Physician Practice

MIPS: The next frontier in health information technology

Physician Practice Insider, October 2, 2017

Health information technology is a troublesome area for many physicians, but not to the degree it was several years ago when meeting meaningful use standards for electronic health records (EHR) was a struggle. But practices are bracing for a new set of challenges as they move into quality reporting programs under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and other programs under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).

“I think it’s still a mixed bag out there, but on the whole, health information technology has come a long way in the past five years or so,” says Laurence Kinzler, an independent consultant with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). “Things are getting better, but they still have a long way to go.”

While many healthcare professionals are breathing a sigh of relief that the era of meaningful use is winding down, there are new challenges that include reporting data for value-based care models under MIPS. A recent survey found the majority of physician practices are already reporting data for MIPS but that most physicians are concerned about the regulatory burden of the program and how it will impact health information technology.

“The entire industry is in need of an upgrade in terms of technology,” says Steve Waldreen, director of the Center for Health IT for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “There needs to be a principled redesign of the entire health IT system for the next generation of providers.”


Better attitudes

For physician practices, the comfort level with EHRs and health information technology in general is on the rise for a few reasons. After years of trial and error, EHR vendors have tailored their products to the needs of physicians and worked out many of the bugs, and a new generation of physicians has become more accustomed to filing patient data electronically.

“I think the industry has gotten better at grasping IT concepts,” says Kinzler. “One factor is that you’ve seen a big uptick in retirements of older physicians who didn’t want to deal with electronic health records or new payment models. And we’re seeing a new wave of young doctors taking their place who have some sort of IT background and are more computer literate.”

But even tech-savvy physicians have their issues, many of which have to do with an aging software infrastructure that might not be able to handle the demands of far-reaching and comprehensive quality reporting systems.

“A physician practice has to look at the systems it’s using,” says Waldreen. “In many cases, it’s not a problem with the practice or the vendors but with older-generation technologies with old operating systems and languages that will need to be replaced.”

And those upgrades can be expensive. A 2016 study from the MGMA found that health IT costs increased more than 40% per physician from 2009 to 2015 and that the average multi-specialty practice spent $32,500 per full-time physician in 2015 on health IT maintenance, upgrades, staff, and other IT-related expenses.

Analysts say practices should look to several areas when upgrading their health IT systems. Key areas include issues with security, interoperability, and how user-friendly the technologies are for patients, particularly older patients.

Read the full article in the Physician Practice Perspectives archive.


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