Category: Risk Adjustment

How to close care gaps for patients with SDOH

By Shannon Lukez, chief clinical operations officer, 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/.

Customer centricity: Building your business one relationship at a time

By Josh Stern, Chief Revenue Officer at Vatica Health

How you treat your customers matters. Every successful business knows this and is intentional about consistently adding value and exceeding their expectations.

It’s why Starbucks, for example, created a mobile ordering and personalized rewards program that makes it simple for customers to order exactly what they want and pick it up with a minimal wait. It’s why the meditation app Calm gave away content and meditation exercises for free during COVID-19. It’s why Target expanded its drive-up option with more spots at stores and provided customers with the ability to scan self-checkout items with their phones instead of a communal scanner.

It’s all about customer centricity and not just for the employees that have direct interactions with customers. It’s about ensuring and committing to have the entire organization think this way, customer-centricity is a cultural mindset.  That is, building your business from the ground up with customers in mind—to let customer satisfaction drive strategic decisions. It’s about clear communication, trust, and accountability. It’s about asking this critical question: What can we do to deliver value, build partnerships, and contribute to customer success? Simply put, it is about being able to answer, “our business and relationship matter” through the lens of the client.

Achieving the Holy Grail: Partnership

In many industries, services are commoditized with very little collaboration between vendors and their customers. Vendor products and/or services meet basic specifications, and that’s about it. The decision to partner with a particular vendor is usually based on price or availability, and customers aren’t necessarily loyal when better opportunities present themselves.

However, thriving customer-centric companies know that this transactional level of engagement isn’t enough. For both organizations to thrive, they must become allies and partners. Organizations must strive to meet each customer’s deeper needs and help them solve business problems. They must invest in relationships and provide close personal attention.

How do you know if you are at or working with an organization that is truly customer centric, as opposed to one just saying the right words? The following are five attributes you will be able to consistently observe:

1. Transparent communication. Customer-centric companies communicate directly and truthfully. They give customers all the information, both good and bad, they need to make informed decisions. They keep customers abreast of changes industry-wide or within the organization that affect them directly or indirectly. No secrets. Nothing withheld. They communicate in a way that says: I value you and want to be as open and honest as possible. They provide invaluable context, roadmaps to the “who,” “what,” “why,” “where,” and “how” so you as business leaders can make informed decisions for you and your company with all the relevant information at your disposal.

2. Belief that trust is earned, not freely given. Customer-centric companies know that trust is personal and that it develops over time. Customer-centric companies work hard to build that trust with each and every customer through each interaction, and they don’t ever take it for granted. They do this through consistency, openness, and dedication.

3. Alignment. Customer-centric companies take the time to understand how each customer defines and measures success. Alignment is about collaboration and truly listening to what customers have to say. It’s not about thinking you know what’s best for the customer or assuming they measure success in the same way you do. It’s about understanding their unique challenges and goals and trying to figure out how you can truly offer value.

With that said, customers themselves may not be aware of or be able to articulate the best solutions to address their needs. Customer-centric companies help them figure it out by asking questions for clarification. What will this product or service provide to the customer? Is it what the customer really wants and needs? Does it solve their problem or help them reach their goal? If they can’t define a direct or indirect customer benefit, a customer-centric company won’t recommend the product or service – even if it’s to their financial detriment.

4. Accountability. Customer-centric companies consistently strive to follow through with commitments. When they commit to things – they do them, no babysitting necessary. When they fail, they own it. They admit mistakes and oversights, and they identify a clear plan to do better in the future.

5. Agility. Customer-centric companies are nimble and able to quickly adapt to customers’ needs. They’re also willing to implement novel strategies to improve the customer experience. For example, they might use cultural index surveys to match employees and customers based on behavioral attributes to increase the effectiveness of communication. They provide leadership training and commit to ongoing professional development. They’re constantly brainstorming ways to be better and do better both for their own employees and the customers they serve.

Conclusion

In any industry, selecting a vendor/partner can be daunting. Every candidate has a value proposition and some will say whatever it takes to get your business. If you are having trouble sorting through the noise, consider asking these questions:

  • How do you build trust with clients?
  • How do you approach client partnership and collaboration?
  • How will you help us meet our short- and long-term goals?
  • What is your process to ensure accountability?

Their answers may surprise you, and they’ll bring you one step closer to making an informed decision. And don’t forget to ask for specific examples and references to validate their answers.

How Vatica can help

When health plans partner with Vatica Health, they ensure a comprehensive, collaborative, and results-oriented prospective risk adjustment program that’s a win-win for everyone – health plans, physicians, and  patients. 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.    

Why PCP-centric risk adjustment and quality programs help identify and address social determinants of health

The data might surprise you. Medical care accounts for only 10%-20% of the modifiable contributors to healthy outcomes. The other 80%-90% are referred to as social determinants of health (SDOH)—the conditions in the environments where people are born, grow, live, learn, work, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.  Examples of social determinants include housing and economic stability, literacy skills, access to nutritious food and physical activity opportunities, and more.

By identifying and addressing SDOH, physicians—especially primary care physicians (PCP)—can aid in removing the barriers and challenges that impede a person’s healthy lifestyle, wellbeing, and ability to achieve positive health outcomes. Identifying and documenting SDOH not only helps drive actions to improve these conditions, but also positively impacts performance in value-based payment models such as accountable care organizations, patient-centered medical homes, and Medicare Shared Savings programs that reward providers based on health outcomes—not volume.

In addition, PCPs’ efforts to address social determinants counts toward medical-decision making under fee-for-service payment models. As these payment models continue to evolve, it becomes easier to justify whole-person, patient-centered care.

Taking a PCP-centric approach

PCPs are uniquely positioned to capture and address social determinants because they already have trusted relationships with their patients and can engage them on a personal level. They are also at the center of clinical care, public health, behavioral health, and community-based resources.

Every touchpoint with a patient presents an opportunity to identify, capture, and address these critical factors that impact health outcomes.  Annual wellness visits, for example, are a perfect time to address SDOH.  Seizing these opportunities is paramount because a patient’s social or economic status can change over time. For example, opportunities for good health can be constrained after a recent job loss; or a patient may move into an area that is considered a food desert, making healthy food options highly impractical.

The challenge: Operational limitations

Most PCPs know that social determinants play an important role in health outcomes, yet finding ways to identify and impact these determinants is a challenge. Most patients aren’t necessarily forthcoming with information. Even once identified, carving out time to engage patients in meaningful conversations can be daunting. Another challenge is identifying and addressing implicit bias that can thwart efforts to address SDOH. In addition, physicians must be able to connect patients  community resources.

Given these obstacles, it’s not surprising that there are countless missed opportunities to address social determinants. This dynamic is exacerbated by PCP burnout and PCPs lacking the tools and resources to effectively address SDOH.

The solution: A health plan-sponsored, PCP-centric risk adjustment and quality programs

Over the last several years, health plans have shifted resources toward PCP-centric solutions, especially in the case of coding and quality programs. This represents an important trend for physicians, as legacy risk adjustment programs work around PCPs and prevent them from closing care gaps and addressing SDOH. Because PCPs have an existing and trusted relationship with their patients, such programs have much higher engagement than in-home risk assessments.

Another important development has centered around the recognition that technology alone doesn’t solve these problems. Infrastructure augmentation, especially support from licensed clinical consultants, is critical to helping busy PCPs develop a comprehensive view of the patient. This serves as a catalyst for an open discussion about possible social determinants of health that may be impacting their health and quality of life.

In addition, PCP-centric programs can offer guidance and support on establishing  a team-based approach to screen for social determinants. For example, onsite RNs, LPNs, or PAs can ask patients about their social determinants while checking vital signs and alert PCPs when a deeper conversation about social determinants is warranted. Receptionists can distribute SDOH screenings tools upon check-in. Everyone within the practice plays a role of driving engagement and results.

Training is also critical. PCPs who undergo training to address implicit bias will be better equipped to have conversations about SDOH. PCPs must also be able to deliver strong, personalized messages about preferred community resources and follow up with patients to ensure they are getting the help they need. Training the entire team on implicit bias, health equity, and cultural proficiency is also a good idea.

Conclusion

A health plan-sponsored program that supports physicians with tools, clinical resources and financial incentives enables PCPs to identify and address SDOH without adding operational burden. PCPs are empowered to treat each patient holistically to improve outcomes in a cost efficient manner. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/provider/.

Unlocking value-based care performance with improved coding and documentation

The transition to value-based care is underway, but many PCPs lack the tools, resources, and expertise to thrive in these new arrangements. For physicians, an essential element of success is being able to accurately assess and report a patient’s clinical needs so that value-based payments will align with the necessary care delivered to that individual. Unfortunately, diagnostic coding with appropriate specificity and quality reporting is labor-intensive and is predicated on a complex set of rules, which frequently become a stumbling block for practices.  This dynamic creates a powerful inertia, which can be overcome by understanding the ramifications of inaction and the availability of effective solutions.

Why is documentation so important?

Provider organizations—through their documentation—tell their patients’ stories using the ‘language’ of ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes. Robust documentation and coding provide a comprehensive view of the patient, driving better and more cost-effective care. If documentation is incomplete, patients may not get the necessary care and practices can incur significant shortfalls in revenue.  As a result, high quality coding and documentation is no longer just a good practice, but an indispensable element of value-based care success.  

 The Financial Impact of Accurate Documentation & Code Capture

The example below illustrates how no or partial coding by a physician can result in $15,000 difference in payment under the CMS-HCC model based on whether the provider captures these four diagnoses with maximum specificity: Type 2 diabetes mellitus with a manifestation of stage IV chronic kidney disease, long-term insulin use, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Improving Coding and Documentation Without Burdening Physicians

According to a 2021 national survey conducted by Medscape that included more than 12,000 physicians across 29 different specialties, 42% of physicians report feeling burned out.

Interestingly, 79% of physicians said this burnout started before the current COVID-19 pandemic with the majority (58%) citing ‘too many bureaucratic tasks’ as the number one reason.  This presents a challenging dilemma as business leaders for health systems and physician practices have to balance the reality of physician burnout with the necessity of improved documentation and coding.

Fortunately, there are solutions that drive improved financial and clinical performance without burdening physicians and their staff. Vatica Health is one example. Vatica takes a physician-centric perspective, focusing on minimizing the amount of time and effort required of physicians. Vatica uses a combination of powerful technology along with clinical and administrative resources dedicated to practices.  Organizations participating in Vatica’s program realize incremental revenue, better outcomes, increases in the utilization of preventive health encounters (e.g., Annual Wellness Visits), and improvement in overall performance in value-based care arrangements.

Learn how to maximize revenue and results for your organization

A new paradigm in risk adjustment – a shift from collecting codes to impacting care

Development of risk adjustment strategies is often complex and involves input from stakeholders across multiple cross-functional teams. Quality, finance, compliance, operations, and other teams are all stakeholders in the decision-making process. Managed care organizations strive to deploy effective, comprehensive risk adjustment solutions which requires taking into account a number of considerations: effectiveness, regulatory compliance, and patient and provider satisfaction.

When considering the various options available to health plans, there is an emerging trend to shift from retrospective and home assessments to PCP-centric prospective programs. There are a few reasons for this change. 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. The ability to impact outcomes, at the point of care, is powerful.

In contrast, legacy models have very little impact on care and outcomes.  Retrospective review programs deploy teams of coders to review charts and capture codes after the patient encounter has occurred. This backward-looking approach is not only abrasive and disruptive to providers, it is also ineffective in terms of impact on quality of care and patient outcomes.

Home assessments, while prospective in nature, are abrasive and invasive to patients. They are performed by clinicians that typically do not have an existing relationship with patients and do not have access to the EMR where the most valuable clinical information is stored. Furthermore, continuity and coordination of care is often non-existent in that follow-up care is not guaranteed. In fact, a September 2020 report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) expressed this key takeaway: “Billions in estimated risk-adjusted payments supported solely through HRAs [health risk assessments] raise concerns about the completeness of the payment data, validity of diagnoses on HRAs, and quality of care coordination for beneficiaries.”

The shift from antiquated programs that simply center around collecting codes to PCP-centric initiatives has been accelerated by certain actions and comments made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Beginning in 2017, CMS began to gradually revise its methodology for calculating beneficiary risk scores to increasingly rely on encounter data. By 2022, the expectation is that the Part C risk score would rely entirely on encounter data. The benefit of encounter data is that it validates the source of the data to ensure that it appropriately meets program requirements. Said differently, validation of treating providers, type, and place of service. These requirements are best addressed through the use of prospective risk adjustment programs.

CMS officials have also been critical of home assessments, previously stating the following: “There appears to be little evidence that beneficiaries’ primary care providers actually use the information collected in these assessments or that the care subsequently provided to beneficiaries is substantially changed or improved as a result of the assessments. Therefore, we continue to be concerned that in-home enrollee risk assessments primarily serve as a vehicle for collecting diagnoses for payment rather than serve as an effective vehicle to improve follow-up care and treatment for beneficiaries.”

In limited circumstances retrospective chart review and in-home assessment programs may be considered as part of an overall risk adjustment portfolio. However, such programs must be carefully and thoroughly evaluated and should only be utilized to address situations where an in-office prospective program is not a viable option.

A well-designed health plan-sponsored risk adjustment program should be easy to implement and very beneficial to PCPs. To do so requires a combination of powerful technology and comprehensive in-office support that seamlessly integrates with physician workflows. It also requires documentation and coding validation and provider education. When health plans and providers partner on risk adjustment and quality programs, great things happen: superior RAF yield, enhanced provider satisfaction that drives revenue and VBC performance, and better clinical outcomes.

Shifting from retrospective to prospective risk adjustment: Why health plans need to partner directly with primary care physicians

Health plans across the country have begun to realize the superior value of prospective risk adjustment programs, and rightfully so. These programs permit impact at the point of care as opposed to retrospective programs which are essentially chart reviews. Prospective risk adjustment programs permit timely, effective interventions including the presentation of suspected gaps in care and the opportunity to achieve thorough and accurate documentation, which supports conditions coded to the highest degree of specificity. Conversely, backward looking retrospective risk adjustment programs limit effectiveness to code capture. A risk adjustment program which only consists of retrospective chart reviews is myopic in that it does not support the outcomes-driven, population health management focus which is now inherent in most payment models.

You may be asking yourself which one is the optimal approach to risk adjustment?  The answer: an effective mix of all of the above, but most importantly, primary care physician (PCP) engagement. A winning risk adjustment strategy is heavily weighted towards prospective interventions and programs but may need to include some retrospective elements to meet physicians’ needs. Prospective programs, while more operationally complex to deliver, are preferred because the ability to impact behavior, at the point of care, is powerful and has significant cascading effects, including higher overall value, return on investment and reduced compliance risk. When coupled with PCP engagement, prospective risk adjustment can be the most effective method for obtaining comprehensive insight into the disease burden of your member population. Prospective risk adjustment also enables forecasting the cost of care for your Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and Commercial lines of business.

PCP engagement is the key to success across all risk adjustment strategies, especially Prospective programs. PCP engagement improves care delivery and closes gaps in care by leveraging a proactive approach which provides clinical and administrative support, education, and performance management in a timely manner.

The challenge: Finding a prospective risk adjustment program that actually engages PCPs.

Ideally, health plans and physicians would collaborate to reduce costs and improve health, quality, and outcomes. Additionally, members would self-advocate and proactively schedule preventive and wellness visits. Unfortunately, true engagement among all stakeholders in the healthcare continuum is rare and difficult to attain. Physician engagement requires timely, ongoing support. It is essential to augment practices with dedicated clinical resources who curate information to save the physician time by streamlining coding and surfacing gaps in care that require consideration at the time of the encounter. Furthermore, support staff who provide insights on performance and drive physician engagement, are critical to success. Successful programs supply expertly trained people, easy to use technology, turnkey processes, and aligned financial incentives to achieve, and maintain, physician engagement. Lastly, member engagement is also an important piece of the puzzle. Physicians are more likely to engage in programs that drive material clinical improvements for their patients, such as improved outcomes and quality of life.

How Vatica Health can help: Aligning all stakeholders around a common goal

Vatica Health is a compliance-first organization that enables a physician-centric approach to risk adjustment and clinical quality. We pair expert clinical teams with cutting-edge technology to work with physicians at the point of care. Vatica Health synthesizes EMR and health plan data to create the most comprehensive and complete view of each patient. It also provides comprehensive PCP training as well as 100% clinical coding validation. All unsubstantiated codes are deleted prior to submission of the Vatica record to the health plan sponsor.

Advantages of partnering with Vatica Health:

  1. Our licensed registered nurses and administrative staff are dedicated to providing the absolutely best experience for PCPs and their office staff.
  2.  Our attention to documentation and coding validation (Vatica’s Quality Improvement process) improves accuracy and reduces compliance risk.
  3. Vatica’s clinical and administrative staff work closely with each practice to develop a custom workflow and process until we achieve the ideal state that yields the most results with the least amount of effort for the physicians.

When health plans partner with Vatica Health, they ensure a comprehensive, collaborative, and prospective risk adjustment program that’s a win-win for everyone, including patients. To learn more, visit https://vaticahealth.com/.

Documentation, coding, and revenue: What every physician needs to know about HCCs and risk adjustment

Every patient has a story. The question is, are you—as the provider—telling the most important aspects of it, or are you missing critical details? We’re talking about the details that affect the patient’s health status and predict the resources required to care for them—two pieces of information that play a critical role in risk-adjusted payment models. Here are five questions and answers to consider.

Why does provider documentation matter for risk adjustment?

The provider—through their documentation—tells the patient’s story using the ‘language’ of ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes. Together, these codes create a narrative that includes important diagnostic information. When combined with demographic data and other details, the patient’s health status becomes clearer. Without this narrative, the story is disjointed, confusing, or lost completely. Health plans, CMS, and other treating providers can’t connect the dots when there are only a few dots to connect, or worse yet, a blank page.

If your documentation doesn’t support the ICD-10-CM codes you’ve assigned—or you omit certain codes because no documentation exists—your revenue under value-based contracts could suffer. 

Why does coding matter for risk adjustment?

If your coded data indicates subpar performance or that you haven’t met certain performance thresholds, you could be missing out on revenue. Inadequate coding (i.e., missing codes or lack of specificity) also often leads to time-consuming onerous retrospective chart retrieval and reviews as well as compliance risks.

For patients, lack of appropriate ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes can result in poor coordination of care. This is true under all payment models—not just risk-adjusted ones. That’s because documentation and coding are the primary means of communication between care teams. In addition, patients may be omitted from beneficial care management, disease intervention, and other wellness programs if the coded data associated with their records is inaccurate or incomplete. Strong documentation, combined with appropriate ICD-10-CM coding, provides a comprehensive view of the patient. This ultimately helps control the cost of care.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) risk adjustment model.

Not every ICD-10-CM diagnosis code affects risk adjustment under the CMS model. That’s because this payment model excludes diagnoses that are vague/nonspecific (e.g., symptoms), discretionary in medical treatment or coding (e.g., osteoarthritis), not medically significant (e.g., muscle strain), or transitory/definitively treated (e.g., appendicitis).

In the CMS model, those conditions that do affect risk adjustment (which are roughly 10,000 out of 70,000+ diagnoses) are grouped into approximately 1,300 diagnostic groups (DXG) that are then aggregated into condition categories (CC). CCs are related clinically and with respect to cost. Hierarchies are imposed among related condition categories. This mean that a patient is coded for only the most severe manifestation among related diseases. Hence the term ‘hierarchical condition categories’ or HCC. HCCs accumulate among unrelated diseases, and the model accounts for interactions between certain conditions for which costs can be exacerbated, (e.g., diabetes and congestive heart failure).

HCCs paint a complete picture of each beneficiary’s acuity to ensure appropriate and accurate reimbursements, effectively managing costs for high-risk members and delivering high-quality care.

Check out the example below that illustrates a $15,000 difference in payment under the CMS-HCC model based on whether the provider captures these four diagnoses with maximum specificity: Type 2 diabetes mellitus with a manifestation of stage IV chronic kidney disease, long-term insulin use, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Impact of Accurate Documentation & Code Capture

What are some documentation and coding best practices for busy physicians?

Consider these tips:

  1. Perform a valid face-to-face encounter. As a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, synchronous audio and video appointments are, for the time being, acceptable for the purposes of risk adjustment.  
  2. Use the ‘MEAT’ acronym as a best practice guide for documentation:
    • Monitor: Document signs and symptoms as well as any disease progression or regression. Don’t forget to evaluate chronic conditions at least once annually. Also, avoid use of ‘history of’ if the condition remains active.
    • Evaluate: For example, document test results, medication effectiveness, and response to treatment.
    • Assess: For example document any of the following, when relevant: Ordering of tests, discussion, reviewing records, and counseling. Copying and pasting the entire problem list into the assessment and plan is unacceptable.
    • Treat: For example, document any medications ordered, therapies, or other modalities.
  3. Link diagnoses with manifestations using a linking statement or other document.
  4. Add all diagnosed conditions to both the chronic problem list and assessment.
  5. Submit all relevant ICD-10 diagnosis codes, including Z codes.
  6. Ensure the medical record includes a legible signature with name, date, and credentials.
  7. Ensure the diagnoses being billed match the actual medical record documentation.
  8. Always remember the golden rule of medical record documentation: If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.

How can physicians minimize compliance risk and benefit from risk-adjustment programs?

One way to minimize risk and to actually increase revenue is to participate in a health plan-sponsored risk adjustment program that helps providers tell the patient’s story as accurately and completely as possible—all while minimizing the impact on staff and internal processes.