Category: Provider

Bridging the Quality Gap through Race and Ethnicity Reporting

As efforts continue to improve quality and reduce healthcare costs in the U.S., evidence shows that racial and ethnic health disparities have a significant negative impact. According to a report from the Commonwealth Fund, “Black and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) people live fewer years, on average, than white people.” They are more likely to die from treatable conditions, to die during or after pregnancy and suffer serious pregnancy-related complications, and to lose children in infancy. Black and AIAN populations are also at higher risk for many chronic health conditions, ranging from diabetes to hypertension.  

The harsh reality of these health disparities was revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on people of color. Black, Hispanic and Asian populations in the U.S. have significantly higher infection rates, hospitalization, and death compared to white populations.  

The effect on the cost of healthcare is substantial. A recent Texas study showed that over the last six years, racial and ethnic health disparities in the state have resulted in $2.7 billion in excess medical spending and $5 billion in lost productivity.  

An important step to reducing disparities is efficiently collecting race and ethnicity data. This has proven to be a difficult task due to: 

  • The lack of standardized race and ethnicity categories 
  • Incomplete forms used to collect the data 
  • Electronic health records built without the ability to collect the information 
  • Discomfort of healthcare staff asking for information 
  • Few detailed descriptions for patients to accurately self-identify 
  • Patients may be reluctant to share this kind of information  

Additionally, social determinants of health (SDOH) have proven to be a significant source of disparity among racial and ethnic minorities. Using quality tools as a method for collecting data and advancing health equity has great potential to address the deeply rooted issues of SDOH. While some improvement has occurred, more work is needed.  

National Committee for Quality Assurance Strategies  

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) compiles the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS). This provides quality results annually for more than 203 million people and 60 percent of the U.S. population. 

NCQA introduced a racial/diversity measure in 2015. But health plans struggled to obtain the needed data through member self-reporting, disease registries and other traditional means. NCQA’s 2019 records showed that approximately 76 percent of racial data and 94 percent of ethnicity data were incomplete for the commercial product line. Medicare plans demonstrated higher collection rates: 26 percent of racial data and 60 percent of ethnicity data is incomplete.  

The lack of completeness raised concerns about relying on traditional sources to accurately measure disparities in care. Without reliable data, identifying those with unmet needs is difficult. 

Improving Data Collection 

To increase collection of data from health plans, NCQA began requiring stratifications by race and ethnicity in 2021.  

NCQA started with five measures across key known disparities: colorectal cancer screening, controlling blood pressure, hemoglobin A1c control for patients with diabetes, prenatal and postpartum care, and child and adolescent well care visits.  

Race and ethnicity data on these measures help plans better understand member needs and provide services to address those needs. Plans can measure and track performance on disparities and implement data-driven approaches to close care gaps and improve outcomes in vulnerable communities, especially related to SDOH.  

Some plans are already working to close equity gaps. Centene Corporation was recently awarded the Innovation Award for Health Equity by NCQA. They implemented a data-driven approach focused on community disparities within markets. Improvements were seen in colorectal cancer screening rates for American Indian/Alaska Native members, increased rates of immunizations for Latino children and better maternal outcomes among Black mothers. 

Help is available to health plans seeking ways to reduce disparities of care among their membership. Vatica Health, for example, provides technology and dedicated clinicians to enable providers to efficiently capture more accurate and complete diagnostic coding and documentation for risk adjustment and improving quality of care. As part of this process, Vatica can collect race and ethnicity information using CDC specifications for the measures designated by NCQA. This helps Vatica clients meet NCQA requirements and collect the data needed to identify and reduce disparity gaps in care. 

Conclusion 

High quality, affordable healthcare for all isn’t possible without addressing disparities in our current system. Collecting race and ethnicity data is the first step toward developing effective solutions to address this complex challenge. While this is not a simple task, actions by NCQA and other stakeholders show potential. Collecting and using race and ethnicity data to identify disparities and factors that drive them is critical to achieving better healthcare for everyone. 

About Vatica Health  

Vatica Health deploys clinical nurses at the point of care, armed with powerful technology. Vatica’s solution accelerates the transformation to value-based care by helping providers, health plans, and patients work together to achieve better outcomes. Visit https://vaticahealth.com/ to learn more. 

Closing the Gap on Missed Medical Care

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect, impacting not only those people who have contracted the virus, but the tens of millions of others who have managed to avoid it.  Many have foregone recommended preventive and well care since March 2020. Studies confirm this trend, including a recent report from Avalere on routine vaccinations missed.  From January 2020 – July 2021, monthly vaccine claims (for routine vaccinations excluding COVID) decreased an average of 32 percent for adults and 36 percent for adolescents, compared to the same months in 2019.  A poll conducted in January 2022 found that 30 percent of adults aged 50 and older missed a scheduled appointment for a medical test, procedure or operation.

Israel Cordero, M.D., medical director of primary care for Middlesex Health in Connecticut, attested to this troubling trend during a recent interview with WFSB TV. “We have seen many patients delay routine and preventive care, as well as ongoing chronic disease management,” said Dr. Cordero, a long-time Vatica client. “We are seeing some of those aftereffects of delaying care during the pandemic.”

While all age groups are affected, seniors are among those most at risk from delayed or avoided care. Whether it’s a colorectal cancer screening, a flu vaccine or an eye exam for a person with diabetes, missing a recommended test or procedure could have significant long-term effects. To help keep seniors healthy and reduce the enormous amount of money spent on treating preventable illnesses, Medicare covers a number of preventive services. For example, the Annual Wellness Visit (AWV), which is informed by a comprehensive health risk assessment, focuses on early detection, positive lifestyle choices, and utilization of preventive services.

Only one in four beneficiaries receives an AWV, despite this service being 100 percent free. Unfortunately, many other preventive services are also underutilized. This problem has been exacerbated by COVID, demonstrated by the studies cited here. As we start to return to our pre-COVID lives, we must ensure that the most vulnerable among us–including seniors–get the routine and preventive care they need. This requires communication, creativity and collaboration.

Partnerships between payers and providers are one way to tackle this problem. Payers and providers are using a variety of outreach and incentive programs to get patients in the door, from multi-model outbound messaging and mailers to gift cards and greeting cards.  Another effective approach is leveraging health plan initiatives that provide physicians with clinical and administrative support as well easy-to-use technology.  Finally, marrying preventive services with payer-sponsored programs designed to capture and close risk and quality gaps benefits the entire healthcare ecosystem: plans, providers, and patients.

Given their vulnerabilities and higher prevalence of chronic conditions, older Americans were prioritized when the COVID vaccine was initially rolled out. Likewise, a similar focus is needed to reengage seniors in preventive and routine care. As the nation emerges from the acute phase of COVID, it’s critical to refocus on mitigating the development and exacerbation of chronic and preventable diseases. There are effective steps providers and payers can take together to ensure that seniors—some of our most vulnerable population—catch-up on preventive care and reduce their likelihood of developing serious illnesses.

How Vatica Health can help

Vatica Health is a pioneer in physician-centric technology that supports improvements in clinical outcomes, efficiency, and financial performance. The Vatica solution deploys clinical nurses at the point of care, armed with powerful technology. The nurses use Vatica’s solution to identify, document, and report gaps in care, helping physicians increase the utilization of preventive services such as colonoscopies, mammograms and diabetes screenings. Vatica Health is accelerating the transformation to value-based care by helping providers, health plans, and patients work together to achieve better outcomes. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

Why a “Technology-Only” Approach Will Not Drive Value-Based Care Performance

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed significant advancements in medical technology including the proliferation of telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and artificial intelligence. These offer the potential to dramatically improve insights and shape healthcare delivery. While technology development is essential, it must properly interface with clinical services to drive the maximum benefit—for providers and for patients.

Recent technology developments that provide coding and care gap notifications in electronic medical records (EMRs) offer increased potential for value-based care. These solutions address an important problem—but are incomplete as they don’t ensure conditions are coded correctly. Patients must have their conditions accurately coded to ensure health plans and providers receive appropriate compensation. Accurate coding can lead to cost-effective clinical services with the goal of improving patient outcomes.

In reality, these “technology-only” solutions may compound the problem. Providers are inundated with competing priorities and lack resources to add additional uncompensated services—a situation exacerbated by COVID-19. Current solutions cause alert fatigue and have little impact on care. They also suggest insights based on unsubstantiated data and therefore create compliance risk.

Value-based care requires a comprehensive solution

The transition to value-based care is inevitable. By 2025, it is anticipated that all Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare plans will adopt two-sided risk alternative payment models. Fifty percent of Medicaid and commercial plans will adopt these models. This move requires providers to accurately code services for appropriate risk-adjusted reimbursement, connecting financial performance and quality of care. Success in value-based care depends on accurately assessing patient needs so that provider paymentsbased on the reported health conditions for that patient—will be sufficient to deliver appropriate care.

Technology cannot replace providers and clinical judgement. To drive optimal performance in value-based care, consider leveraging powerful, clinically validated technology coupled with clinical experts. By using technology combined with clinical experts, care gaps and relevant diagnostic codes can be identified. Such comprehensive services lead to more accurate coding and better performance in value-based care for both providers and health plans.

Evaluating possible solutions

There are a growing number of solutions that promise to drive value-based care performance, but very few that provide a comprehensive approach to improving risk adjustment coding and quality of care. Here are three questions to consider when evaluating various solutions:

  1. Is the risk adjustment and quality solution provider-centric? Providers need intuitive, easy-to-learn, and simple-to-use technology that seamlessly fits into their workflow, uses their EMR and intelligently mines data to optimize efficiency.
  2. Does the solution provide comprehensive in-office support? In addition to data and technology, providers need access to onsite clinicians who understand the technology and serve as an extension of their team at no cost to the practice. These clinicians can perform various tasks to reduce the burden on providers and their staff.
  3. Does the solution ensure coding accuracy and compliance? While there are “technology-only” solutions that surface codes in providers’ EMRs, they are often derived from unreliable data sources and not validated by certified clinical coders. This creates audit and compliance risk.  

How Vatica Health can help

Vatica Health is a pioneer in provider-centric technology and support solutions that directly improve clinical outcomes, efficiency, and financial performance. Vatica Health deploys clinical nurses at the point of care, armed with powerful technology. Vatica Health is accelerating the transformation to value-based care by helping providers, health plans, and patients work together to achieve better outcomes. Visit https://vaticahealth.com/ to learn more.

6 Ways to Ease Physicians’ Burden From Coding, Documentation and Risk Adjustment

By Shannon Lukez, Senior Vice President, Clinical Solutions, Vatica Health | This article first appeared on HFMA

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for the nation’s hospitals and health systems to gain physician cooperation in documenting and coding patient risk.

The reason is that many patients, and particularly the elderly, stopped visiting their care providers during the pandemic, often resulting in an undocumented deterioration of their health status.

Consider, for example, a 76-year-old patient with Type 2 diabetes and stage 3 chronic kidney disease, whose conditions were fully documented in the patient’s medical record and coded to the highest degree of specificity on all claims submitted in 2019. Let’s assume the patient not only refrained from visiting a physician’s office in 2020 due to COVID-19, but also was not comfortable enough with technology to receive telehealth services. Facing isolation, with severely reduced family and community support, the patient experienced growing depression and anxiety — and uncontrolled diabetes. The patient also began experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure and severely reduced access to healthy food as result of the increased financial strain brought on by the pandemic. Because the patient did not see a physician in 2020, none of this information was documented in their medical record or coded.

Undocumented deterioration in a patient’s health status impacts a healthcare organization’s revenue considerably. The absence of preventive care significantly increases the possibility for patient illness and premature death, while also depriving healthcare providers the opportunity to positively impact the patient’s life. Failure to recapture previously documented conditions, as well as new ones, leads to poor patient outcomes and lower levels of reimbursement.

The added challenge of physician burnout

Unfortunately, this heightened need for physician engagement comes at a time when many physicians are struggling with burnout exacerbated by the challenging work conditions created by the pandemic amid the ever-present risk of contracting the virus.

According to a 2021 national survey conducted by Medscape, 42% of physicians reported feeling burned out. Interestingly, 79% said the burnout started before the pandemic, with a majority (58%) citing “too many bureaucratic tasks” as the number-one cause.

These circumstances may cause many healthcare finance leaders to feel hesitant to add to physicians’ plates any kind of operational burden, particularly tasks related to enhanced coding, documentation and risk adjustment. It’s not easy to ask physicians — especially those who are salaried — to spend more time documenting conditions and reporting data for value-based payment programs while also increasing daily patient volume. Yet the financial future of a healthcare organization depends on its ability to delicately balance and accurately perform both tasks. As the industry shifts from volume-based to value-based payment models, healthcare organizations and physicians must cooperate to achieve long-term financial viability.

Consequences of physician burnout

Physician burnout is problematic because it leads to unsatisfied physicians and high turnover, which significantly affects patients. For example, burnout is associated with higher rates of major medical errors. It can also negatively affect patients’ access to and continuity of care as well as their care experience. All of these issues can harm a healthcare organization’s reputation and, in turn, its bottom line. For these reasons, physician burnout is an important ongoing concern for healthcare finance leaders.

How to foster physician engagement in capturing risk

Addressing these challenges requires a strategic approach to making coding and risk adjustment practices more physician friendly. Following are six strategies that CFOs should consider as they strive to support physicians in more accurately and documenting the risk profile of their patients.

1 Provide physicians with training on standard coding and documenting practices. One of the challenges associated with creating a risk-adjustment strategy is getting all physicians on the same page in terms of process and workflows. All too often, each practice — particularly one that’s newly acquired — will either have its own way of capturing risk or have no formal process at all. Consistency is important because it reduces the cost to operationalize the program, permits standardization of training and other key elements, and facilitates the establishment of expectations. Both the healthcare organization and the physicians will know exactly what is expected.

2 Align physician compensation with value-based care initiatives. Compensating physicians for their efforts is of paramount importance to obtaining physician buy-in and ongoing participation. Yet some healthcare executives contend that coding and documentation are simply part of the physicians’ role, so extra compensation is unnecessary.

This perspective does not consider newer models of care that focus on population health and outcomes, where revenue is largely determined by value, affordability and outcomes. And outcomes and value will be determined through analyses of claims and encounter data, which must be supported by accurate and thorough medical records documentation.

Aligning physician performance and compensation with overall organizational goals ensures shared accountability. Just as important, by thoughtfully designing compensation programs for both clinical and support staff, a health system can proactively counter the problems of physician burnout, declining retention and a growing shortage of talented physicians.

Paying physicians a base salary plus a gain-share bonus based on value-based care performance, for example, gives them an incentive to go the extra mile documenting for risk adjustment. It also sends the message to physicians that executive leaders are aware of the extra time and effort improved coding and documentation requires.

3 Optimize the electronic health record (EHR). EHRs, on their own, do not sufficiently support coding and documentation to optimize value-based care performance. However, solutions are available that optimize EHR performance to help identify care gaps and facilitate accurate coding.

Physicians need help with this process as risk adjustment coding is complex and cumbersome. In the CMS risk adjustment model alone, roughly 10,000 diagnoses are assembled into about 1,300 diagnostic groups that are then aggreged into condition categories (CCs). CCs are related clinically and with respect to cost. Hierarchies are imposed among related CCs, hence the term hierarchical condition categories or HCCs. HCCs paint a complete picture of each beneficiary’s acuity to effectively manage costs for high-risk members while ensuring they receive high-quality care and the organization receives appropriate and accurate payment.

Efficiently distilling this information for physicians reduces the burden on them and improves performance in value-based care, quality and risk adjustment initiatives. Healthcare organizations should work with their EHR vendors on ways to improve EHR performance to optimize the provider experience and patient outcomes.

4 Advocate for programs that remove operational burden associated with risk adjustment. For example, health systems could consider working with a health plan on a plan-sponsored program for primary care physicians (PCPs) that is easy to use and provides support to physicians. Such programs can combine powerful technology with clinical and administrative resources dedicated to medical practices.

These programs can help the participating health systems realize incremental revenue, improved outcomes, increased numbers of preventive health encounters (e.g., annual wellness visits) and improved overall performance in value-based care arrangements. The senior financial executive can initiate this strategy by reaching out to the organization’s managed care partners to see whether they provide this type of program and, if so, what type of performance reporting is included. Ideally, the health plan would provide real-time data so the physicians could understand care gaps for each patient and how well they are addressing those gaps.

If health plans don’t offer this option, the health system could consider developing a program internally, depend on its goals, available resources and competing priorities. In deciding whether to pursue such an approach without outside help, the organization would need to perform an in-depth assessment of the potential benefits weighed against the costs associated with the required  upfront investment and ongoing resources for program management, analytics and reporting.

Armed with the results of such an analysis, the senior finance executive can champion the effort by communicating to the health system’s C-suite the potential financial impact of a PCP-focused program to the health system, and how it could help the organization not only survive, but thrive, in the years ahead. In this way, the senior finance leader also can help demonstrate to the physicians that there is uniform buy-in at the leadership level for a program designed to help them manage the risk-adjustment process.

5 Provide support to help physicians capture and address social determinants of health. Medical care accounts for only 10% to 20% of the modifiable contributors to healthy outcomes. The other 80% to 90% are referred to as social determinants of health (SDoH) — the conditions in the environments where people grow, live, work and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Examples of SDoH include the lack of essential resources necessary to maintaining health, including housing and economic stability, literacy skills and access to nutritious food and physical activity opportunities. Because SDoH often can affect risk adjustment and, consequently, revenue, it is important for physicians to capture this information.

Healthcare organizations should assist physicians in this effort by providing a framework and support for capturing SDoH. Successful SDoH-focused programs include training clinical staff, providing access to local resources, developing workflows and promoting standard practices that help simplify the risk-adjustment process, including allocating time during patient encounters for these critical conversations.

6 Be transparent about the financial impact of physician performance in value-based care. Given the significant impact physicians have on a health system’s performance under value-based payment arrangements, executive leaders should share financial performance data with physicians (and potentially other staff as well). For some healthcare organizations, incremental revenue earned through participation in such programs can help them end the year in a financially positive position. Transparently communicating to physicians the financial impact of performance in value-based-payment contracts, including positive results attributed to quality and risk adjustment programs, builds awareness, trust and engagement.

A necessary charge

Value-based care is a strategic imperative for U.S. hospitals health systems, and it requires, first and foremost, physician engagement. Thus, although finance executives may be wary of asking physicians to take on the additional administrative tasks such contracts require, they must do so because success will depend on physicians’ absolute commitment to accurately documenting care and adjusting for risk. Although physicians may initially object to the additional work, they will likely become more receptive if they can be shown how better coding and documentation directly improves the organization’s financial performance — and how that translates into reduced pressures placed on physicians.

It is here where the finance leader can make a difference. By examining and implementing  creative and effective solutions aimed at easing the administrative burden on physicians, the senior finance executive can help them better meet the challenge of performing documentation and coding. The result is a win-win in the form of improved value-based payments and alleviated physician burnout.

Why providers face an increased challenge in understanding patient risk

During the first six months of 2020, an estimated four out of 10 adults in the United States avoided medical care because of concerns related to COVD-19. With these delays in care came missed opportunities for hospitals and health systems to capture risk and predict costs accurately.

With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, some patients are slowly resuming preventive services, which is good news. Yet this trend means providers may be overwhelmed with patients whose chronic conditions have worsened or who are newly diagnosed with a chronic condition. It is of paramount importance that the provider organizations capture these diagnoses to ensure their payment is appropriately adjusted for risk.

For patients who are still not returning to their provider, it also will be important for providers to address care gaps. Telehealth may be a great way to engage these patients so that physicians can capture risk without necessitating the need for an in-person visit.

In addition, in 2020, about 8.3 million people signed up for Affordable Care Act plans that rely on risk-adjusted payment models. This is a new population of patients for whom risk adjustment suddenly matters. Many of these patients don’t have a baseline risk adjustment factor score, making it critical to capture any and all diagnoses that affect risk-adjusted payments as soon as possible.

How to Close Care Gaps for Patients With SDOH

By Shannon Lukez, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations Vatica Health

Even before COVID-19, providers struggled to close care gaps. The pandemic has only worsened the problem as some patients continue to delay or forgo care out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. In addition, there’s a significant number of patients who struggle with non-medical factors such as lack of transportation, economic stability, literacy, housing, and food insecurity which contribute to untreated care gaps and poor outcomes. Unaddressed social determinants of health (SDOH) not only leads to disparate care, it also prevent providers from optimizing performance under value-based care (VBC) programs. Why is it so hard to close gaps in care – especially for patients with SDOH?

Provider burnout. For starters, addressing SDOH is one more thing—albeit a critically important one—on an already daunting to-do list. Many providers are on the verge of significant burnout, which is being exacerbated by a shortage of resources caused by Covid-19. When faced with the patient in front of them, they’re frequently only able to address the condition prompting the reason for the visit. They don’t have the time or staff necessary to dig more deeply into the non-medical factors that could be contributing to the patient’s overall health status.

Lack of SDOH data. Many providers don’t have the data necessary to identify at-risk patients. If they don’t collect this data themselves or have access to it in some other way, they won’t know which patients are facing SDOH-related challenges. It’s impossible to effectively address these barriers without having a targeted, analytics-driven approach.

Lack of clinical and administrative support. Providers don’t have the clinical and administrative staff necessary to perform patient outreach and engagement. Many practices are still struggling to retain staff needed to perform the most basic duties necessary to keep the business afloat. Recent Covid-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers have only worsened the resource constraints. Tackling SDOH is an added responsibility for which many providers feel their staff simply don’t have the bandwidth.

How health plan-sponsored programs can help

The good news is that some health plans are starting to step in and partner directly with primary care physicians to help them close care gaps and address SDOH. That’s because these payers realize providers can’t do it alone.

Consider BlueCross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS-MA) that has begun to incentivize providers to address gaps in care specifically for people of color. The payer is using existing HEDIS data to identify racial and ethnic disparities and then link solutions to its current value-based purchasing model.

As part of this initiative that will begin in 2023, BCBS-MA will work with providers and employers to collect data and continue to ask members to self-identify. BCBS-MA is also using imputed data (i.e., data that assumes a member’s race based on multiple factors). It will focus on colorectal screenings, adolescent well care, severe maternal morbidity, and antidepressant medication management for Asian, Black, and Hispanic members of its commercial plans that are already attributed to its primary care-focused Alternative Quality Contracts.

The BCBS-MA initiative is a step in the right direction because it acknowledges the importance of these two elements: Comprehensive SDOH data and aligning VBC care with financial incentives. However, health plans cannot overlook a third factor that’s equally as important: Infrastructure augmentation—specifically, clinical and administrative support.

A health-plan sponsored program can help incentivize physicians to identify and address SDOH without adding operational burden. However, this type of program must not only supply data, technology, and aligned financial incentives—it must also provide expertly-trained people and clinical resources to achieve and maintain physician engagement.

To learn more about Vatica’s PCP-centric solution to improve clinical and financial performance, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

10 Year-End Activities to Optimize Performance in Value-Based Care

2021 has been a challenging year for primary care physicians nationwide. They’ve risen to the challenge by remaining committed to providing value-based patient care during times of intense operational transformation and financial uncertainty. However, it hasn’t been without sacrifice. Sixty-six percent of primary care physicians say they often experience feelings of burnout. This isn’t surprising given the risks associated with COVID-19 exposure as well as the significant burden of non-clinical work that requires their time and attention. Internists, for example, spend nearly 20 hours per week on paperwork and administrative tasks. Nearly a quarter of physicians (23%) say the most challenging part of their job is navigating ever-changing managed care and regulatory compliance requirements. The silver lining is that COVID-19 cases are declining and there are solutions to help you improve clinical and financial performance.

With only a couple of months remaining in 2021, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your practice meets all performance targets and that your patients receive the highest quality of care. The good news is that most of these actions are often supported by payer-sponsored risk adjustment and quality programs that provide vital clinical and administrative support to practices. This support helps providers close care gaps, enhance coding and documentation, identify and assess social determinants, and perform patient outreach. To enhance performance under value-based care contracts, consider these 10 tips:

1. Review 2021 performance reports from payers. These reports are a treasure trove of information and identify opportunities for improvement. Common examples include patients without primary care office visits, patients for whom chronic conditions were coded in 2020 but not recaptured in 2021, patients with incomplete preventive screenings, and patients with open gaps in care. Gather internal resources and put action plans in place.

Keep in mind that data latency may result in delayed reporting. Consequently, best practice is to compare external reports with your patients’ medical records for confirmation. Your practice’s EMR may include information that has not yet been reported to managed care plans. This information may impact your performance in value-based care programs. Perform a thorough reconciliation of all data sources to ensure consistency, alignment, and accurate performance reporting for all patients.

2. Ensure all eligible patients have completed an annual preventive care office visit. Schedule annual wellness visits (AWV) and other preventive care visit types for eligible patients. These visits provide opportunities for each patient to complete their personal prevention plan and Health Risk Assessment. Annual physical exams allow physicians to address care gaps as well as proactively identify potential chronic conditions. Check patients’ records when they present for a sick visit and schedule applicable preventive visits. For patients who have not visited the office, proactive patient outreach signals that you care about their well-being and that your office is there to help. Remind them they’re due for a visit and assist with scheduling. These actions foster trust and build stronger patient-physician relationships.

3. Follow up with patients who miss scheduled appointments. Consider whether any of your patients are missing appointments or not accessing routine care due to socioeconomic barriers?

Social determinants have a significant impact on health outcomes. As such, it is important to proactively reach out to vulnerable patients and address those barriers? The American Academy of Family Physicians provides some helpful advice.

4. Follow up with patients who were referred for preventive screening but did not comply. Patients’ needs and challenges vary. While some may have forgotten about the recommended screening, others may be experiencing difficulty scheduling the appointment due to long call wait times or limited appointment availability. Others may have unanswered questions that prevent them from taking action. The best practice is to call patients directly, assess the barrier, and determine what the practice can do to help. Oftentimes, a reminder call is all that’s needed.

5. ‘Close the loop’ with specialists. Communication between primary care physicians and specialists is important to avoid fragmented care delivery and ensure patient satisfaction. Ensure care continuity by following up with any specialists to whom patients are referred. Request findings and recommended treatment plans, as applicable, an update your EMR with relevant clinical information.

6. Keep close tabs on patients with multiple chronic conditions or who are on multiple medications. Do patients take medications as prescribed? Are their chronic conditions controlled, or are they at risk of acute exacerbations? The goal is to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. If your practice hasn’t yet started a chronic care management program, now is the time to do it. For elderly patients who are on high-risk medication regimens, conduct a thorough evaluation, and consider lower-risk alternatives.

7. Conduct patient outreach after an acute event or hospitalization. Schedule appointments to review aftercare plans and make sure patients understand and can implement these plans. Do patients understand the specialists with whom they must follow up? Do they know what medications they must take? Do they know who to contact if they have questions? Can they recognize signs and symptoms that would warrant a phone call to their doctor? These are important questions to review with your patients.

8. Evaluate office workflows. Focus on preventive care, prioritization of high-risk patients, coordination of care, and strong communication with other members of each patient’s care team. Where are the deficiencies and how can the team improve processes? Research and evaluate technology solutions that can seamlessly integrate with your office’s existing systems and improve workflows while reducing operating costs.

9. Improve documentation and coding accuracy. Schedule dedicated time for role-specific training and education that includes front office staff, medical coders, and providers. Individuals serving in each of these roles must understand how their actions (or inactions) impact the accuracy and specificity of medical record documentation and coding. This information directly impacts performance calculations, care delivery, and potential payments.

10. Leverage free external resources. External resources such as local community programs can often provide support for patients and serve as an extension of your practice through their focus on improving quality of life. For example, there are programs that can help address social determinants of health. Additionally, health plans sponsor risk adjustment and quality programs that provide clinical and administrative resources to support primary care practices. Leveraging these programs improves quality of care and patient satisfaction while reducing the burden on physicians. This, in turn, reduces the risk of burnout and attrition.

How Vatica Health can help

Founded in 2011 as the first preventive services technology solution designed specifically for physicians, by physicians, Vatica Health remains a pioneer in physician-centric technology and support solutions that directly improve clinical outcomes, efficiency, and financial performance. Vatica Health deploys on-site or virtual licensed, clinical nurses that serve as extensions of your team at no cost to the practice. Vatica Health is accelerating the transformation to value-based care by helping providers, health plans, and patients work together to achieve better outcomes. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

Aligning incentives in healthcare to improve physician documentation

By Burke Burnett, Senior Director of Product Strategy

When you put effort into a task, it feels good to get rewarded for it. It’s the idea behind incentive theory. People are frequently motivated by a desire for positive reinforcement and gravitate toward behaviors that lead to incentives and away from those that might lead to negative consequences.

Sounds simple. It’s why we study to get good grades or work hard to get a promotion. However, in healthcare, it’s a bit more complex. Why? Payers and providers are paid differently, and when incentives aren’t aligned, that can lead to different priorities. While everyone in the healthcare ecosystem generally has the same goal-  to keep patients healthy and living a high quality of life – the way payments flow through the system can create misalignment.

For example, Medicare Advantage plans are paid based on predicted costs derived from patients’ severity of illness and risk of mortality. If the documentation and coding doesn’t accurately reflect risk, the health plan may not receive enough sufficient capitation to manage the patient’s active medical conditions. Physicians, on the other hand, are often paid based on the volume of services they provide. There’s no financial incentive to painstakingly capture and code a patient’s risk because it doesn’t directly impact revenue in fee-for-service payment models.

The irony is that treating PCPs and their staff—are best suited to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Given their relationship with the patient and access to all clinical information in their EMR, they are the most appropriate clinician to accurately document and code clinical conditions and close care gaps leading to more accurate HCCs and better outcomes which benefits both health plans and providers.

To help promote better collaboration and alignment between health plans and physicians, consider the following talk tracks.

1. The Inevitable Transition to Value-Based Care. One third of all U.S. healthcare payments already flow through alternative payment models. By 2025, it is anticipated that all Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare plans will adopt two-sided risk alternative payment models. Fifty percent of Medicaid and commercial plans will adopt these models.

How will we get there and make the seismic shift from fee-for-service to value based care payment models? One recent roadmap from the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics says the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) must take these steps:

  • Articulate a clear vision for the future of value-based payment that aligns across all publicly-financed healthcare, Medicare, and Medicaid.
  • Dramatically simplify the current value-based payment landscape and engage late-adopting providers.
  • Accelerate the movement from upside-only shared savings to risk-bearing, population-based alternative payment models while curtailing the ability of providers to opt out of value-based payment altogether.
  • Pull providers toward advanced alternative payment models while also structuring incentives to push providers away from fee-for-service payment.
  • Achieve health equity to promote value-based care.

What’s the takeaway here?  Financial performance and quality of care are inextricably linked, and success in value-based care depends on accurately assessing the needs of your population so that your payments will be sufficient to deliver appropriate care. Physicians can’t afford to wait until 2025 for value-based care arrangements to be forced upon them, it will be too late. The key is to strike a balance so that physicians and their staff are not inundated with more administrative tasks and receive appropriate compensation for any additional work which is performed.

2. Annual comprehensive risk assessments pay off. Many payers offer providers a financial incentive for each comprehensive risk assessment they complete. This means direct revenue for the practice. The annual wellness visit (AWV) is a perfect time to conduct this assessment and be paid separately for it. A payer-sponsored risk adjustment program even helps physicians conduct these assessments with ease as they supply physicians with turnkey solutions that include free clinical and administrative resources, and easy to use technology.

3. Physicians earn more money when they help payers improve quality measures. When physicians document more thoroughly and close clinical care gaps, health plans benefit by being rated more favorably. Thus, many plans provide financial incentives for physicians to improve quality measures and close gaps in care.

4. Driving the utilization of preventive services can generate additional revenue for the practice. Engaging patients in an AWV or comprehensive annual physical not only helps keep patients healthy, it also can lead to additional revenue opportunities for the practice. For example, a patient who presents for an AWV might also need immunizations, colorectal cancer screening or advanced care planning. A payer-sponsored risk adjustment program provides physicians with easy-to-use software and services that surface clinically appropriate preventive services and better address all chronic conditions.

5. Comprehensive documentation is the right thing to do. All financial incentives aside, comprehensive documentation is what promotes high-quality patient care. An overwhelming majority of physicians go into medicine to help patients, and that’s exactly what comprehensive documentation does. It captures severity and risk and tells the patient’s entire story. That story is the foundation for the clinical care they receive. Without it, patient care could be compromised.  In the end, better alignment not only leads to better financial performance for health plans and providers – but the efficient delivery of the highest quality of care.  

How Vatica Health can help

Founded in 2011, Vatica Health is the leading provider-centric risk adjustment and quality of care solution for health plans and health systems. By pairing expert clinical teams with cutting-edge technology at the point of care, Vatica increases patient engagement and wellness, improves coding accuracy and completeness, identifies and closes gaps in care, and enhances communication and collaboration between providers and health plans. Vatica Health is trusted by many of the leading health plans and thousands of providers nationwide

The best part?

It’s a health-plan sponsored initiative. That means there are no direct costs for practices to participate.

As practices continue to seek point-of-care solutions to better tell each patient’s story, they need look no further than Vatica Health. Vatica Health is accelerating the transformation to value-based care by helping providers, health plans, and patients work together to achieve better outcomes. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

How an end-to-end risk adjustment strategy helps direct contracting entities grow with confidence

By Brian Flower, Vice President of Client Solutions

Value-based care (VBC) is truly a team sport—especially when it comes to direct contracting entities (DCE) that include healthcare providers and suppliers sharing the common goal of improving healthcare delivery. DCEs operate under the Global and Professional Direct Contracting Model (GPDC), one of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s (CMS) latest innovations to right-size costs and improve outcomes for patients with traditional fee-for-service Medicare coverage.

According to CMS, the goal of the GPDC is to transform risk-sharing arrangements in Medicare fee-for-service, empower beneficiaries to personally engage in their own care delivery, and reduce provider burden to meet healthcare needs effectively. There are 53 DCEs participating in the first Performance Year (PY2021) running from April 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021.

Here’s how it works. DCEs contract directly with Medicare under a risk-adjusted payment model similar to that of other alternative payment models. This means they accept financial accountability for the overall quality and cost of medical care furnished to Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries aligned to them. While CMS has provided various participation options, all options are aligned the same. They measure DCE performance against annual medical cost benchmarks while ensuring quality metrics are met and reported.

DCEs represent a big win for CMS in the drive to expand value-based care and the vertical alignment of incentives in healthcare. However, for DCEs to be successful, these entities must educate and promote the shift to from FFS to VBC at the provider level, employing strategies to manage patient populations for whom preventive care and risk adjustment accuracy weren’t necessarily a priority in the past. While CMS has structured the financial equation to mitigate increases in RAF scores overall, targeted patient engagement, risk adjustment, and quality capture interventions are critical to ensuring predictable and reasonable benchmarks for each DCE. DCEs need each PCP’s help and buy-in to accomplish this. PCPs who don’t accurately capture hierarchical condition categories (HCC) can drag down a DCE’s benchmarks, negatively impact revenue, and stall overall growth. Again, VBC is a team sport.

The challenge: Achieving controlled growth without compromising data integrity

DCEs want—and need—to grow quickly. However, growth without a strategic plan can easily backfire. They can’t afford to onboard PCPs who have little or no experience in value-based care if they don’t have an onboarding process in place to drive documentation and coding compliance. This process shouldn’t put the onus on PCPs to take on more work. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and many PCPs are already facing burnout. Adding another task to their to-do list would cause unnecessary friction.

In GPDC, CMS has set up a financial structure to recognize the importance of quality care and allocating resources based on the needs of specific populations. For the majority, RAF growth will be capped at +/- 3% to ensure that risk adjustment accuracy is a priority instead of the priority. However, those with VBC experience know that the potential 6% window in med-expense benchmark is no small thing—potentially $3M+ on a population of 5,000 beneficiaries in Atlanta, Georgia.

DCEs need a risk adjustment strategy that promotes patient engagement, improves quality reporting, and prioritizes accuracy and compliance.

The solution: An end-to-end prospective approach to risk adjustment

Leveraging an end-to-end, prospective risk adjustment partner helps DCEs ensure risk and quality accuracy without having to worry about each PCP’s experience with HCC capture and risk adjustment. Even practices that are new to the world of value-based care can quickly be brought up to speed with custom workflows and education as well as clinical and administrative support. The goal is to yield maximum accuracy with minimum physician effort. Mitigating burnout is key. And promoting early detection and effective management of chronic conditions are cornerstones of effective prospective risk adjustment.

Following are five priorities for DCEs as they continue to expand:

  1. Understand current state of documentation and coding accuracy, patient engagement, and quality performance on provider panels.
  2. Understand options for ensuring risk adjustment accuracy and quality performance to drive better patient outcomes.
  3. Empower providers with the right tools to improve the accuracy of population-specific medical expense benchmarks.
  4. Identify and measure key indicators at the PCP level to align organization value-based outcomes with provider performance and incentives.
  5. Maintain compliance and focus on the quadruple aim.

Each of these priorities is equally as important, and collectively, they lay the foundation for a DCE’s long-term success.

How Vatica Health can help

Vatica takes the pressure off DCEs by supporting the VBC onboarding process for all PCPs regardless of their experience with risk adjustment and quality capture. It does this by pairing expert clinical teams, including licensed registered nurses, with cutting-edge technology to work with physicians at the point of care. By synthesizing EMR and health plan data to create the most complete view of each patient and applying a rigorous clinical documentation improvement process, Vatica improves data accuracy and reduces compliance risk. It also provides comprehensive PCP training as well as 100% clinical coding validation. When coupled with PCP engagement, prospective risk adjustment enables comprehensive insight into the disease burden of a member population. In addition, prospective programs actually drive higher return on investment due more accurate and complete coding and documentation. It’s about engaging patients when they’re directly in front of their provider. This is where real change can occur. This is how to move the needle on value-based care. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

Why Medicaid Risk Adjustment Can’t Be Ignored During COVID-19 and Beyond

Given the number of people who experienced income and job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that Medicaid enrollment increased by 7.7 million or nearly 11% between February and November 2020, according to recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. However, what may come as a surprise—at least for some Medicaid plans—is the effect of this growing population on their revenue. Spoiler alert: It isn’t good news.

The challenge: Medicaid risk adjustment is a moving target.

Most health plans acknowledge the value of risk adjustment for the Medicaid population.  However,  implementing a successful program is a difficult process. Why? Medicaid risk adjustment programs are complex and vary by state. For example, while most states use the Chronic Illness and Disability Payment System (CDPS), there are several others including DxCG, CRG and more. Furthermore, states’ risk adjustment regulations, incentives, and penalties all tend to vary widely.  This variability poses challenges and increased costs particularly for multi-state health plans when trying to devise and implement a comprehensive risk adjustment strategy.

Other challenges include the frequency with which Medicaid eligibility changes, volatility among sub-populations, as well as the difficulty associated with obtaining encounter data from an often-transient population. Despite these obstacles, risk adjustment is incredibly important because Medicaid managed care is often high-risk with low margins and reimbursement for care of this population depends on the specificity and accuracy of encounter data.  

The complication: A growing Medicaid population could dilute risk.

Here’s where it gets even more complicated. Most states aggregate risk scores and then compare the performance of health plans in a region to each other. Failure to ensure Medicaid members receive appropriate care, including comprehensive annual exams by a primary care physician, can lead to severely diluted risk scores. New Medicaid beneficiaries are most likely to be individuals for whom health plans have no prior encounter data. This means there is no baseline for understanding how much it will cost to care for these members. Imagine an individual with multiple complications due to uncontrolled diabetes. If the health plan does not receive this data from care providers, it can’t accurately report this information to the state, which can result in sub-optimal funding to provide the care necessary for that beneficiary.

The same is true for members with previously diagnosed chronic conditions. Recapture of these conditions is critical to developing accurate population risk scores. If the diagnosis was reported in the prior year, but not the next, they will be omitted from the risk score calculation. Lastly, failure to accurately capture social determinants of health leads to systemic under-compensation, which disproportionately affects physicians and health plans serving these patients.  This was true before COVID-19, but it is even more critical now as the number of Medicaid beneficiaries has risen and continues to grow.

Ultimately, Medicaid plans must ensure their encounter data accurately reflects severity of illness and risk of mortality, of their covered population. Otherwise, they could find themselves spending far more than they actually receive in payments.

The solution: A PCP-centric, health-plan sponsored program.

The sooner Medicaid plans can accurately capture all chronic conditions and social determinants of health, the better. The most effective and streamlined way to do this is by leveraging primary care physicians (PCP) who have the ability to quickly establish long-lasting  relationships with these patients. PCPs are the providers with whom patients develop trust and, therefore, are likely to  see most frequently. Through frequent interactions and encounters with their PCPs, it is possible to address health problems in real-time and document social determinants which may be impacting their health and quality of life.  

When health plans sponsor PCP-centric risk adjustment programs, they are creating a win-win dynamic – ensuring that their members will receive high quality care in the most appropriate setting, and making sure they receive the correct amount to manage the patient.  Unlike other programs that work around physicians and cause abrasion, PCP-centric programs support physicians and their staff with the clinical support and technology to efficiently document all chronic conditions and code to the highest degree of specificity.  In addition, PCP-centric, health-plan sponsored programs often include services to assist with member engagement,  appointment scheduling and confirmation, patient education on the use of telehealth, and more. These wrap-around services are particularly helpful with transient populations for whom outreach requires more persistence. The more touch points patients have with their provider, the more likely that provider can capture data that leads to accurate risk adjustment and appropriate reimbursement. The best part? There’s no additional burden placed on physicians and staff. For the health plan, the benefits of these programs include higher quality data capture, improved outcomes, and lower costs due to greater patient engagement. Additionally, an enhanced bond between a PCP and his or her patients helps reduce the likelihood that a patient will switch health plans.    

3 Ways Health Systems Can Improve Care and Earn Additional Income

After an extremely challenging year for healthcare systems, there are now opportunities to improve financial and clinical performance as the country begins to normalize.

In 2020, hospitals and health systems lost at least $323 billion and physicians were stretched to the breaking point. Unfortunately, the burden does not seem to be lightening for primary care physicians. Approximately 40% still feel the same level of strain due to COVID-19 that they felt a year ago. Finding additional ways to generate much-needed revenue, positively impact care, and reengage with patients is more critical now than ever before.

Preventive care services

It’s no secret that patients missed out on preventive care services due to the pandemic. Over the past year, 31% of patients in the United States delayed care and more than 50% of seniors canceled existing appointments. It is imperative to get back on track with preventive and routine care, especially for patients with chronic conditions.

Your physicians and staff should be proactively reaching out to patients, particularly Medicare patients, to schedule appropriate preventive care visits, such as Annual Wellness Visits, immunizations, and various cancer screenings.  Scheduling a preventive care visit is a win-win for the patient and the physician. For the patient, it’s typically a no-cost visit that aids in the early detection and prevention of diseases, reduces the exacerbation of existing chronic conditions, and improves overall health and quality of life. For the physician, it’s a great opportunity to reengage with patients, create new revenue streams, and improve outcomes, which is especially important for improving performance under value-based care arrangements.

Health plan incentives

Health plans are eager to collaborate with physicians to achieve coding and quality of care goals. They need data and insights into their members and are willing to incentivize your organization to get it. Many payers offer programs that are free to your physicians and also pay incentives to capture real-time diagnostic coding that enables them to accurately risk-adjust their members. Some of these programs even help take the burden off of physicians and their staff by partnering with organizations that do the majority of the work, and they simplify the workflow by combining coding with preventive care services such as Annual Wellness Visits.

The timing for this could not be better. There is an emerging trend among health plans to shift from home assessments to PCP-centric prospective programs to better risk-stratify their members and address gaps in care. Given the established relationships patients have with their PCPs, prospective programs are often the most effective method for addressing gaps in care and ensuring alignment between medical record documentation and coding to the highest degree of specificity. Prospective programs permit real-time alerts of previously diagnosed conditions as well as those that are suspected. This ability to impact outcomes at the point of care is powerful.

VBC performance

Value-based care is designed to incentivize providers to improve outcomes in a cost-efficient manner. In other words, payment and quality of care are inextricably linked. The combination of driving higher utilization of key preventive care services and improving the accuracy of coding supercharges value-based care performance.  

Unfortunately, many physicians lack the tools, resources, and experience to thrive in the value-based care model. Diagnostic coding and quality reporting are labor-intensive tasks and are predicated on a complex set of rules. In addition, EMRs are not equipped with all the necessary functionality and may not contain relevant health plan data, which results in an incomplete patient picture and suboptimal outcomes. Fortunately, there are solutions that include computer-assisted diagnostic coding technology, enhanced quality measure reporting, and clinical decision support at the point of care — all of which enable PCPs to improve outcomes and their financial performance under value-based care arrangements.

As we continue to move toward a new normal, physicians are beginning to see more patients for routine in-office visits, making this the perfect opportunity for patients and physicians to start reaping the numerous benefits derived from a refocus on preventive care and partnering with health plans on in-office programs to improve diagnostic coding and documentation.