A Guide to Healthcare Buzzwords and What They Mean: Part Two (M through Z)

Buzzwords in Healthcare Technology

Meaningful Use (MU)

Meaningful Use is the phrase used in the 2009 HITECH Act to describe the standard providers must achieve to receive incentive payments for purchasing and implementing an EHR system. The term meaningful use combines clinical use of the EHR (i.e. ePrescribing), health information exchange, and reporting of clinical quality measures. Achieving meaningful use also requires the use of an EHR that has been certified by a body such as CCHIT, Drummond Group, ICSA Laboratories, Inc. or InfoGuard Laboratories, Inc. The term can also apply informally to the process of achieving the standard, for example “How is our practice doing with meaningful use?”

mHealth

An abbreviation for Mobile Health, mHealth is a blanket label for transmitting health services, and indeed practicing medicine, using mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets. mHealth has large implications not only for newer devices like smartphones and high-end tablets, but also for feature phones and low-cost tablets in developing nations. Many different software and hardware applications fit under the umbrella of mHealth so the term is used conceptually to talk about future innovations and delivery systems.

NLP

An acronym for Natural Language Processing, NLP is a field of study and technology that seeks to develop software that can “understand” human speech – not just what words are being said, but what is meant by those words. By “processing” text input into an NLP program, large strings of text can be parsed into more traditionally meaningful data. For example, narrative from a doctor in a medical record could be transferred into data for research and statistical analysis. If we had every medical record and narrative in history, we could search it and look for trends – and possible new cures and symptoms. IBM’s famous Watson machine that could “listen” to Jeopardy! clues and answer is an advanced example of NLP.

ONCHIT

An acronym for “Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology,” the ONCHIT is a division of the Federal Government’s Department of Health and Human Services. The Office oversees the nation’s efforts to advance health information technology and build a secure, private, nationwide health network to exchange information. Although the National Coordinator position was created by executive order in 2004, the Office and its mission were officially mandated in the 2009 HITECH Act as a part of the stimulus package.

Patient Engagement

Patient Engagement is a broad term that describes the process of changing patient behaviors to promote wellness and a focus on preventative care. “Engagement” can roughly be read to describe the patient’s willingness to be an active participant in their own care and to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices. Patient Engagement efforts can be as simple as marketing campaigns for public heath and appointment reminders, and as advanced as wearable monitors that can transmit activity and exercise information so patients can track their fitness. Improving the health system’s ability to engage patients is considered key to lowering healthcare spending and attacking epidemics like obesity and heart disease.

Patient Portal

A patient portal is software that allows patients to interact, generally through an internet application, with their healthcare providers. Portals enable communication between providers and patients in a secure environment with no fear of inappropriate disclosure of the patient’s private healthcare information. Patients can get lab results, request appointments and review their own records without calling the provider. Patient portals can be sold as a standalone software module or as part of a comprehensive Practice Management/EHR package.

Patient-centered Care

Patient-centered care is a healthcare delivery concept that seeks to use the values and choices of the patient to drive all the care the patient receives. As elementary as it sounds, developing a culture that places the needs and concerns of the patient – the whole patient – at the center of the decision-making process is a new development in the healthcare system. Patient engagement is at the core of patient-centered care, because the patient is the central driver of the decisions – as is only right!

PCMH

An acronym for Patient Centered Medical Home, a PCMH is a model for healthcare delivery where most or all of a patient’s services for preventative, acute and chronic primary care are delivered in a single place by a single team to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction as well as lower costs. PCMHs may also operate under a different reimbursement structure, as they can be paid on an outcome basis or on a capitation model as opposed to fee-for-service.

PHR

An acronym for a “Personal Health Record,” a PHR is a collection of health data that is personally maintained by the patient for access by caregivers, relatives, and other stakeholders. As opposed to the EHR model, in which a single hospital or system collects all the health information generated in the facility for storage and exchange with other providers, the PHR is maintained, actively or passively with mobile data capture or sensor devices, by the patient. The PHR can supplement or supplant other health records depending on the way it is used.

PPACA

An acronym for the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the PPACA was a federal law passed in 2010 to reform the United States healthcare system by lowering costs and improving access to heath insurance and healthcare. The PPACA uses a variety of methods – market reforms to outlaw discrimination based on gender or pre-existing condition, subsidies and tax credits for individuals, families and employers, and an individual mandate forcing the uninsured to pay penalties – to increase access to insurance and lower healthcare costs.

PQRS

An acronym for the “Patient Quality Reporting System,” PQRS is a mechanism by which Medicare providers submit clinical quality and safety information in exchange for incentive payments. Physicians who elect not to participate or are found unsuccessful during the 2013 program year, will receive a 1.5 percent Medicare payment penalty in 2015, and 2 percent Medicare payment penalty every year thereafter.

RAC

An acronym for “Recovery Audit Contractor,” a RAC is a private company that has been contracted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to identify and recover fraudulent or mistaken reimbursements to providers. There are four regions of the United States, each with its own RAC  which is authorized to recover money on behalf of the Federal Government. A pilot program between 2005 to 2007 netted nearly $700 million dollars in repayments and the program was made permanent nationwide in 2010.

REC

An acronym for “Regional Extension Center,” a REC is a organization or facility funded by a federal grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to provide assistance and resources to providers who want to adopt an EHR and achieve meaningful use but need technical or deployment support to get their system up and running. There are currently 62 RECs in the United States who focus primarily on small and individual practices, practices without sufficient resources, or critical access and public hospitals that serve those without coverage.

Registry

A Registry is a database of clinical data about medical conditions and outcomes that is organized to track a specific subset of the population. Registries are important to track the efficacy of drugs and treatment, as well as to analyze and identify possible treatment and policy opportunities to improve care. A registry can also be used to report PQRS.

Telehealth

Telehealth is a broad term that describes delivering healthcare and healthcare services through telecommunication technology. Although the terms telehealth and mhealth can be used somewhat interchangeably, “telehealth” tends to focus more on leveraging existing technologies – phone, fax and video conferencing to deliver services over a long distance, or to facilitate communication between providers. Remote evaluation and management and robotics are both examples of care innovations that would fall under the telehealth umbrella.

Value-based Purchasing

Value-based purchasing is a reimbursement model for health care providers that rewards outcomes for patients as opposed to the volume of services provided. Both through increased payments for positive outcomes, and decreased payments for negative ones, value-based purchasing seeks to lower costs by focusing on increasing quality and patient-focus. Accountable Care Organizations and Patient Centered Medical Homes are both examples of delivery systems that rely on value-based purchasing.




Medicare This Week: A Roar (Meaningful Use Stage 2) and A Sigh (Medicare Doc Fix)

Two recent Medicare announcements made a sound in healthcare, one a roar and the other, barely a sigh.

Medicare Physician Pay Cut Delayed to 2013

First, the sigh. The Medicare physician payment cut has been delayed until the end of the 2012, but the last-minute tagalong to the payroll bill warranted hardly a sentence in the stories of the 2012 payroll tax holiday extension. Although the delay will most likely keep many physicians in the Medicare program, there still remains a permanent fix to be addressed.

“House Republicans introduced the Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2012 as a stand-alone payroll tax cut bill without an extension of unemployment benefits and a Medicare “doc fix.” Last-minute negotiations added an extension of unemployment benefits and the Medicare “doc fix” (as well as a name-change for the bill to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012).” Read the full CCH Coverage Here

Meaningful Use Gets More Meaningful

Next, the roar. The proposed rule for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use was unveiled and a 60-day comment period on the proposal has begun. The start date for Stage 2 of the program will tentatively extend from 2013 to 2014 to permit Eligible Professionals attesting in 2011 an additional year to move to the more rigorous Stage 2 requirements.

From the HHS Announcement:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced the next steps for providers who are using electronic health record (EHR) technology and receiving incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.  These proposed rules, from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), will govern stage 2 of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs.

“We know that broader adoption of electronic health records can save our health care system money, save time for doctors and hospitals, and save lives,” said Secretary Sebelius.  “We have seen great success and momentum as we’ve taken the first steps toward adoption of this critical technology.  As we move into the next stage, we are encouraging even more providers to participate and support more coordinated, patient-centered care.”

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, eligible health care professionals and hospitals can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments when they adopt certified EHR technology and use it in a meaningful way. What is considered “meaningful use” is evolving in three stages:

  • Stage 1 (which began in 2011 and remains the starting point for all providers): “meaningful use” consists of transferring data to EHRs and being able to share information, including electronic copies and visit summaries for patients.
  • Stage 2 (to be implemented in 2014 under the proposed rule): “meaningful use” includes new standards such as online access for patients to their health information, and electronic health information exchange between providers.
  • Stage 3 (expected to be implemented in 2016): “meaningful use” includes demonstrating that the quality of health care has been improved.

CMS’ proposed rule specifies the stage 2 criteria that eligible providers must meet in order to qualify for Medicare and/or Medicaid EHR incentive payments. It also specifies Medicare payment adjustments that, beginning in 2015, providers will face if they fail to demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology and fail to meet other program participation requirements.  In a November 2011 “We Can’t Wait” announcement (http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/11/20111130a.html), the Department outlined plans to provide an additional year for providers who attested to meaningful use in 2011.   Under today’s proposed rule, stage 1 has been extended an additional year, allowing providers to attest to stage 2 in 2014, instead of in 2013. The proposed rule announced by ONC identifies standards and criteria for the certification of EHR technology, so eligible professionals and hospitals can be sure that the systems they adopt are capable of performing the required functions to demonstrate either stage of meaningful use that would be in effect starting in 2014.

“Through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, we’ve seen incredible progress as over 43,000 providers have received $3.1 billion to help make the transition to electronic health records,” said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “There is great momentum as the number of providers adopting this technology grows every month.  Today’s announcement will help ensure broad participation and success of the program, as we move toward full adoption of this money-saving and life-saving technology.”

“The proposed rules for stage 2 for meaningful use and updated certification criteria largely reflect the recommendations from the Health IT Policy and Standards Committees, the federal advisory committees that operate through a transparent process with broad public input from all key stakeholders. Their recommendations emphasized the desire to increase health information exchange, increase patient and family engagement, and better align reporting requirements with other HHS programs,” said Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. “The proposed rules announced today will continue down the path stage 1 established by focusing on value-added ways in which EHR systems can help providers deliver care which is more coordinated, safer, patient-centered, and efficient.”

The number of hospitals using EHRs has more than doubled in the last two years from 16 to 35 percent between 2009 and 2011.  Eighty-five percent of hospitals now report that by 2015 they intend to take advantage of the incentive payments.

A technical fact sheet on CMS’s proposed rule is available at http://www.cms.gov/apps/media/fact_sheets.asp.

A technical fact sheet on ONC’s standards and certification criteria proposed rule is available at http://www.healthit.gov/policy-research.

The proposed rules announced today may be viewed at www.ofr.gov/inspection.aspx. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.