Winners and losers of the HHS interoperability final rule

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/ehrs/winners-and-losers-of-the-hhs-interoperability-final-rule.html?utm_medium=email

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HHS released its much-anticipated final rules on EHR interoperability, ruling against “information blocking” tactics by EHR vendors and giving patients more control over their medical records.

The new rule will be applied over the next two years and will make patient records downloadable to smartphones using consumer apps. Overall, members of the healthcare industry applaud these efforts to make patient information more accessible to improve healthcare delivery. However, there are privacy concerns around how patient data can be used once downloaded to third-party consumer apps that weren’t addressed in the final rule.

Here is a brief list of a few potential winners and losers of the new rule.

 

WINNERS

Patients. Patients now have more control over their medical records and will be able to access them through third-party apps for free, which will make it easier for them to take their medical records to new providers outside of their previous provider’s system. As a result, they will have more choice in where they go for healthcare.

Hospitals and physicians. The lengthy process of trying to convert a patient’s medical records will be unnecessary. Patients will no longer need to have their medical records faxed between healthcare facilities in different networks and the rule will streamline workflow around gathering patient data to provide the best possible care. Hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid will also be able to send electronic notifications to other facilities or providers when a patient is admitted, transferred or discharged under its new “Coordination of Participation” rule.

App developers and health IT startups. App developers that allow patients to store their health data and medical information will have access to that data, a virtual gold mine. The federal privacy protections limiting how providers and insurers share medical records do not apply when patients transfer data to consumer apps, according to the New York Times.

Apple and Microsoft. Healthcare providers will be required to send medical data in a format that is compatible on third-party apps including Apple Health Records. Microsoft is also working to sell technology in the health sector, and the new rule will make it easier, according to CNBC.

 

LOSERS

Patients. While the rule has many benefits to patients, there is also potential for disaster. Patients who download their medical information on consumer apps may find their information shared or sold. There could also be additional security issues if those apps are hacked. Finally, some patients may become confused by their medical records and notes if the information isn’t stated clearly, causing further anxiety around their care.

Hospitals and clinics. Patient leakage may become more common if it’s easier for patients to take their medical records with them. Healthcare organizations will also need to prepare for an influx of patient data and have strong governance procedures in place as they partner with payers and other organizations to incorporate clinical data with patient-gathered data and potentially social determinants of health data.

EHR vendors. EHR companies must now adopt application programming interfaces so their systems can communicate with third-party apps. EHR companies have two years to comply and face up to $1 million per violation for engaging in “information blocking.” The new focus on interoperability may also pave the way for competitors to gain market share over the two most dominant players, Epic and Cerner.

Epic. Epic was a notable opponent to the HHS interoperability rules, citing patient privacy concerns. If forced to collaborate with other companies, Epic could potentially lose its edge over competitors, according to an op-ed written by former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in the Wisconsin State Journal. He contended Epic would have to “give its trade secrets away to venture capitalists, Big Tech, Silicon Valley interests and overseas competitors for little or no compensation.” Epic is also the most dominant EHR, holding 28 percent of the acute care hospital market, which could be threatened by greater interoperability. However, in response to the final rule’s release, Epic issued a statement saying that it would focus on “standards-based scope for meaningful interoperability.”

 

Aetna draws criticism for automatic down-codes for office visits

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/aetna-draws-criticism-for-automatic-down-codes-for-office-visits.html?utm_medium=email

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Providers are concerned a new national policy from Aetna involving evaluation and management services will result in inappropriate down-codes.

Under the policy, Aetna will automatically down-code claims submitted for office visits or certain modifiers when the the insurer finds an “apparent overcode rate of 50 percent or higher.” The policy concerns office visits with the 99000 series of evaluation and management codes and the 92000 series of ophthalmologic examination codes, as well as modifiers 25 and 59, the American Optometric Association said in an advocacy post.

AOA said Aetna didn’t explain how an overcoding determination is made under the insurer’s algorithm, whether with or without medical record reviews.

“The AOA believes it is inappropriate to downcode such claims without first reviewing actual medical records and questions whether it complies with HIPAA; a variety of state laws related to fair, accurate and timely processing of claims; and Aetna’s contracts with patients and physicians alike,” the association said on its advocacy page.

Physicians can appeal down-coded claims through Aetna’s internal process.

In a statement to Becker’s Hospital Review, Aetna explained why it implemented the policy:

“We periodically review our claims data for correct coding and to implement programs that support nationally recognized and accepted coding policies and practices. Through a recent review, we identified healthcare providers across several specialties who are significant outliers with respect to coding practices. While we recognize that healthcare providers undoubtedly may have complex medical cases that are unique to their practice, this result is much higher than the average for physicians across most specialties.

“For this small, targeted group of healthcare providers, we will review their claims against [American Medical Association] and CMS coding guidelines. Based on that review, we may potentially adjust their payments if the information on the claim is not supported by the level of service documented in the medical record.”

 

Seattle Children’s sues to block release of health records; top official resigns

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/infection-control/seattle-children-s-sues-to-block-release-of-health-records-top-official-resigns.html?utm_medium=email

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Seattle Children’s Hospital has filed a lawsuit to block the release of health department records regarding mold at its facility, according to court documents cited by King 5. 

The hospital’s legal team filed an amended complaint in an attempt to block the release of state and county health records.

Documents previously released to the media through a public records request revealed a nearly 20-year history of Aspergillus mold in the air handling system of the hospital’s operating rooms.

Most recently, an infant at Seattle Children’s Hospital died Feb. 12 after she developed a mold-related infection acquired at the facility, the seventh mold-related death since 2001.

The health records sought by the media are “confidential and sensitive,” Adrian Urquhart Winder, attorney for Seattle Children’s, said, according to King 5. The attorney cited a state law that says records produced for quality improvement purposes cannot be publicly disclosed.

On Jan. 10, Mark Del Beccaro, MD, former CMO and senior vice president of Seattle Children’s Hospital, resigned, according to a hospital spokesperson. King 5 could not reach Dr. Del Beccaro for comment.

 

 

 

Federal investigators probe Ascension, Google project

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/cybersecurity/federal-investigators-probe-ascension-google-project.html

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The Office of Civil Rights of HHS is asking for more information about Google’s “Project Nightingale” with St. Louis-based Ascension, according to a Nov. 12 The Wall Street Journal report.

Investigators “will seek to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals’ medical records to ensure that HIPAA protections were fully implemented,” OCR Director Roger Severino told WSJ.

Ascension and Google partnered last year to gather and share patient information to create healthcare solutions. Physicians and patients from 21 Ascension locations were not informed that information was being shared with Google. It is estimated that Google will gather data on 50 million patients.

Patient data that is being secretly shared with Google includes lab results, diagnoses and hospitalization records, reports WSJ. In some instances, Google has access to patients’ complete health history, including names and dates of birth. 

Although Ascension employees have questioned the ethical and technological ways Google is gathering data, privacy experts said it appears to be acceptable under federal law. Hospitals are generally allowed to share data with business partners without informing patients if the information is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its healthcare functions.”

An Ascension spokesperson said patient data wouldn’t be used to sell ads, reports WSJ.

“We are happy to cooperate with any questions about the project. We believe Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations (including HIPAA) regarding patient data, and comes with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” a spokesperson for Google said in a statement to WSJ.

Legislators on Nov. 12 also commented on the project. Presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said that there needs to be government oversight for the amount of data Google is handling, adding there are “very few rules of the road in place regulating how it is collected and used.”

Google has mapped out plans to develop a search tool that would aggregate patient data into a central location. Ascension physicians would then be able to use the tool to more quickly access patient information.

Ascension leader Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president of strategy and innovations for Ascension, shared his reactions to the WSJ Nov. 11 report on Project Nightingale on Nov. 12. Find his commentary here.