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Healthcare IT Trends to Watch, Week of 4/30 – 5/4, 2012

Each day at Schwartz MSL, the Healthcare IT Practice shares news items on not only the latest industry trends, such as population health, ACOs, virtualization and EHRs, but also hard-pressing issues such as the rise in obesity and its impact on healthcare costs, what worries C-level executives, and how to curb wasteful spending in healthcare. Here are highlights from last week’s news stories:

Sharon Begley at Reuters starts us off with “As American’s Waistline Expands, Costs Soar.” It’s no surprise that the nation’s rate of obesity has risen considerable.  Businesses, governments and individuals are now coming to grips with the costs of those extra pounds. The additional medical spending due to obesity is double previous estimates and exceeds even those of smoking, a new study shows.

Annie Lowrey’s article in the New York Times titled, “In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending is Flattening Out,” might be misleading. In it, she reports that the growth of health spending has slowed substantially in the last few years, surprising experts and offering some fuel for optimism about the federal government’s long-term fiscal performance.  The growth rate mostly slowed as millions of Americans lost insurance coverage along with their jobs. Worried about job security, others may have feared taking time off work for doctor’s visits or surgical procedures, or skipped non-urgent care when money was tight. Is this a good thing?

“As healthcare shifts to a model emphasizing more accountable care, technology will be an indispensable part of the equation, according to a report unveiled this week by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2),” writes FierceHealthIT’s Sara Jackson in “Technology key to population health management, ACO maturation.” The report, "Population Health Management: A Roadmap for Provider-based Automation in a New Era of Healthcare," details the ways in which providers must embrace technology, and leverage it for increased efficiencies and improved outcomes.

Who better to discuss “What keeps a hospital CIO up at night” than John Halamka, MD. From old Internet browsers and public facing websites to forensics and third-party desktop software, he lists his “top risks for 2012” in the blog.

A question that everyone is asking is, “Do I really need this, doc?” MarketWatch’s Kristen Gerencher offers interesting facts and commentary about how asking a few key questions at your next appointment could save you both money and exposure to medical risks. To curb wasteful medical spending and to protect people from potentially dangerous overtreatment, nine medical-specialty societies representing 374,000 physicians recently recommended that doctors “go slow” in some cases instead of reaching for the tools they’ve become accustomed to grabbing right away.

In his article, “GAO: CMS needs better EHR incentive program requirements,” Jeff Byers of CMIO magazine reports that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) EHR incentive programs are currently lacking certain efficiencies to verify that providers meet the designated requirements, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

If you didn’t catch it last month in Health Data Management, Deborah Hirsch wrote in, “Adoption of Electronic Health Records Still Far from Universal” about the chasm between physicians who intend to apply for electronic health records (EHR) meaningful use incentive payments and the ability of their systems to actually comply with the requirements. The study, which was published in Health Affairs, found that 91 percent of almost 4,000 surveyed physicians were eligible for Medicare or Medicaid meaningful use programs, and 51 percent intended to apply.

Health plan executives have kicked healthcare care reform into gear. In this article titled, “Health Plans Ramp up for Healthcare Reform,” Dick Tocknell of HealthLeaders Media spoke with Infosys Public Services, which released survey findings on how health plans are progressing in the implementation of healthcare reform. More than 80% of plans say they are already implementing some type of reform measures or plan to implement them this year. The remainder says they are in the planning stages.

“With the future of the health reform law in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, a majority of hospitals and health systems are anticipating a drop in revenue as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” reports Kelsey Brimmer in Healthcare Payer News. The article titled, “Many hospitals anticipate dropped revenue due to ACA,” refers to a survey from healthcare compliance and benefits management firm, HighRoads, and national healthcare compensation consultant, Sullivan Cotter, stating that 55 percent of hospitals anticipate a drop in revenue, 12 percent anticipate an increase in revenue and 28 percent report that they don’t yet know the impact that the ACA will have on revenues. The survey, called "Employee Benefit Practices in Hospitals and Health Systems", was conducted between November 2011 and January 2012.

And you thought the term, “Location! Location! Location!’ was only for real estate. Apparently, it also pertains to Accountable Care Organizations. In his article, “ACO Payments May Hinge More on Geography than Quality,” John Commins of HealthLeaders Media reports on a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggests that the shared-savings payments that participating providers receive in the Medicare Pioneer and Shared Savings ACO programs might be more dependent upon geography than performance. 

Lucas Mearian at Computerworld weighed in on health information exchanges (HIE) in this piece, &ldqu
o;Feds outline plans for electronic exchange of patient information.” In it, he cites Claudia Williams, director of the State HIE Program at the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, who said the public process to establish standards for HIEs will begin "very soon" after the comment period ends for Phase 2 rules for meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). That comment period ends May 7. The ONC will first publish a request for information, followed by a notice of proposed rule-making and then a final rule.”

Did you know that rising healthcare costs, which have been tracking at two to three times inflation, are making Medicare and Medicaid entitlements financially unsustainable? As a consequence, the U.S. is now spending nearly double what other industrial nations spend on healthcare. As of 2008, American healthcare spending had surpassed $2.3 trillion. And with any burgeoning trend,  health reform has introduced an avalanche of new acronyms  and buzzwords to the industry, such as MLR (medical loss ratio), Episodic Payment Model and Cadillac Tax. Thomson Reuters has published a new report titled, “Vocabulary of Healthcare Reform,” to help you figure it all out. In addition, Health Data Management offers a nifty slide show and posts the URL of the report.

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Davida Dinerman

Davida Dinerman

Account Director at MSLGROUP

A member of MSLGROUP since 1996, Davida has been entrenched in the agency’s healthcare IT and tech practice groups. She earned her MBA from Babson College and her BA degree from Dartmouth College.

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