As I work closely with many healthcare professionals, I am hearing all the latest and greatest (and usually false) rumors about Covid-19.
The latest one is of special importance to independent healthcare providers, many of whom are turning to telehealth sessions during shutdowns to help enforce social distancing. There is a rumor going around, especially on social media, that the government has essentially suspended all HIPAA privacy rules and is allowing all forms of communication for telehealth sessions. This is simply untrue. To read the full, official statement, please click here (link to HHS.gov article).
In a nutshell, it says this: yes, as of this past week, the government will be temporarily suspending enforcement and fines for some non-compliant platforms, but not all of them, including FB Live, Twitch, and other public platforms.
However, we are advising clients, prospects, and all providers we know to be careful about employing non-compliant platforms, even in light of the new, temporary waivers. We have four main reasons for issuing this advice:
1) Privacy rules are in place to protect patients, and our ethical duty to do that does not end just because we (temporarily) cannot be fined for failing to do so. Applications like Facebook Messenger, consumer-edition Skype, and FaceTime are not subject to BAAs and you (and by extension your patients) are therefore not protected in case of breach. Indeed, the HHS statement underscores your responsibility as a provider to protect your patients' privacy even in the temporary absence of enforcement. And you must be cautious of even HIPAA-compliant teleconferencing applications that are not telehealth-specific, as the security nightmare with Zoom has shown us.
2) From an operational point of view, consumer applications like FaceTime are not optimal, since they are not integrated into a practice's workflows and have no functionality to help with things like scheduling. A robust telehealth platform like EMRx's, by contrast, is simply another feature in an overall patient portal that allows you and your patients to manage the entire interaction, from setting the appointment to holding the secure, HIPAA-compliant telehealth session, to having the patients pay their co-pay/fees, to following up with messaging/labs/notes/prescribing (as applicable). Burnout among healthcare professionals was already high before this crisis; let's not make it even worse by forcing staff to jump through extra hoops by using applications that sit entirely outside their workflows.
However, we understand that in the middle of a crisis, practices that do not already have an EMR with telehealth may not have the time and resources to make that switch. That's why we also offer a standalone telehealth application that is true telemedicine, not simply a video chat tool. Our platform- and vendor-agnostic Blum Telehealth is the first Bluetooth-enabled telemedicine app, allowing physicians to monitor vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure, and even to look into patients' eyes and ears.
3) From a best-practice point of view, we do not recommend that practices get in the habit of using non-compliant platforms. Sooner or later (and quite likely sooner), HHS will rescind the enforcement waiver. So we recommend asking yourself this: were you aware of the HHS article above? Possibly. Also quite likely you were not, given how chaotic everything has been. So will you be equally unaware when the rescission of the waivers is published? HIPAA fines range anywhere from $100 to $50,000 per violation. That's a lot of long-term downside risk to save very little money in the short term.
4) We all need to start thinking about the "New Normal." Practices of almost every kind are under tremendous financial strain thanks to this crisis. And let's face it, with all the rules, regulations, bureaucracy, paperwork, bad technology, and the constant insurance company push-back on claims, it was already a challenge to be an independent provider to begin with. For example, on average, the insurance companies make practices resubmit one out of every three claims at least once, with an average re-work/re-submission cost of $25 a claim. We are projecting those rejection rates to climb in the months to come as insurance companies scramble to cut their losses from Covid-19 coverage. (That's a polite way of saying they are going to try and claw back as much as possible from you, the healthcare providers.) We broach this in the context of these temporary enforcement waivers because we are concerned that the waivers represent a bad opportunity for many independent practices to delay making the changes they already needed to make to stay financially viable in the long term. Practices that fail to adapt to the New Normal, practices that were already under pressure to begin with, are going to struggle to stay afloat if they do not act now.
In summary, please be careful about the decisions you make regarding telehealth, and be sure to consider those decisions in the larger context of your practice's long-term health. Reach out to us today and we can get you up and running on a safe, fully compliant teleheatlh platform at a reasonable cost and in a very short time frame. And if you need the standalone application, we are pleased to offer that free of charge until September 13, 2020, or the end of the pandemic, whichever comes first. (For other ways we are helping out with the Covid Pandemic, please see our official response statement.)
In closing, a heartfelt thank-you to everyone in the medical and mental health community. Your dedication during this dark time for our country is an inspiration and gives us all hope. Please stay safe!
Covid-19, the deadly and highly contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was first reported late last year, has already tested our country’s healthcare delivery system, and it is almost certainly not even close to peaking yet as of this writing. Here at Fast Layne Solutions, we are, as always, focused on how to help small- to medium-sized independent medical practices, so this blog post outlines our response, including our advice and the steps we intend to take to help our clients and our country. It will be updated as events unfold and as we add more measures.
Let’s start with social distancing. It is absolutely vital that we minimize human-to-human contact to stem the spread of the virus. For any medical procedure that does not require in-person consultation, we strongly recommend e-visits, aka telehealth. If your office is not already equipped to do telehealth visits, please contact us. For the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are waiving much of the implementation cost for our clients and, for qualifying practices, will amortize the rest over one year. We can get practices set up on telehealth extremely quickly and we have two versions: one is embedded into the patient portal that we provide with our EMRx and Revenue Cycle Management offering (see iClaim below), while the other is a standalone app that is Bluetooth-enabled and vendor/platform-agnostic and can be rolled out in a matter of days. In either case, with just a few clicks, you can be seeing a patient anywhere in a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment. (Because Apple will not sign a BAA, FaceTime, for example, is not compliant. Do not make that risky and potentially expensive mistake. Please see our statement on the HIPAA telehealth enforcement waivers for more information.) In the embedded version, in the same portal where you hold the telehealth session, your patients can make appointments and even pay for their visits, as well as message your office, review their records, and check lab results.
Another way your office can facilitate social distancing is to get rid of the old practice of having patients arrive early to fill out paperwork. Using our portal, patients fill in their paperwork online in advance, and your office staff see it as highlighted entries ready for them to check and confirm before making them permanent entries into the patients’ records. As noted above, that same portal can also minimize face-to-face interactions by facilitating online payments, scheduling, records and results retrievals, and messaging.
Now we need to discuss an unpleasant topic, doctors and practice administrators. The insurance companies have waived certain co-pays related directly to testing, but this will not impact any other costs to patients, including actual treatment. Independent doctors already struggle with denials, claim rejections, and outstanding patient debt even at the best of times. During this crisis, those problems will only grow. So let’s look at how we can use technology to minimize the impact on your practice so that you can continue serving your patients:
Technology has an important role to play in this crisis, and we are ready to help you implement it quickly and efficiently to minimize negative outcomes for both you and your patients. And to help even more, we will be offering all the basic features of our standalone telehealth app free of charge until the pandemic is over or until September 13 2020, whichever comes first.
To further assist doctors and their patients at this difficult time, Fast Layne Solutions is also offering a monthly 5% rebate to any of our clients who are in a position to offer medical care to uninsured patients, in order to help them defray those costs. This offer remains in effect until the pandemic is declared over in the United States.
For the duration of the crisis, we will also be donating 5% of our clients’ monthly invoices to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Covid-19 Response Fund. We will also be earmarking 5% of all 2020 corporate profits for Covid-19 relief.
We want to close by thanking our tireless and brave healthcare workers who will be on the front line in the battle against Covid-19. You are our heroes and America’s best hope.
Last week, we talked about the challenges facing a fictional doctor, Dr. Janelle Smith, a young endocrinologist trying to serve the South Side of Chicago as an independent practitioner. When we left off, she was facing an impossible choice: stay in her private practice but barely scrape by, or join a large hospital and let go of her dream to serve her community. But it's a false choice, because all those problems we described actually have solutions.
Let’s take her EHR. Her total annual costs, including maintenance, updates, and training, for her current system exceed $25,000 for the practice. And that’s just what she pays to her provider. What she’s not capturing in that figure is the value of the time wasted by her and her PA due to how complicated and user-unfriendly her system is. So she sits down and runs the numbers: she and her PA are averaging 10 minutes per patient encounter and they see 40 patients a day. To her horror, she realizes that almost an entire headcount is dedicated just to charting. But a tablet-optimized, Cloud-based EHR like NextGen’s EMRx costs a fraction of that, and because it was designed by doctors, it’s intended to get doctors through the charting process as quickly as possible, in an average of just two minutes per encounter. Her first year savings alone are going to be almost $10,000 just for the software, and it leads to productivity gains equating to getting ⅔ of a new headcount for free. She almost has enough to add a second PA and expand her practice. And she’s just getting started.
Now let’s look at her overhead. She has a staff of five, including herself. Of those, three produce no revenue whatsoever and are not involved in providing care to her patients. They spend their days in purely administrative tasks, as noted above. But how much of that work is even necessary? Very little of it. With a full-feature practice and revenue cycle management suite, claims are generated automatically based on the integrated EHR, and reviewed by experts who handle claims for many offices, getting her practice out of the billing and claims business. (Any self-pay bills can be printed with a push of a button.) And because those claims are scrubbed by the advanced iClaim claims management system, the rejection rate is under 2%, and the payments hit Dr. Smith’s account within just a few days, thanks to the separate clearinghouse the system uses.
Patients can now fill out their paperwork in advance through the patient portal. They can also submit their medical records requests there, make appointments, and even pay their bills. And all benefits verifications are now automated and executed with the push of a single button when the patient checks in. And denials? A thing of the past thanks to a rigorous and automated verification system.
So the work of three staff who had been working 45-50 hours a week can now be done by two staff members working 40 hours a week. Now Dr. Smith has a receptionist/admin working no overtime and a far less stressed-out office manager working a normal schedule. Including overhead, salaries, and overtime, she is saving over $50,000 a year. That’s the rest of the money she needs to add that second PA or a nurse practitioner!
She also implements ChoicePay, cutting her credit card transaction fees to 1.79%, saving her money, allowing her to take payments online, and giving her a fully HIPAA-compliant merchant services solution that is seamlessly integrated with her billing system.
Her overall financial situation starts to improve dramatically as her AR days fall and she all but eliminates write-offs and bad patient debt caused by denials. Cash flow is excellent, with payments coming in within days of service provision. She’s no longer worried about making payroll. Her staff of five is now three healthcare providers, all of whom are caring for patients and generating revenue. She’s thriving. She’s able to dedicate more hours to her free clinic. She’s no longer living month to month; on the contrary, she’s making bold plans to expand to a second location.
As you look back through this scenario and consider the impact on the South Side, you can see the obvious benefits in terms of keeping quality care in the area and helping a local practice thrive. But you might have one concern. What about that biller? Yes, the practice still employs five people, but that biller is out of a job, and that isn’t good for the community. That’s why Fast Layne Solutions is proud to announce an initiative to create jobs in the communities we serve by training and equipping claims handlers in those neighborhoods. For example, we are committed to adding one new job for every five providers we serve on the South Side of Chicago. Note we’re saying providers, not clients, here. So a single office with, say, three doctors, one physician’s assistant, and one nurse practitioner would lead to a new job on the South Side. We will provide the training and the equipment, and the claims handlers can not only work from home, but also set their own hours, since we require only that a certain number of claims be processed within a given week. Think about what that means for, say, a single mother. Single mothers in economically vulnerable neighborhoods often struggle to find sustainable employment because working outside the home simply doesn’t pay once you account for childcare. But if you have a job that can be done from anywhere and at any time of day, you have the flexibility to earn a good living while still caring for your children.
The term “win/win” is thrown around a lot, but that’s truly what this is. We are giving practices the tools they need not just to survive but thrive in a challenging environment, while also creating new jobs in the community, jobs that involve highly valued, transferable skills.
Want to learn more? Email us today and let’s set up a free, no-obligation practice analysis. If we can’t prove that we’ll save you more than we will charge you, we just won’t ask for your business. It really is that simple.