How is population health affecting EHRs?

Ever since the HITECH Act passed several years ago, there has been a clear objective to improve population health standards, and health IT has been at the center of these goals. Not only are experts trying to find out the best ways to share data, but they are also determining how IT innovations like electronic health records can better serve patient populations.

There are several reasons the U.S. is making population health a priority. For one, it has the potential to reduce care costs. Predictive analytics can make it easier for physicians to prevent disease and avoid expensive treatments. Additionally, population health could improve care quality and clinical end results – creating a much more solvent, effective and expedient nationwide health system. Many stakeholders also believe that IT tools will work toward encouraging patients to become more engaged with their well-being.

"Predictive analytics make it easier to prevent disease."

Congress shows interest in making population health work
However, how do health experts, doctors, organizations, legislative bodies and patients accomplish this? For one, Congress has indicated that it is interested in patient data sharing and interoperable EHRs, according to Healthcare IT News, as it has asked the Office of the National Coordinator to report efforts made toward interoperability and data sharing. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office will also be expected to inform legislators about health information exchange. More recently, Congress has shown interest in the 21st Century Cures, which is a plan to help bills and laws keep the U.S. competitive worldwide when it comes to health IT innovation.

Organizations make a push for advanced EHRs
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' meaningful use program recently outlined the guidelines for stage 3, which aims at making EHRs much more technologically advanced. There is also a focus on making EHRs more efficient for specialty doctors, which is where innovations like Intelligent Medical Software templates can help. A focused EHR platform that addresses specific conditions and treatments not only helps patients, but it can also present more detailed data for reporting purposes.

Additionally, at the end of January, the Department of Health and Human Services released its Interoperability Roadmap, an expansive 10-year plan for optimizing the entire healthcare system with IT, including efforts in population health. All of these efforts stem from the fact that many Americans are suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes and coronary heart disease.

population health, medical software
Population health has become a major focus in health IT.

Research shows population health can work
There are also several studies showing how EHRs can help push interoperability and population health forward. For instance, in a 2015 study published in the journal Population Health Management, researchers from the New York University School of Medicine determined that "EHR networks offer the potential for almost real-time determination of the health status of populations in care, for targeting interventions to vulnerable populations, and for monitoring the impact of such initiatives over time." Additionally, the NYU analysts concluded that these results can be especially beneficial in ambulatory care settings where chronic conditions are commonly treated and monitored.

Another notable study published in Preventing Chronic Disease showed that EHR referrals connected communities to focus on diabetes prevention and helped individuals gain access to wholesome, healthy foods. Similarly, a 2014 study conducted by researchers at Columbia University explained that EHR interventions in population health could help discover gaps in clinical care for diabetes patients.

At a time when population health through predictive data analytics is gaining steam, it's crucial for providers to have the best possible EHR platform available. With IMS, doctors can rest assured that their systems are equipped to handle all of the reporting necessary to help promote population health efforts and interoperability. 

ICD-10 inches closer on the calendar for medical practices

Although ICD-10 was postponed by a full year in 2014, all signs indicate that the federal government will not delay the ICD-10 deadline of October 1, 2015.

Not everyone in the health care industry is thrilled with the switch, but the overall consensus is that the expansion of codes will allow physicians to get more specific with their reporting. This could be especially beneficial for specialty doctors, since ICD-9 didn't delve specifically into certain conditions. However, the coding update does require a substantial learning curve for many medical personnel, so it is important that your practice is prepared for the switch this fall.

"ICD-10 will have a direct impact on doctor payment practices."

AMA asks for ICD-10 grace period
The American Medical Association announced on June 8 that doctors will be asking for a two-year grace period following the switch in October. During the AMA's 2015 Annual Meeting, physicians associated with the organization passed policy that would allow for this period. During this time, the AMA wants the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to waive penalties following ICD-10 implementation.

Policy passed at the meeting also showed an interest in seeking data about how the ICD-10 might affect patient care quality in the future. Additionally, ICD-10 will have a direct impact on doctor payment practices, which is also causing some concern for medical professionals.

"The bottom line is that ICD-10 will increase the number of codes for diagnosis by 400 percent, which will significantly impact the time physicians want and need to provide the best care for their patients," said Dr. Russell W.H. Kridel, member of the AMA's Board of Trustees, in a statement. "This is a massive administrative and financial undertaking that may create widespread disruption to physician practices and ultimately will impact patients."

CMS: Second week of ICD-10 testing deemed a success
However, it looks like things might be looking up for the ICD-10 switch. The CMS recently released its data for the second week of testing, and they found it to be a success, according to the National Law Review. Over the course of the testing, the CMS looked at more than 23,000 test claims. Of these, 88 percent met the requirements of ICD-10 and were accepted, while only 2 percent were rejected due to an invalid submission.

This is an improvement from the first testing period, which happened in January. During this time, 81 percent of claims were processed successfully. The next testing period for ICD-10 is scheduled for July. 

Be sure to implement medical software designed for the upcoming ICD-10 switch.
Be sure to implement medical software designed for the upcoming ICD-10 switch.

Tips for ICD-10 transition
Although your practice could participate in the CMS' end-to-end testing program, there are other ways that medical providers can better prepare for the switch in October. According to ICD-10 Watch, practices might want to leave their appointment schedules open during the last week of September just so everyone in the practice has a week-long window to prepare for the switch.

Additionally, it might be a good idea for specialty practices to have a list of commonly used codes on hand to make the transition a little smoother. For example, an endocrinologist might want to have a work aid that indicates specific codes related to diabetes, a pediatrician will need to understand codes related to common children's illnesses like ear infections or asthma, and so on.

Bolstering your documentation efforts can also help during the ICD-10, which is why you need to be equipped with the best medical software possible. Having an electronic health record platform that is prepared to deal with ICD-10 codes can make administrative tasks much easier once the deadline approaches in October.