Tag: coding

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.

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/.