EMR vendors—like WebPT—pride themselves on an uptime rate of over 99%.

And that statistic certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to Fortune magazine, “There is a phrase in information technology called “five nines,” referring to 99.999% uptime, or about 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Some have called it the “holy grail” of service availability; others have have called it only a myth. (It is not.).” Keep in mind that this rate does indicate a small amount of downtime—and that’s to be expected. Vendors have to perform maintenance, after all, and that requires downtime. But your vendor should always alert you to any maintenance downtime before it happens. Moreover, planned downtime should be set during low-use hours.

While we’re at it, I should mention that not all downtime is your vendor’s fault. Although modern Internet speeds are speedy enough to fit your EMR’s ideal configuration, issues with your individual Internet provider can cause outages. If you experience this type of downtime, take steps to prevent it by installing a backup Internet solution, like a mobile hotspot device. However, if your Internet connection is just fine, it probably isn’t responsible for all that downtime you’re experiencing.

Ultimately, healthcare providers have a choice. As using an EMR becomes the norm and not the exception, downtime will become an important—and pronounced—distinction between vendors. Don’t settle for prolonged downtime (like this unfortunate practice did) when you could be working with an EMR that anticipates—and adjusts for—your needs.


Help! I Got a New Job, and They Still Use Paper!

Unless it’s your one-year wedding anniversary, you probably don’t want anyone to give you paper. And if you’ve just started a new job in the rehab therapy industry, you really don’t want anyone to give you paper. When it comes to documentation, paper doesn’t just kill trees—it can kill your new employer’s bottom line. But I don’t have to tell you that, do I? In fact, I’m preaching to the choir, but if you’re reading this article, you likely aren’t the ultimate decision-maker. However, you do have a voice, and you can use it to be an EMR champion at your new clinic. Here’s how:

1. Ask why the clinic still uses paper.

Do they fear EMR? Are they worried about potential costs? Or have they already had a bad EMR experience that forced them to go back to their old ways? Knowing what you’re up against will help you come up with a successful sales strategy.

2. Determine your clinic’s pain points.

Your new clinic is great, but no practice is perfect. So, look for issues that EMR can help resolve. Is your boss spending too much time doing administrative tasks? Is your office overrun with filing cabinets? Are there kinks in your customer service? Is your billing team getting bogged down? Is your clinic struggling to keep up with competition, or to grow its referrals or customer base? Pinpoint the top three needs that aren’t being met or goals that aren’t being achieved.

3. Play EMR matchmaker.

Now that you’ve figured out your clinic’s needs and goals, you can look for the right EMR solution and tailor your pitch to those exact issues. There are many different EMRs on the market, and they aren’t one-size-fits-all. What to look for? A web-based solution that is built for the way you work, meaning it offers:

4. Find the right time to pitch your boss.

The last thing you want to do is interrupt your boss when he or she is in a bad mood, working a full day of back-to-back appointments or elbow-deep in a tough task. If you can, set up a sync on his or her calendar to make sure you get the time you need to present your argument.

5. Make your case.

You’ll want to emphasize the positives of switching to an EMR. Talk about how great this move will be for business, and use research to back up your points. It doesn’t hurt to find clinics in your area that have successfully switched to EMR and use their stories as pseudo case studies. However, don’t skirt around the potential negatives of ditching pen and paper—just be ready to provide a solution to those problems. Your boss needs to make an informed decision. Plus, you don’t want to be stuck with the blame if something doesn’t go according to plan.

6. Be prepared to hear the word “no.”

Switching from paper to EMR can be tough, time-consuming, and terrifying. Even if you work the room like Perry Mason, your boss might not cave easily. Don’t give up. Ask for specific reasons why your boss turned you down and what might change his or her mind in the future. That way, you can adjust your strategy for next time. Are your fellow staff members on board? Rally the troops! There’s strength in numbers, especially if your boss respects staff opinions.

7. If you do make the switch, be all in.

If you’re able to convince your boss to leave pen and paper in the dust, remain a champion throughout the transition process. You worked hard to make the change possible, so now you should work hard to make sure it’s successful.

 

Deep down, your boss probably knows that adopting EMR technology is worthwhile, but depending on his or her concerns, it might take some time and consistent effort for you to close the deal. Stay positive and stick with it, champ. Need more talking points? Check out the rest of our blog (or this one) for more research and resources to help you fight the good fight.