How important is health IT as a care coordination tool? Increasingly, the answer is "critical."
How important is health IT as a care coordination tool?
For starters, consider the Chronic Care Management initiative launched by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the start of 2015. CCM reimburses physicians for non-face-to-face care coordination services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
And according to Arthur Polin, MD, medical director, Florida Hospital North Pinellas, you can’t engage in that initiative without health IT.
“We have to document that we’ve spent at least 20 minutes with each of these patients each month in coordination of care,” Polin explains. “So, if you’ve got hundreds of patients here that you’re dealing with, and if you don’t have a system to track that and record that, you’re just going to get lost in the woods.”
Nevertheless, a recent survey of clinicians published online in the May/June issue of the Annals of Family Medicine indicates that health IT-enabled care coordination leaves much to be desired.
The survey says …
The survey indicates that although 78% of the 350 respondents see timely notification of hospital discharges as being very important, less than half (49%) use health IT to accomplish this task.
In comparison, survey respondents noted that they are using health IT to provide clinical summaries to patients in 76.6% of practices—though they still don’t consider the activity very important.
Christina Slade, vice president, product management-cross platform solutions for Greenway Health, a leading provider of health information technology, says the reason for that discrepancy is simple—literally.
“It’s very easy to provide clinical summaries,” she explains. “Any time you have to work with multiple parties to achieve an interface, there’s time and money in that. It creates a barrier for adoption. It’s all about making [the health IT] as easy to use as possible, and being able to provide value for the cost.”
Easy-to-Use Health IT
Polin, an early adopter of the new CCM program, has learned through trial and error the value of health IT tools. When he first ventured into the uncharted waters of the CCM program, he thought, “Hey, I don’t need to spend the money. I know how to work an Excel spreadsheet.”
That approach, he says, “lasted about a day before I threw my arms up.”
Now Polin is using mobile health technology from North Carolina-based Smartlink Mobile to meet the CMM program’s electronic requirements. He says the tool is so user-friendly and intuitive he needed only 30 minutes to figure out how it works.
“It has a very, very shallow learning curve,” he says. “In addition to addressing all of CMS’s electronic requirements for CCM on a single platform, Smartlink Mobile makes it easy to track out patients and run the program as efficiently as possible.”
Slade echoes those thoughts, from the health IT provider perspective.
“We want to make sure that we’re bringing information back into the system, and making sure that at the point of care providers have access to a patient’s status,” Slade says. “It’s really about making sure that people can have the data they need when need it, and being able to make it fit within their workflows and interfaces.”
Polin says the financial impact and benefit of using health IT to coordinate care, especially with the CCM program, “can be substantial.”
Slade agrees. She says using health IT tools enable physicians to keep better records, which leads to better care. And when you have better care, you have better outcomes. Which in turn leads to lower costs associated with readmission and thus better financial outcomes for the practice.
“With the Chronic Care Management initiative, if you spend 20 minutes with a patient coordinating their care each month, you can bill CMS over $40 per month,” Slade says. “So, $40 per patient per month to coordinate that care is a pretty good incentive for a practice.”
Using health IT tools, Slade says practices can input information from hospitals into their system that can help reduce readmission rates. Practices will know which patients they need to follow up with following a discharge, and make certain the patients are compliant with their care plans.
“There are pretty sizable penalties for readmission with a certain time period,” she says. “I think that’s certainly something that can improve the financial health of a practice.”
There are financial benefits, too, for practices participating in risk programs, where healthcare savings are being shared across certain patient populations.
“By identifying the patients who are at most risk, the highest risk, the ones you really need to be spending more time with, you can improve the overall health of your patient population,” Slade says. “And by doing that you’ll also reduce the cost of care associated with that.”