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CMS Finalizes the New Medicare Quality Payment Program

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized its policy implementing the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM) incentive payment provisions in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), collectively referred to as the Quality Payment Program. The new Quality Payment Program will gradually transform Medicare payments for more than 600,000 clinicians across the country, and is a major step in improving care across the entire health care system.

The final rule with comment period offers a fresh start for Medicare by centering payments around the care that is best for the patients, providing more options to clinicians for innovative care and payment approaches, and reducing administrative burden to give clinicians more time to spend with their patients, instead of on paperwork.

Accompanying today’s announcement is a new Quality Payment Program websitehttp://qpp.cms.gov, which will explain the new program and help clinicians easily identify the measures most meaningful to their practice or specialty.

To see the press release and obtain more information about today’s announcement, including a fact sheet, please visit: http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2016/10/14/hhs-finalizes-streamlined-medicare-payment-system-rewards-clinicians-quality-patient-care.html

To learn more about the rule, visit: https://qualitypaymentprogram.cms.gov/education

October 14, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Early Bird Registration for Digital Health Conference Ends Friday

We’ve worked with the Digital Health Conference since nearly the beginning.  It’s a really amazing conference that brings together the New York healthcare IT community and many thought leaders from around the globe.  Check out the full agenda for the conference to find more details on the great content they’ll provide.

I’m particularly interested to see what Robert Watcher, MD has to say at the conference this year.  He’s just coming off some work with NHS in England and I think he’ll have some interesting perspectives to offer us from that international perspective.

I’m mostly posting about this because the early bird registation for the digital health conference ends on Friday, October 14th.  Yes, that’s this Friday.  Don’t miss out on the discounted early bird rate.  Plus, as a Healthcare Scene reader, you can get an extra 15% discount off your registration by using the promo code HCS.

If you’re planning to be at the event, we usually put together a Tweetup one evening as well.  This is another highlight of the event since it brings together so many smart, social people that care about what’s happening in healthcare IT.  I look forward to seeing many of you there.

October 11, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Find Out if 2016 Exclusions and Alternate Exclusions Apply to You

National Health IT Week is September 26-30, 2016. CMS is sharing guidance throughout the week to help providers and industry members participate successfully in ongoing CMS health IT initiatives. Stay tuned all week for the latest news and updates from CMS.

To participate successfully in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs in 2016, providers must meet the thresholds of all required objectives and measures, or qualify for an exclusion and/or alternate exclusion. Providers who meet the qualifications for an exclusion and/or alternate exclusion will not need to report on that specific objective or measure.

Exclusions

Exclusions exempt you from having to meet specific objectives. If you meet the qualifications for an exclusion, then you will not have to report on that objective and will avoid a payment adjustment in future years.

  • Exclusions are not based on specialty.
  • Specialists must evaluate whether or not they meet the exclusion criteria for each objective.
  • There is no blanket exclusion for any type of eligible professional (EP).

Alternate Exclusions

The final rule released in October 2015 – which outlined requirements for the EHR Incentive Programs in 2015-2017 (Modified Stage 2) and Stage 3 in 2018 and beyond— included additional exclusions known as “alternate exclusions” for certain objectives and measures in 2015 and 2016.

These alternate exclusions are intended to assist providers in the early stages of meaningful use by:

  • Allowing providers to use a lower threshold for certain measures, or to exclude certain measures for which there is no Stage 1 equivalent;
  • Accommodating changes required for the transition to the Modified Stage 2 objectives and measures, especially potential changes to the implementation of certified EHR technology.

In 2016, alternate exclusions are available for the following objectives:

A. Computerized Provider Order Entry

  • Measure 2: Laboratory Orders
  • Measure 3: Radiology Orders

B. Electronic prescribing (Eligible hospitals only)

C. Public Health Reporting

  • Measure 2: Syndromic Surveillance Reporting (EPs)
  • Measure 3: Specialized Registry Reporting (EPs, and Eligible hospitals and CAHs)

Many of the alternate exclusions that were available in 2015 are not applicable in 2016.

Note: Providers may opt to use the alternate exclusions, but they are not required to use them. The registration and attestation system will automatically identify providers who are eligible for alternate exclusions.

September 27, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

ONC Leadership Transition – Dr. Vindell Washington Replaces Karen DeSalvo as National Coordinator for ONC

Secretary Burwell sent the following letter to announce the change.

Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce two important staff transitions.  Starting Friday, August 12, Dr. Karen DeSalvo will continue to serve as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health and transition out of her dual role as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.  I have asked Dr. Vindell Washington to serve as National Coordinator, overseeing the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Karen has served tirelessly as the National Coordinator since joining the Department in January 2014.  Under her leadership, ONC has advanced interoperability across the health system – which underpins progress on a wide range of Department and Administration priorities.  She has also made significant advances to the Health Information Technology Certification Program to promote and expand the safe and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals and clinicians.  During her tenure, ONC has worked with other federal partners and the private sector to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, both of which chart a person-centered path for improving health outcomes by unlocking health data through tools like open application programming interfaces (APIs).  She has also co-chaired the Department’s Delivery System Reform efforts, which set historic goals and worked to leverage the resources of the Department to build a more person centered health system that encourages more coordinated care.  As many of you know, I asked Karen to take on the duties of Assistant Secretary for Health in October 2014 during the Ebola crisis.  Since that time, she has provided critical leadership on the Department’s public health agenda while simultaneously serving as National Coordinator.  As Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, Karen has been instrumental in supporting families affected by the water crisis in Flint, in promoting nutritional and physical fitness through the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the events surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and in leading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.  This year, she launched Public Health 3.0, an innovative cross-sector approach to strengthening local public health and building healthier communities.  I am deeply grateful to Karen for her leadership and for her incredible service in both of these roles for nearly two years.

I am also very pleased to announce that Dr. Vindell Washington will become National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.  Many of you know Vindell from his excellent work as Principal Deputy National Coordinator at ONC, where he has also worked closely with leaders throughout the Department on key initiatives, such as Delivery System Reform, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the opioid crisis.  In his capacity as National Coordinator, Vindell will continue to lead the Administration’s efforts to leverage health information technology to reform how we pay for and deliver care; transform health research and innovation to empower clinicians, individuals and communities to manage their health; and oversee implementation of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap to unlock digital health data and ensure it is widely accessible, usable, and transferable throughout the public and private sectors.

Please join me in congratulating Karen and Vindell.  And thank you for your dedication as we continue to sprint to the finish line in these final months of the Administration.

Sincerely,
Sylvia M. Burwell
Secretary

August 11, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Remarks of CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt at the Marketplace Innovation Conference

Welcome. And thank you for coming to a session that allows us to look at a deeper level at what is happening inside the Health Insurance Marketplace. And I’m not talking about what’s in the headlines, but below the surface– what’s happening with millions of Americans as they get coverage– many for the first time– and also how the system is adapting. At the same time, the consumer is beginning through the Marketplace to shape many of the changes in health care as they make decisions about the coverage and care they want. My focus today isn’t really just on the success stories, of which I see many, but on the lessons we have learned and are still learning from what’s going on inside and across the Marketplace.

I stood up here a year ago and reflected on another program which served millions of people as it reached not its third year of operation, but its 50th– the Medicare program.

Before it became the beloved program that millions of Americans rely on for their health and financial security, Medicare had, for those of you that know the history, fairly controversial beginnings and has gone through a number of evolutions. In large part, Medicare has been successful because it has adapted to the progress of medicine and the needs of the consumer, moving from a medical benefit to prevention to the pharmacy and now to coordinated care models. Medicare today is not only a leading force in value-based care, but it also offers widely popular consumer choice and competition for services and benefits from private plans across Medicare Advantage. The Health Insurance Marketplace, in many ways, picks up right there, bringing private sector competition and services to make health care available in an even more open market fashion– and creating greater opportunities for us to learn to serve consumers successfully.

As I reflect on the progress of the Marketplace, I will cover three important topics:

-First, that the Marketplace is succeeding by almost any benchmark, but it is still in its early trial and error stage. Progress won’t be even and for the first five years, we will continue to be in a learning and experimentation period– where a lot will be tested before best practices are more widely developed.

-Second, that the Marketplace, stepping back from the daily headlines, is a highly strategic opportunity for those who see health care evolving into a more B2C market to create new competitive advantages.

-And, third, is that even though we are in the learning and experimentation stage, we are confident we have the tools to make sure the market is stable and succeeds for the long term

Success but Early

Secretary Burwell talked this morning about how far we’ve come thanks to the ACA and thanks to so many communities across the country– the many physicians and clinicians, consumer advocates, assisters, health plans and hospitals who have worked together to have a remarkable impact. We’ve brought the uninsured rate to a record low and for the first time, our country is providing access to care for people regardless of their medical condition or how much money they make. Competition has worked to create more affordable choices. Last year, as 4 million new consumers signed up for coverage, over 90 percent of them had an average of 3 insurance companies to choose from, translating into 50 plan options. Two-thirds of HealthCare.gov customers had the option of selecting a plan with a monthly premium of $75 or less after tax credits. And thanks to tax credits, consumer’s rate increases averaged only 4 percent.

But more important is what consumers are getting for their money. Commonwealth reports that consumers say they can afford primary care and prescription drugs they just couldn’t afford before. And a good-sized majority are satisfied with their coverage. So we are beginning the process, in community after community across America, of re-connecting consumers to the health care system. Employer-sponsored coverage has not been disrupted and yet employees now have options to move jobs without fear of their families being unable to afford and obtain coverage. And contrary to what some headlines may suggest, the Marketplace has launched at and maintained costs well below CBO estimates. This is true for both consumers and the government– even as we provide care more comprehensively and to many who had conditions that had gone untreated.

While this represents a good start, we are in the very early stages– particularly, in the context of how programs like Medicare developed. And the Marketplace is right in the middle of what i will call a 5 year “learning and experimentation stage.” During these early years, consumers are getting educated about their options, while market participants– payers and care providers– learn their needs and experiment with the best ways to meet those needs. We are hearing promising approaches every day. But it’s not every day, or even every decade, that a new market totaling in the $10s of billions of dollars is created and launched across the country– and in places as diverse as rural North Dakota and Center City Philadelphia– where consumers have a diverse set of health needs, languages, cultures and incomes. So today, I hope we recognize that while we have learned many things, we are still only in this first stage of learning how best to bring affordable high quality care and service to this new market.

Strategic opportunity with consumerism

A fair question is why is it worth investing in all of this learning in all of this experimentation to serve the individual consumer market.

What makes the Marketplace an important strategic opportunity is very simply how squarely it puts power into the hands of the consumer. I mentioned this when I talked about the development of Medicare into Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D, but the Marketplace is consumerism in the purest form. Over the years, the consumer has been much talked about but had very little power to shape what they wanted and paid for. There have been a lot of forces over the years that have shaped health care. Until now, everyone but the consumer has had a say in it.

The Marketplace gives the consumer a voice they have never had before. And every day, the Exchange gives us unprecedented insight into how consumers behave and what they want from the health care system. There’s a short list of learnings and a far longer list of things to be learned.

Let me start with some of things that we have learned.

-First, Marketplace consumers are much more engaged and increasingly educated about what they purchase particularly compared to other health care consumers. 70percent of renewing consumers on the Federal exchange– seven-zero– came back to the exchange to proactively choose a plan instead of opting automatic enrollment. That creates millions of opportunities for consumers to find the right offering at every open enrollment. As they say in my home state of Minnesota, the hockey capital of Minnesota, many more shots on goal means more opportunities to score– useful as plans experiment with different offerings.

-The second learning is that many consumers actually want to shop for their health care, in addition to their health coverage. Last year, the Marketplace began to offer consumers the option of selecting plans not by looking at the plan first– but by first finding a hospital or physician or prescription . . . then looking at which health plan offers them. Even in a pilot year, consumers chose this path 3.6 million times in just the 38 Federal marketplace states.

-Third, consumers want access to routine services without a deductible, with 8 in 10 consumers selecting plans which provide direct services outside of their deductibles like primary care and generic drugs. Health plans are responding in what I think is a promising early example of the consumer shaping a need and the market fulfilling it.

-Finally, consumers are saying loudly and most clearly that affordability matters more to them than it does when they select a plan through an employer– and is the most important concern. 90 percent of people have selected bronze or silver plans. And those large number of consumers who came back to shop? Those who switched plans saved over $500. So if consumers want savings, what are they willing to compromise on? According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, consumers would much prefer a narrower network to a higher deductible or higher premium. This needs to be explored more as it opens the door, not just to narrow networks, but to innovative contracting and network strategies. While we have long wrestled with affordability as a country, the Marketplace allows us to see it in a new way– through the eyes of a consumer as they seek out high-quality care they can afford. And that reminds us– the millions of us who work in health care– that affordability and affordable care must be a part of everyone’s job.

So, while we’ve learned a lot about consumer preferences, there is still a longer set of questions that can be explored and experimented with over the next two years. And here are seven of mine but I know there are many others.

-How do we reach out to and connect with communities that are still left behind?

-What role will quality ratings and consumer reviews play in shaping the market and in improving quality as they are piloted and promoted?

-What role will exposing the actual cost of services play in consumer decision making and in increasing affordability?

-Will consumers choose the ease of a more standard set of “simple choice” benefits or will they opt for more customization?

-What about consumer loyalty? Working on health means building relationships with consumers and I expect this to be a big area of learning. There are examples of highly active markets where people can switch frequently, like cell phone service, music subscriptions or auto insurance. Competitors in those areas have found innovative ways to build long-term loyalty. Several companies are aggressively experimenting on the Marketplace. One, Centene, with its Ambetters product, offers a loyalty account to consumers and deposits money for consumers to use towards deductibles, coinsurance, and other health care spending.

-Next, what are innovative and consumer friendly ways to help consumers manage the costs of care — particularly in rural or other under-served locations? Companies are experimenting with enhanced primary care access, telemedicine, personalized health interventions, and other approaches you’ve heard today. These innovations will be ripe for scaling well beyond the Marketplace.

-Finally, what Marketplace specific contracting approaches will create aligned incentives and reduce the underlying unit costs that are a significant part of a consumer’s premium? Health plans must be successful in partnering with hospitals– who have seen a significant benefit from the ACA in reduced bad debt and increased patient flow– to lower the cost of care for consumers.

The point is that consumerism brings a trial and error phase with new approaches to everything from network strategy, to care management models, to new product approaches, benefit designs and new customer retention. Many of the companies in this room and a number of others have found success and have passed that on to consumers in the form of lower and more predictable costs and innovative services. Others haven’t yet but are beginning to follow best practices or look for other competitive advantages. And some will end up as more pure B2B companies. In the age of Uber and the consumerization sweeping our economy, we need to allow everyone the opportunity to innovate in this space. Outside of health care, the B2C economy has upended businesses like stock trading, travel and even data storage that once had only a limited consumer presence but now give consumers the ability to do for themselves on their mobile phones what they couldn’t before.

For a number of health plan CEOs that I talk to, their view of the Marketplace represents the opportunity to accelerate their organizations into this B2C world and get in synch with consumer demands as many of them see health care continuing to shift across all areas from B2B to B2C. In our notice of rulemaking last year, we asked explicitly for ways we could make innovation and testing of new ideas and approaches easier and must look for more opportunities and flexibilities ahead.

Market Stability

Finally, as in all markets, strategies won’t succeed the first time, every time. Over the course of these five years, we need to allow for continued experimentation. But problems that have plagued certain health care markets for years, lack of access, higher prices, poor social determinants of health also won’t get solved overnight. Unlike the Medicare program, the Marketplace is a complete private-sector solution to covering the uninsured and competition and innovation take some time to work. Gaps, like low competition or higher costs in some rural communities that have existed for years, will remain and be even more visible while we all work on solutions to address them.

Part of our job in the Administration and overseeing the marketplace development is to create a predictable and level playing field for consumers, health plans and care providers and to create stability in these early years, even through these natural bumps and to allow for this experimentation.

Even as the market signs up millions of new consumers in record numbers, we are paying rigorous attention to adjustments that are needed as the Marketplace matures. We have an experienced team of career operators and actuaries, who have come from both the private sector and directly from our Medicare Advantage and Part D operations where we know how to set up and operate large successful marketplaces with a variety of risk structures. This team studies the data and meets regularly with all market participants and takes a strategic view to determine what adjustments are warranted.

This past January, I committed to complete a thorough review and making of adjustments on what we have learned to date. And over the past several months, we have taken a set of actions which strengthen the risk pool, limit upward pressure on rates, and provide a strong foundation for the Marketplace for the long term. This process is a continual ongoing commitment but we have made meaningful progress so far.

-First, we systematically review our policies towards Special Enrollment Period (SEP) sign ups. We eliminated many SEPs that were unnecessary or subject to abuse, clarified the process and added validation requirements and enforcement for those who have a need to enroll during a SEP.

-Second, we have proposed steps to align risk adjustment to account specifically for consumers who may need Marketplace coverage for only a partial year, reducing the unintended consequences. One of the aims of the Marketplace is to be there for people when people need the coverage and when people find work, insurance companies shouldn’t be penalized.

-Third, we have proposed further enhancements to risk adjustment so health plans can invest in serving sicker, hard to treat populations. This begins with incenting everyone to invest in the data and analytics to understand their members better.

-Fourth, we are providing health plans with earlier and better information for rate filings to reduce surprises and help them better predict the cost of medical care for enrollees and price their policies appropriately.

-Fifth, we have announced several actions that both help consumers get or keep the right coverage and improve the risk pool: by closing short term coverage loopholes; by significantly improving our Data Matching process to prevent consumers from unnecessarily losing coverage; and, by improving the transition for Medicare eligible consumers out of the exchange and on to Medicare.

-And, of course, in recognition of the still early stage we’re at with the end of the 3-year reinsurance program, the one-year tax holiday of $13.9 billion will also help stabilize premiums next year.

And later this year, we will talk about our innovative effort to focus on reaching young people in the fourth Open Enrollment period.

These changes will give health insurers, supported by state departments of insurance, the ability to become more confident in putting together affordable offerings for consumers as they finalize rates over the summer and fall. And more broadly, as new areas emerge, I am highly confident in the focus and expertise of the career staff at CMS, and at the tools at their disposal, to continue to make the Marketplace attractive, stable and successful.

Close

In closing I would just like to emphasize a few points. I originally came to CMS to help lead the turnaround of HealthCare.gov and participate in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the passage of the ACA, we have finally moved past the place where many of us have spent our careers– in debates about how we might address the uninsured or improve care, to a time when can now get busy actually covering people. It has been and is uniquely rewarding to be a part of. But health care didn’t automatically become affordable and accessible the day the law passed. It has taken incredible effort to see a system that hasn’t changed in a long long time begin to build this new market, but much more will be learned before best practices are more harmonized.

For all our success to date, new coverage must only be the start of things. We have the opportunity to change health care in America like we did 50 years ago at the dawn of Medicare and Medicaid, back when 1/3 of seniors lived in poverty to a time, now, when less than 10 percent of seniors live in poverty. And if we learn and experiment in these early years, we are just getting started. And part of the next leg of the development is not just how people’s lives change in profound ways, but how the consumer can force changes on the health system that wouldn’t happen– or happen as quickly– otherwise. Progress won’t be a straight line, but we are committed to working side by side with all of you in what will have far reaching impact to improving health care across this country. Thank you for all of the incredible hard work and innovation.

June 9, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The Evolution of Communication in Healthcare

The following is a guest blog post by Erik Kangas, Founder of LuxSci.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, communication in healthcare has evolved by leaps and bounds from the old days of paper filing systems, faxes, and phone calls. Although those methods are still widely used, there are faster ways to keep patients in touch with their medical practitioners, doctors, and nurses. Yet with a multitude of benefits come new risks: data breaches, unencrypted messages, and willful neglect that could bring about serious penalties from HIPAA. In order to fully take advantage of all that technology has to offer, the healthcare industry needs to know proper usage policies and to enforce adherence to HIPAA regulations. We might not be in the age of pagers anymore, but that just means that more precautions practitioners need to embrace the newly evolving world of healthcare communication.

Let’s take a look at how these methods of communication have changed over the years and what it all means for the security of ePHI.

Pagers
Anyone involved in the healthcare sector has surely encountered a pager at some point in time. Healthcare is one of the last industries to use this aging technology, but messaging systems that are easier and faster to respond are slowly replacing them. With so many smartphones and devices that can instantly let you know whether there’s an emergency, there’s less reason to carry around a separate bulky pager.

An article at HealthITSecurity has this to say about pagers: “Communicating internally via pagers could still have some benefits, but there are now secure messaging capabilities that can assist with routine health issues, address patient questions or concerns, help monitor patient conditions, while also ensuring that patients can properly manage their own conditions.” In other words, with technology that’s so much quicker and more efficient, it might be worth finally letting go of the beeper in your pocket and switching to something that can do everything a pager can and more.

Pagers may not be as efficient as current tech, but certain organizations still believe they serve a purpose, especially critical messaging.

Email
Email has become increasingly important in healthcare, increasing the scope of everyone’s efforts toward protecting patient privacy. Explained in this whitepaper about HIPAA and email, this security applies not only to personal information, but all Protected Health Information (PHI) –including a patient’s administrative, financial, and clinical information. Any health information related to an identifiable individual that is transmitted or maintained via email, or another medium, falls under HIPAA’s definition of PHI. That’s a huge amount of information that needs safeguarding if you want to continue using email to transmit healthcare data.

Ensuring that data remains encrypted on laptops, desktop computers, and all other devices is key to staying HIPAA compliant. While encryption can be costly to implement, it’s worth it to keep patients’ PHI (and other data) secure – and without it, an organization risks paying monumentally more in fines, in the case of a data security breach.

Given that data breaches frequently and increasingly occur in the healthcare sector, organizations need to ensure the continued safety of their patients’ data for both financial and personal reasons.

It’s also a wise idea to sign up with a security company that can handle the HIPAA compliancy of your inbound and outbound emails, as well as the security of your network as a whole. However, it’s still up to you to train your staff, review your HIPAA security policies, and keep a copy of the HIPAA Business Association Agreement that you signed with the security company.

Text Messages
Texting is pervasive as a method of healthcare communication, including using text messages to confirm appointments or deliver lab results to anxious patients. There are also plenty of texts exchanged between doctors and nurses in hospital environments, with many messages containing some form of patient information. All these transmissions fall under HIPAA regulations, and it’s very easy to unintentionally text patient data that could be intercepted, sent unencrypted, or stored in an external location like the cloud.

Sending health information via text is a clear HIPAA violation – even with seemingly harmless messages, like appointment reminders. The only case in which texting health information may not violate HIPAA is when the text is sent to a patient who has preemptively signed the proper consent form. Without patient consent and proper documentation, an organization can be fined up to $50,000 per text message, if the messages are found to be in violation of HIPAA’s rules. That’s a massive penalty for any organization.

As with email, it’s important to make sure that you encrypt and decrypt text messages properly, whether through common carriers, specialized apps for decryption, or customized programs that allow users to send and receive HIPAA-compliant messages without the worry of breaking regulation. You can send text messages securely, but it requires training and a financial cost to ensure the information stays safe and only the intended recipient reads it.

The Future of Compliant Messaging
“It’s not enough to decide it’s time to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ or secure messaging,” says HealthITSecurity. “Healthcare organizations need to realize that this communication is part of an evolutionary process, and it’s necessary to implement a system that can easily integrate with the facilities’ current capabilities.” Organizations need to recognize they can’t do compliance in various messaging systems piecemeal or from one staff member to another, they need to make it a blanket effort that ensures everyone is onboard. And while it may create a more convenient system, the legal ramifications of any slipups can more than outweigh the cost of encryption programs or specialized apps.

As long as there are security protocols in place, we’ll continue to see a growing role for secure messaging technology in healthcare.

Communication in healthcare was and is always about making services easier and more convenient for both medical staff and patients alike. With the constantly evolving nature of technology, more organizations can expand their services and share information faster than ever before. As long as HIPAA regulations and cybersecurity are in place, the healthcare sector ought to continually evaluate what new high-tech solutions work for them—and what old traditions could still have a place.

May 12, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

CMS Announces Details for MACRA, MIPS, APM – The Future of Meaningful Use

Seven years ago, Congress passed a law to spur the country to digitize the health care experience for Americans and connect doctors’ practices and hospitals, thereby modernizing patient care through the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) Incentive Programs, also known as “Meaningful Use.” Before this shift began, many providers did not have the capital to invest in health information technology and patient information was siloed in paper records. Since then, we have made incredible progress, with nearly all hospitals and three-quarters of doctors using EHRs. Through the use of health information technology, we are seeing some of the benefits from early applications like safe and accurate prescriptions sent electronically to pharmacies and lab results available from home. But, as many doctors and patients will tell you (and have told us), we remain a long way from fully realizing the potential of these important tools to improve care and health.

That is why, as we mentioned earlier this year, we have conducted a review of the Meaningful Use Program for Medicare physicians as part of our implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), with the aim of reconsidering the program so we could move closer to achieving the full potential health IT offers.

Over the last several months, we have made an unprecedented commitment to listening to and learning from physicians and patients about their experience with health information technology – both the positive and negative. We spoke with over 6,000 stakeholders across the country, including clinicians and patients, in a variety of local communities. Today, based on that feedback, we are proposing to incorporate the program in to the Merit-based Payment System (MIPS) in a way that makes it more patient-centricpractice-driven and focused on connectivity. This new program within MIPS is named Advancing Care Information.

What We’ve Learned

In our extensive sessions and workshops with stakeholders, a near-universal vision of health information technology surfaced: Physicians, patients, and other clinicians collaborating on patient care by sharing and building on relevant information.

Three central priorities to address moving forward:

  1. Improved interoperability and the ability of physicians and patients to easily move and receive information from other physician’s systems;
  2. Increased flexibility in the Meaningful Use program; and
  3. User-friendly technology designed around how a physician works and interacts with patients.

This feedback created a blueprint for how we go forward to replace the Meaningful Use program for Medicare physicians with a more flexible, outcome-oriented and less burdensome proposal.

How We’re Moving Forward

Our goal with Advancing Care Information is to support the vision of a simpler, more connected, less burdensome technology. Compared to the existing Medicare Meaningful Use program for physicians, the new approach increases flexibility, reduces burden, and improves patient outcomes because it would:

  • Allow physicians and other clinicians to choose to select the measures that reflect how technology best suits their day-to-day practice
  • Simplify the process for achievement and provide multiple paths for success
  • Align with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria
  • Emphasize interoperability, information exchange, and security measures and require patients to access to their health information through of APIs
  • Simplify reporting by no longer requiring all-or-nothing EHR measurement or quality reporting
  • Reduce reporting to a single public health immunization registry
  • Reduce the number of measures to an all-time low of 11 measures, down from 18 measures, and no longer require reporting on the Clinical Decision Support and the Computerized Provider Order Entry measures
  • Exempt certain physicians from reporting when EHR technology is less applicable to their practice and allow physicians to report as a group

A full list of the operational differences included in this new proposal is available here, along with more details on how it would work.

These improvements should increase providers’ ability to use technology in ways that are more relevant to their needs and the needs of their patients. Previously established requirements for APIs in the newly certified technology will open up the physician desktop to allow apps, analytic tools, and medical devices to plug and play. Through this new direction, we look forward to developers and entrepreneurs taking the opportunity to design around the everyday needs of users, rather than designing a one-size-fits-all approach. Already, developers that provide over 90 percent of electronic health records used by U.S. hospitals have made public commitments to make it easier for individuals to access their own data; not block information; and speak the same language. CMS and ONC will continue to use our authorities to eliminate barriers to interoperability.

Under the new law, Advancing Care Information would affect only Medicare payments to physician offices, not Medicare hospitals or Medicaid programs. We are already meeting with hospitals to discuss potential opportunities to align the programs to best serve clinicians and patients, and will be engaging with Medicaid stakeholders as well.

This proposal, if finalized, would replace the current Meaningful Use program and reporting would begin January 1, 2017, along with the other components of the Quality Payment Program. Over the next 60 days, the proposal will be available for public comment. It is summarized here http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2016/04/27/administration-takes-first-step-implement-legislation-modernizing-how-medicare-pays-physicians.html  and the full text is available here https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-10032.pdf . We will continually revise and improve the program as we gather feedback from patients and physicians providing and receiving care under the Advancing Care Information category – and the Quality Payment Program as a whole. We look forward to hearing from you and working together to continue making progress in the coming months and years.

April 27, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Providers Must Attest to 2015 EHR Incentive Program Requirements by March 11, 2016 at 11:59 PM EST

The attestation deadline for the Medicare Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program is only 3 days away!

Eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) participating in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program must attest using the Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Program Registration and Attestation System no later than Friday, March 11, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Medicaid EHR Incentive Program participants should refer to their respective states for attestation information and deadlines. Certain Medicaid eligible professionals may use the Registration and Attestation System as an alternate attestation method to avoid the Medicare payment adjustment (80 FR 62900 through 62901).

To attest to the EHR Incentive Programs in 2015:

  • Eligible Professionals may select an EHR reporting period of any continuous 90 days from January 1, 2015 (the start of the 2015 calendar year) through December 31, 2015.
  • Eligible Hospitals/CAHs may select an EHR reporting period of any continuous 90 days from October 1, 2014 (the start of the federal fiscal year) through December 31, 2015.

March 8, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

CMS Launches Important Changes to the Medicare EHR Incentive Program Hardship Exception Process

Today, CMS launched important changes to the Medicare EHR Incentive Program hardship exception process that will reduce burden on clinicians, hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs). These changes are a result of recent Medicare legislation – the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA), Pub. L. No. 114-115 – and our ongoing efforts to improve the program.

CMS has posted new, streamlined hardship applications, reducing the amount of information that eligible professionals (EPs), eligible hospitals, and CAHs must submit to apply for an exception. The new applications and instructions for a hardship exception from the Medicare Electronic Health Records Incentive Program 2017 payment adjustment are available here.

This new, streamlined application process is the result of PAMPA, which established that the Secretary may consider hardship exceptions for “categories” of EPs, eligible hospitals, and CAHs that were identified on CMS’ website as of December 15, 2015. Prior to this law, CMS was required to review all applications on a “case-by-case” basis.

Importantly, EPs, eligible hospitals, and CAHs that wish to use the streamlined application must submit their application according to the timeline established in PAMPA:

  • Eligible Professionals: March 15, 2016
  • Eligible Hospitals & CAHs: April 1, 2016

Please note: CAHs should use the form specific for the CAH hardship exceptions related to an EHR reporting period in 2015. CAHs that have already submitted a form for 2015 are not required to resubmit.

In addition, we have heard from stakeholders that they would like a more efficient approach for submitting applications from groups of providers. Following Congress’ efforts in PAMPA, we have reviewed our administrative authorities and determined that groups of providers may apply for a hardship exception on a single application. Under the group application, multiple providers and provider types may apply together using a single submission. The hardship exception categories are the same as those applicable for the individual provider application.

Providers will have the option to submit an electronic file (in excel or csv formats) with all National Provider Identifiers (NPIs) or CMS Certification Numbers (CCNs) for providers within the group or use a multiple NPI or CCN form to submit their application. In addition, facilities which include both inpatient and outpatient settings may include both the individual NPIs for any eligible professionals and the CCN for the eligible hospitals and CAHs on the same single submission for their organization.

We look forward to further simplifying and continuing to improve the EHR Incentive Programs in collaboration with the provider community and Congress.

January 22, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Submit Applications for EHR Penalty Reconsiderations by November 30

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Congress mandated that payment adjustments should be applied to Medicare eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAH) that are not meaningful users of Certified Electronic Health Record (EHR) Technology under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. Payment adjustments for eligible hospitals began on October 1, 2014.

2016 Payment Adjustments for Medicare Eligible Hospitals
Eligible hospitals receive the Medicare payment adjustment amount that is tied to a specific fiscal year. For fiscal year 2016, Medicare eligible hospitals that were not meaningful EHR users in 2014, and were not granted a hardship exception, were subject to a payment adjustment beginning October 1, 2015. This payment adjustment is applied as a reduction to the applicable percentage increase to the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) payment rate, thus reducing the update to the IPPS standardized amount for these hospitals.

2016 Reconsiderations Application Due November 30
For eligible hospitals who received a Medicare payment adjustment letter for 2016, and believe their hospital was subject to a payment adjustment in error, applications for payment adjustment reconsideration for fiscal year 2016 must be submitted electronically or postmarked by 11:59 PM EST on November 30.

The instructions and application for a payment adjustment reconsideration are available on the Payment Adjustments & Hardship Information page of the CMS website.

November 24, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.