“I don’t care if the RAF goes up or down, I only care if it’s accurate.”
Dr. Farshid Kazi, Co-Founder, DoctusTech
If an organization is caught over-coding, up-coing, diagnosing conditions that either do not exist or are not supported in the chart, the cost of these errors can be very high. Audits are no longer just for health plans, provider groups like Sutter, Kaiser (and many others) have also been audited by the DOJ and hit with heavy fines.
On the other side of the board are many plans and provider groups that are struggling to diagnose and accurately document chronic conditions that truly do exist and risk adjust, leading to poor performance in VBC contracts and clinician burn-out.
RAF accuracy is achieved through a perfect balance of accurate diagnosis and accurate documentation.
What is Risk Adjustment Factor Scoring
Risk adjustment factors are used to estimate the expected outcome for a patient based on a number of different factors. One important factor is the patient’s age; other factors include socioeconomic status and comorbidities such as chronic illnesses or conditions. Each of these can be scored to give a single risk adjustment factor score.
DoctusTech Enables 30% Rise in RAF Accuracy
We teach clinicians how to think about chronic conditions, improve diagnosis at the point of care, and help documentation and HCC coding – all in a lovable mobile app. And not only do clinicians learn how and what to code, the app is also the most powerful HCC code finder in the palm of your hand. Look up the code through a variety of intuitive queries, by tests that might indicate a diagnosis, and by related conditions – complete with complexities and branch-points to help drill down into greater specificity.
While we cannot share sensitive client data, we can confidently state that a 30% increase in RAF accuracy is well within the normal range for our clients.
DoctusTech Helps by Boosting Clinician Knowledge and Changing Behavior Just by Engaging With a Lovable Mobile App
The app uses the classic learning technique we all grew to know and love in med school: the Socratic method. By posing questions within a clinical vignette, clinicians learn—and remember—how to diagnose, code and document for risk adjustment. By increasing the fund of knowledge around diagnosing chronic conditions, the app improves unique code capture and documentation, boosting RAF accuracy over a very short period of time. After the initial self-assessment, clinicians are only asked to spend about five minutes per week engaged on the app, and behavior change outpaces traditional HCC teaching techniques by a significant margin.
DoctusTech HCC Integrated Platform
Instead of clinicians having to go to various external data sources to gather information, DoctusTech’s HCC integrated platform, HCC 360, consolidates all data sources and presents them to clinicians while they are writing progress notes. Here’s how you can achieve greater RAF accuracy with DoctusTech:
Improve Patient Visits: Based on your patient’s chart, get real-time prompts for questions to ask or labs to consider.
Automate Chart Review: Translate your patient’s chart into HCC code using our A.I. in seconds, based on evidence-based medicine.
Faster Progress Notes: You won’t have to wade through third party portals or paper suspect codes anymore; we bring all sources into your EMR to simplify your life.
As healthcare continues to evolve, it is crucial that providers get educated and improve their skills in using HCC codes. DoctusTech is a revolutionary new way to improve the accuracy of HCC coding by making sure you know exactly how to code each condition. Our simple mobile app that engages clinicians in an easy guided learning experience while they file HCC coding notes. After only five minutes of training, clinicians can quickly and accurately code their own charts and boost the accuracy of their efforts.
DoctusTech helps clinicians learn HCC coding through clinical vignettes in an app that is fun and engaging. Diagnosing with the appropriate HCC code is a critical skill for modern clinicians who care for patients in a value-based care arrangement. You cannot treat what you do not accurately diagnose, and you cannot afford to treat what you do not appropriately code. Without the correct diagnoses and accurate documentation and coding, caring for patients with complex disease will be unsuccessful, leading to increased avoidable hospitalizations and increased cost to the organization.
And without a tool to get clinicians quickly up to speed on diagnosing for risk at the point of care, coding accurately and documenting correctly, you will be stuck. Stuck in boring seminars that rarely affect lasting behavior change; stuck with missed diagnoses and missed revenue targets; stuck with patients missing out on essential care; stuck with overworked clinicians; stuck.
How do clinicians learn HCC coding?
This is where DoctusTech Helps. We provide a modern learning tool for the modern clinician, using gamification, competition, real prizes and administrative oversight to see who is engaging and who needs a little extra help. Also, our app deploys all the subtle nudges and complete with the most advanced HCC code search tool on earth.
And clinicians earn 25 hours of CME per year, while they learn HCC coding in a non-boring app!
In SCUBA diving, the diver must add just the right amount of weight to maintain perfect positive buoyancy; too much and you will sink, too little and you will bob on the surface like a cork. Risk adjustment in value-based care has some similarities: a successful VBC program will diagnose and treat just the right conditions. Not over-coding, and not under-diagnosing.
Clinicians learn HCC coding better in clinical vignettes
And doctors coming out of medical school and even residency programs know little to nothing about HCC coding and diagnosing for Risk Adjustment and Value-Based Care. Traditionally, these clinicians sit in seminars getting force-fed codes in an effort to teach them how to accurately diagnose and document with the appropriate HCC codes. Unfortunately, this is not how every other vital piece of medical information was learned, so clinicians struggle to retain the information and utilize it in daily practice.
Medical education is all about the Socratic method, question and answer, clinical vignettes. Doctors learned to learn this way, and they prefer it. Which is why DoctusTech helps doctors learn HCC coding the way they like to learn – from other doctors, in clinical vignettes, on their own time, and in an average of 5 minutes per week.
Truly, DoctusTech helps clinicians learn HCC coding. And when clinicians master diagnosing for risk with HCC codes, your whole VBC program improves.
See more ways that DoctusTech Helps:
DoctusTech Helps: Increase RAF Accuracy
DoctusTech Helps: Decrease clinician workload
DoctusTech Helps: Deploy HCC coding education across your org
Why is HCC coding training important? Without proper coding, it is impossible to diagnose accurately, treat effectively, document those diagnoses, or achieve revenue goals. Coding training will help you master the skills you need to properly code patient records, so investing in HCC coding training might be the right move for you! Read on to learn more about HCC coding training!
What is HCC coding?
Hierarchical condition category (HCC) coding was created to estimate future health care costs for patients. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) HCC model was established in 2004 and is increasingly being used as value-based care gains traction. The HCC model relies on ICD-10-CM coding to assign patients risk scores based on their medical condition. Each condition is associated with an ICD-10-CM code. For example, a patient with few serious health problems is likely to have average health care costs for a specific period of time. Patients with many chronic conditions, however, are more likely to have higher health care utilization and costs.
Why is HCC coding training so important?
As we mentioned above, proper healthcare coding is important for a number of reasons. However, even the best healthcare providers cannot properly code without the right training. If you are new to the healthcare industry, you will need training to learn the coding system and understand the complexities of accurate diagnosis and documentation. If you have been in the industry for a few years but have not kept up with the latest coding trends, you may also need training to refresh your skills. Whatever your situation, it is important to take the time to invest in HCC coding training. This training will help you master the terminology and coding systems that are used in the healthcare industry. It will also help you learn how to properly diagnose and document for better patient care.
Which platforms and tools are effective?
HCC coding training can be delivered in a variety of ways. Depending on which courses you decide to take, you may be able to access them online or on your mobile device. Most HCC coding training courses will include videos, interactive activities, and practice tests. These tools can make learning easier and more effective. They can also help you retain the information you learn effectively. If you are looking for HCC coding training, it is important to find a platform or a course that fits your learning style and skill level. If you are new to the industry, you may want to take a beginner’s course. If you have been in the industry for a few years and just want to refresh your skills, you might want to take an intermediate or advanced course.
3 Things to include in your training plan
When you are ready to start your HCC coding training, it is important to make sure you have a plan in place. This will help you stay motivated and on track and make sure you finish before the course’s deadline. There are a few things you should definitely include in your plan.
Set specific goals
Before you begin coding training, you should sit down and set some specific goals for your course. What do you hope to achieve by the end of your training? By setting specific goals, you will know what you are working towards and have something to motivate you.
Set a schedule
It is important to set a schedule and stick to it. This will help you stay motivated and make sure you do not get overwhelmed by the coursework. Make sure you allot enough time for studying each week and do not try to cram. A healthy pace is achievable at 5 minutes per week, if you have the right tools.
Finally, during your coding training, it is important to keep your eye on the prize. While coding is interesting and can be complex, you do not want to get so involved that you lose sight of your goal. Stick to your schedule, do not try to push yourself too hard and you will be on track to finish in time.
Get Started Today
Doctus Tech is the best way for clinicians like yourself to start learning to diagnose with HCC codes. Benchmark yourself with other clinicians, identify your team’s knowledge gaps and benefit from a 30% increase in RAF accuracy. Sign up for a 14-day trial now!
Risk adjustment coding is a vital part of any managed care organization. It helps to ensure that patients are appropriately diagnosed and documented accurately according to risk level, which in turn allows the organization to receive appropriate capitated payments to provide all the care needed to reduce avoidable hospitalizations and achieve maximum health. And regardless of how challenging and time-consuming it can be to implement, getting it right is vital on many levels. Diagnosing and coding for risk can be tricky.
It is not always obvious how complex and risky a condition is, especially because some patients are at higher risk than others for diseases like depression or schizophrenia, but many conditions can be difficult to diagnose. Those who appear low-risk might actually be high-risk, once you dig deeper into the specific diagnosis details. There are thousands of potential codes and conditions to diagnose that can be used to determine risks. There is no perfect formula for every managed care organization; you have to find protocols for training and improvement that work best for your clinicians and operators. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges involved in risk adjustment coding and how to get it right.
Determining risk is difficult
When implementing a risk adjustment program, make sure you have a team on hand with strong coding and data management skills. These team members should be able to look at each patient record and determine both the conditions that have been diagnosed as well as the documentation criteria to be applied to that patient in the chart. This team will be responsible for determining and documenting diagnoses that correlate to the risk level of each patient. This task can be difficult since mastering HCC coding for risk adjustment requires a lot of learning and is often different than standard ICD-10 coding. But there are modern tools for mastering this, so do not lose hope.
Risk adjustment requires a lot of data
Risk adjustment also requires a lot of data. The more information you have about each patient, the better you are able to diagnose based on their true conditions and related risk. If you do not have enough data about a patient, or lack consistent data throughout the lifetime of a patient relationship, you will have a hard time determining their true risk level.
For example: Patient A has been a patient for 10 years, and Patient B has been a patient for 2 years. If you’re trying to diagnose the patients, you’ll have to take into account their lifelong risk factors and current health status. This includes things like socioeconomic status, age, family history of certain diseases, how much they smoke, and more. If you have a few years of data points on Patient A, and only a few months of data points on Patient B, you’ll be able to diagnose Patient A more accurately.
Coding errors are common
Coding errors are common in risk adjustment, but they can be avoided with consistent training, accountability, strict internal audit procedures, and improved clinician buy-in. Coding errors can lead to overcharging or undercharging the CMS, resulting in either missed earnings or painful charge-backs. Coding errors can be caused by a number of different factors. For example, mistakes could be made when determining which diagnoses apply to patients, which codes to use for the diagnoses, or what to document to justify the diagnosis in the chart. Diagnoses require clear communication as well as consistent documentation on all patient records.
It is only going to get harder.
The bad news is that risk adjustment is only going to get harder. New technologies like AI, voice recognition, and machine learning are changing the way health care providers analyze and manage data. While these technologies will make many aspects of coding and managing data easier, they will also make it more complex by introducing even more variables and data points to consider. So while risk adjustment could be more challenging, there are tools available that simplify the process both in training and inside the EMR.
Risk adjustment is vital, because it ultimately determines what type of care an individual patient needs and how much risk the organization is taking on, managing that care. It is important to ensure that your organization is accurately diagnosing and documenting so that patients stay healthy and your organization has the needed revenue to manage their care.
Value-Based Care is a game-changing advancements for patients and the providers who care for them. Value-based care is revolutionizing the healthcare industry and aligning incentives more and more each year. The concept of pay-for-performance, patient-centered care, and outcome measures have all been developed with the intention of providing more value to patients and healthcare providers alike. These new standards are also a response to the Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on cost containment and value in healthcare services. Therefore, it is no wonder that many hospitals and medical practices have adopted a value-based approach when considering how best to meet the needs of patients and the business needs that make care happen. However, navigating this new territory can be challenging without proper guidelines.
What is Value-Based Care?
Value-based care (VBC) is a system of payment designed to change the incentives for healthcare providers, so that they are rewarded for providing high-quality, cost-effective care. In VBC, providers are reimbursed based on the relative value of their services. The amount a provider is paid is based on the quality and outcomes of the services provided as well as their costs. Similar to the H and R Block tax model, providers are rewarded for going above and beyond what is expected of them. VBC providers are rewarded for providing high-quality and cost-effective care, whereas higher cost or decreased patient outcomes can result in financial penalties.
This is a significant change from the fee-for-service model that has long been the primary financial model for healthcare. In the fee-for-service model, healthcare providers are reimbursed based on the number, kind and cost of procedures and services provided to patients. More expensive procedures make providers more money, even when not medically necessary. And care that is shown to benefit the health of the patient but does not directly result in revenue for the practice is not financially viable and often gets overlooked (e.g. care-coordination, regular nurse follow-ups, ancillary services, nutrition, transportation, counseling, remote patient monitoring, and so many more).
The Basics of Value-Based Care
Value-based care is centered around the idea that quality and cost should be the focus in providing healthcare services. As such, it is the responsibility of healthcare providers to optimize the care they provide in terms of both quality and cost. This can be achieved by looking at the overall cost of care, rather than just the cost of the single procedure. The shift from volume to value in healthcare has been occurring over the past two decades. There have been many policy changes and legislative initiatives aimed at reducing healthcare costs by focusing on quality. Key indicators of the shift from volume to value include: The Balanced Budget Act of 1997; The formation of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC); The creation of accountable care organizations (ACOs); The Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Key Strategies for Transforming to a Value-Based Care Environment
While the overarching goal of value-based care is to reduce healthcare costs while maintaining or improving quality, there are several strategies that providers can employ to make this transition.
Look at the big picture: Value-based care requires providers to look at the big picture of healthcare costs, which includes both the costs of the care being provided as well as the costs of delivering the care itself.
Focus on the patient: Value-based care should focus on patients and how they can expect to be treated. The focus should be on patient satisfaction scores and more personalized care.
Improve the care delivery process: By improving the care delivery process, providers can reduce errors and make it easier for patients to receive the care they need.
Who Is Responsible for Value-Based Care?
A number of different stakeholders are responsible for enacting value-based care at each step along the continuum of care. At the patient level, patients themselves play a critical role in the success of VBC. Patients should be providing honest feedback on the quality of care they receive and the outcomes they experience. Healthcare providers are responsible for coordinating the collection of data, assessing the value of the care they provide, and reporting on the outcomes of their services. Finally, payors are charged with using the information from providers to make risk-adjusted payments.
Identifying the Right Measures and Outcomes
As previously discussed, VBC providers are reimbursed based on the relative value of their services. The amount a provider is paid is based on the quality and outcomes of the services provided as well as their costs. In order to determine the relative value of a particular service, providers must first select the appropriate outcome measures.
In selecting outcome measures, providers should consider the following:
Is this outcome measure important to patients?
Is this outcome measure accurate?
Is this outcome measure feasible to collect?
Other Strategies to Consider: Staffing, Infrastructure and Technology
Beyond the strategy of selecting the right outcomes and measures for VBC, providers should also consider the following strategies when endeavoring to improve the delivery of quality and cost-effective care.
Staffing: There are a number of strategies that providers can employ to improve staffing outcomes, such as considering the optimal staffing mix, providing on-the-job training, and leveraging digital technologies to improve efficiency.
Infrastructure: In addition to factors such as the condition of the building, providers should also consider the functionality of their facilities, such as the accessibility of their services or the location of their facilities.
Technology: Providers should also consider the technologies they have in place, such as EHR systems, scheduling software, HCC coding education apps, and diagnostic equipment.
There are many benefits to adopting a value-based care approach. VBC providers are beginning to see improvement in outcomes, such as fewer avoidable hospitalizations, reduced readmission rates, increased patient satisfaction scores, improved quality scores, and lower mortality rates. Furthermore, providers who embrace VBC are actually seeing bottom-line financial benefits, as they are rewarded for providing high-quality, cost-effective care. However, adopting a value-based care approach is not without its challenges. In particular, providers must be willing to take a critical look at their current practices and begin to change where necessary. Along the way, providers should be transparent with their patients about the changes they are making, the things that are being actively improved, and the over-arching WHY behind their shift to Value-Based Care.
Value-Based Care is a natural movement toward the benefit of the patient. And as providers make the shift, patients will be encouraged both by the motive behind the transition as well as the improvement in their overall health and the reduction in the costs of their care. Truly, Value-Based Care has the potential to be a significant win-win for patients and providers. And in the end, isn’t that why you spent all those years pursuing your medical training? Value-Based Care is for patients, and for the providers who care for them.
The Office of Inspector General is cracking down on Medicare Advantage prior authorizations that were denied which would have been approved under fee-for-service Medicare rules. Excerpts from the OIG Medicare Advantage prior authorizations denial report follow, quoted in full, arranged for clarity, and followed by our comments.
The OIG audited “a stratified random sample of 250 denials of [Medicare Advantage] prior authorization requests and 250 payment denials issued by 15 of the largest MAOs during June 1−7, 2019.”
Inappropriately denied Medicare Advantage prior authorizations are the evil twin of up-coding. But rather than boosting profits by improperly increasing Risk Adjustment scores, this practice retains profits by denying appropriate care.
Medicare Coverage Rules
MAOs must follow Medicare coverage rules, which specify what items and services are covered and under what circumstances. Because MAOs must provide beneficiaries with all basic benefits covered under original Medicare, they may not impose limitations—such as waiting periods or exclusions from coverage due to pre-existing conditions—that are not present in original Medicare.
A central concern about the capitated payment model used in Medicare Advantage is the potential incentive for Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs) to deny beneficiary access to services and deny payments to providers in an attempt to increase profits.
Access to quality healthcare is a human right, and CMS wants to ensure that money is not getting in the way of that. Value-Based Care payment models are designed to align financial incentives with patient outcomes. On one side of the equation, CMS and the DOJ regularly audit (and prosecute) health plans and provider groups for up-coding or over-coding diagnoses that are not supported in the documentation – essentially, getting paid for providing needless care that does not benefit patients. In this report, OIG is looking at the other side of the coin: patient care that should have been provided, but was denied in appropriately.
Both are financial mechanisms to boost earnings or cut costs at the expense of patient care. And while we usually focus on the HCC coding and documentation side of the fence, denying care that should have been approved is potentially worse. Up-coding raise costs unnecessarily, but patients are still receiving care – although at times needlessly. By highlighting the problem of inappropriately denied care, OIG is actually uncovering a problem that is, in essence, refusing to provide appropriate and necessary care.
MAOs denied prior authorization and payment requests that met Medicare coverage rules by:
using MAO clinical criteria that are not contained in Medicare coverage rules;
requesting unnecessary documentation; and
making manual review errors and system errors.
By ratcheting up the clinical criteria beyond Medicare rules, MAOs that inappropriately deny coverage or payments are skimming the til at the expense of patient care.
By requiring unnecessary documentation beyond CMS guidelines, an MAO can appear to be taking documentation and accuracy very seriously, when in fact, they are actually just withholding care for profit.
What OIG Found
Our case file reviews determined that MAOs sometimes delayed or denied Medicare Advantage beneficiaries’ access to services, even though the requests met Medicare coverage rules. MAOs also denied payments to providers for some services that met both Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules. Denying requests that meet Medicare coverage rules may prevent or delay beneficiaries from receiving medically necessary care and can burden providers. Although some of the denials that we reviewed were ultimately reversed by the MAOs, avoidable delays and extra steps create friction in the program and may create an administrative burden for beneficiaries, providers, and MAOs. Examples of health care services involved in denials that met Medicare coverage rules included advanced imaging services (e.g., MRIs) and stays in post-acute facilities (e.g., inpatient rehabilitation facilities).
Prior authorization requests.
We found that among the prior authorization requests that MAOs denied, 13 percent met Medicare coverage rules—in other words, these services likely would have been approved for these beneficiaries under original Medicare (also known as Medicare fee-for-service). We identified two common causes of these denials. First, MAOs used clinical criteria that are not contained in Medicare coverage rules (e.g., requiring an x-ray before approving more advanced imaging), which led them to deny requests for services that our physician reviewers determined were medically necessary. Although our review determined that the requests in these cases did meet Medicare coverage rules, CMS guidance is not sufficiently detailed to determine whether MAOs may deny authorization based on internal MAO clinical criteria that go beyond Medicare coverage rules.
Second, MAOs indicated that some prior authorization requests did not have enough documentation to support approval, yet our reviewers found that the beneficiary medical records already in the case file were sufficient to support the medical necessity of the services.
Again, increasing clinical documentation requirements beyond CMS’ requirements is not cool.
We found that among the payment requests that MAOs denied, 18 percent met Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules. Most of these payment denials in our sample were caused by human error during manual claims-processing reviews (e.g., overlooking a document) and system processing errors (e.g., the MAO’s system was not programmed or updated correctly). We also found that MAOs reversed some of the denied prior authorization and payment requests that met Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules. Often the reversals occurred when a beneficiary or provider appealed or disputed the denial, and in some cases MAOs identified their own errors.
What OIG Recommends
Our findings about the circumstances under which MAOs denied requests that met Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules provide an opportunity for improvement to ensure that Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have timely access to all necessary health care services, and that providers are paid appropriately.
Therefore, we recommend that CMS:
(1) issue new guidance on the appropriate use of MAO clinical criteria in medical necessity reviews;
(2) update its audit protocols to address the issues identified in this report, such as MAO use of clinical criteria and/or examining particular service types; and
(3) direct MAOs to take steps to identify and address vulnerabilities that can lead to manual review errors and system errors. CMS concurred with all three recommendations.
In effect, the OIG is recommending adding a category to the already rigorous audits associated with MAOs. RADV audits may in the near future also address inappropriately denied Medicare Advantage prior authorizations.
So the takeaway here is to aim for the Goldilocks of clinical documentation integrity: neither too lax nor too strict, but just right, in line with CMS guidelines.
As always, we have an app for that. HCC education that helps your team achieve that perfect zen-like balance of accurate diagnoses, properly documented and ready for any audits. We deliver just-in-time learning on HCC codes related to conditions specific to the upcoming patient visits. And your clinicians earn 25 hours of CME per year, while operations achieves the Goldilocks of documentation: not too hot, and not too cold.
As the U.S healthcare system transitions towards value-based payment models, independent clinicians and physician groups continue to face HCC coding challenges that not only impact their bottom-line, but patient care as well. On top of all this, the pandemic has added a significant burden to the already stretched clinician workload.
Here are 4 key HCC coding challenges clinicians are facing now, and how they can overcome them.
Physician training for HCC coding – Physicians are already working tirelessly to provide excellent care to their patients. Asking them to learn HCC coding through brute-force via zoom calls, classroom seminars and email blasts is a bridge too far. On the other hand, the focus on value-based care has made it imperative for physicians to know and understand HCC coding so that they can accurately document patient records. So clinicians know they need to know, they just don’t have an effective and engaging mechanism for efficient and effective learning.
Revenue impact due to incorrect coding – Accurate HCC coding is necessary for accurate reimbursements and patient care, and inaccurate coding can directly impact the bottom line. That is why it is imperative that clinicians and staff be well trained in HCC coding. And the complexities don’t stop there. HCC codes not only impact RAF scores, they also interact directly with patient care, and a fair level of decision support is required , as HCC codes are not intuitive.
Poor HCC integration with EMR systems – When HCC coding does not integrate with the EMR, it creates a complex struggle for clinicians and physician groups. This not only leads to unintentional errors, but makes workflows more difficult and adds to the burden of an already heavy workload. It is critical to put a system in place that teaches clinicians to accurately document HCC codes on every patient, and integrates within the EMR.
Lack of trained HCC coding professionals – Staffing shortfalls not only plague small practices, but larger physician groups are short-staffed as well. A lack of well-trained staff may be related to revenue or rising salaries, which sometimes small practices are unable to sustain. And when larger hospitals acquire smaller practices, a shortage of trained staff is often just one side-effect. Training clinicians and non-clinical staff on HCC coding is vital.
Transitioning to a value-based care model will never be seamless until these challenges are solved. How? With our unique suite of HCC education and EMR integration tools, enabling physicians to learn HCC coding and integrate an AI-powered HCC coding system into their existing EMR platforms to drive efficiency and accuracy.
To learn how our HCC coding app lets physicians train for HCC coding click here.
To understand how our EMR integrated platform works, click here.
RaDonda Vaught was just sentenced to three years of supervised probation. The former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse was found guilty of negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult in the death of a patient, because she administered vecuronium rather than Versed.
A tired, overworked nurse could not find the prescribed medication in an automatic drug dispensing cabinet, so she used an override and grabbed the wrong drug. Her patient died, and she was convicted of two felonies.
Burnout is a pervasive evil in any industry. But in healthcare, the stakes are measured in lives, and a career-ending error could also land a well-meaning provider in court, battling more than a malpractice suit.
The Rise and Fall and Rise of Physician Burnout
A study from 2019 demonstrated a decline in physician burnout [Source]. Good timing, as the burnout decline preceded an overall healthcare worker burnout event rivaling the black plague at a drag strip. Just one year after publication, COVID-19 ushered in the worst, longest, darkest season of overwork, stress and burnout the healthcare industry has seen in a century.
And with the industry marching predictably toward Value-Based Care, onboarding a new clinician comes with a massive learning curve. Requiring providers to add HCC coding to their already complex workflow is not only vital to improve the industry, it is increasingly mandated by CMS.
Add to it that none of this HCC coding was taught in medical school, and you have a perfect storm that even Clooney & Wahlberg would struggle to make sexy.
Why do they make it so hard?
The rising tide of burnout and the steady growth of VBC and HCC coding knowledge form enough of a riptide of impossibility for today’s practitioners. But the teaching methods being used to bludgeon new codes into the weary minds—and workflows—of new residents and established docs alike are downright cruel. Consider that HCC coding education is being deployed using some of the most arcane and ineffective teaching tools available today.
1 hour seminars are the lingua franca across nearly every provider group in a risk payment model. And if sitting in a classroom being talked at while pretending not to stare blankly at your phone was not bad enough, the two worst years in most providers’ careers were met by shifting those interminable seminars to a Zoom call, probably on your phone.
Consider the vital role that HCC coding plays in capturing critical diagnoses to be treated, documenting those diagnoses to keep them treated, and billing against Risk Adjustment scores to reimburse for essential healthcare services that keep patients out of the hospital.
And we are teaching these skills over a Zoom call? With providers more burnt-out than ever, and Zoom fatigue at a universal high – we are lecturing doctors on HCC coding over their phones? Is it a surprise that engagement is low? Is it a surprise that errors are high? Or that adoption of full risk models is sluggish at best?
And yes, one-to-one coaching is the gold standard, and those who provide this mission-critical service should be heralded in the streets and welcomed with ticker-tape parades. This is heroic work. But with global workforce shortages, there are definitely not enough coaches to tackle the task at hand. Not for all the clinicians in desperate need of a rapid increase in their fund of knowledge on VBC and HCC coding.
Is there really no other way?
Full disclosure: this is a blog post by a brand that has pioneered another way to teaching HCC coding to doctors. And it really works. But we are not here to sell you our solution. At the moment, we are only here to say as loudly and as clearly as we can that Ye Olde Ways™ are not working. And if there is a better way—which there is—we need to be running toward it like actual lives depended on it. And not just patient lives – doctor lives, nurse lives, NPs and PAs and coders and operators and the IT team, too. There is a lot at stake, and it’s time to search for answers.
If HCC Coding and Physician Burnout are at all on your radar, we’d love to share a solution to both. Better solutions are out there – and they outperform seminars and code-of-the-month email blasts for engagement and results. And they free up your coaches to focus on the 20% that need it the most.
Implementing Value-Based Care is essential for today’s physician. Value-based care is a system of payment and reimbursement that rewards healthcare providers for delivering high-quality, cost-effective care to patients. There are two ways to improve the value of care: improving the quality of care (fewer complications, less re-hospitalization, shorter length of stay, better patient experience); and reducing the cost of care (more efficient services, fewer administrative costs, reduction in waste and overuse of services).
What is value-based care?
Value-based reimbursement is a system that aims to reward healthcare providers for providing high-quality care at an affordable price. It is important to understand that value-based reimbursement is not the same as cost reduction. It is not about minimizing costs, but rather, it is about maximizing quality while keeping costs low.
Benefits of value-based care
Better patient outcomes and experience – Through improved value-based care, you will likely be able to reduce the number of complications, readmissions, and other negative outcomes that patients experience.
Reduced costs – An effective value-based care program will not only result in higher quality, but will also likely reduce your costs. You will be reimbursed for all of the services you provide, but only for the ones that meet your quality standards.
Increased revenue – Providing high-quality care can lead to greater patient satisfaction, word of mouth referrals from happy patients, and thus, more revenue.
Better reimbursement – A value-based care program will be focused on providing high-quality care, so your reimbursement should be higher as a result.
A sustainable business model – If you want to keep your business open and sustainable into the future, you must be able to adapt to the changing needs of your patients, payers, and providers. In order to do this, you must be open to new ideas and be willing to try new strategies. The best place to start is with value-based care.
How to implement value-based care effectively
Start with the end in mind – Before you can implement value-based care, you need to have a clear plan and vision for what your new value-based care program will look like.
Educate your staff – One of the most effective ways to implement value-based care is to educate your staff. HCC coding is not taught in medical school, so clinicians will need a fast and effective means of getting up to speed. Accurate and specific diagnosis coding for risk management will ensure better patient care and improved revenue. And when clinicians understand HCC coding, the process, the metrics, and how their work impacts these metrics, all of VBC just works better
Educate your patients – Another important aspect of implementing value-based care is to educate your patients about what it means and why it is important.
Measure the right things – The first step in implementing value-based care is to make sure that the metrics you are measuring are actually contributing to value.
Find ways to reduce costs – Although you want to increase revenue and improve reimbursement, you also want to minimize costs.
Find the right partners – Last but not least, you need to find the right partners to work with to implement your value-based care program. (We would love the opportunity to earn your partnership on educating clinicians on HCC coding, as well as integrating documentation accuracy and value-based diagnosis resources into your EMR. Get in touch to learn more.)
Measure outcomes and quality
Clinical outcomes – In order to determine if a patient is receiving high-quality care, you must be able to measure their clinical outcomes (metrics such as blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, or other lab values or diagnostic findings, e.g. pathology reports).
Patient experience – While clinical outcomes are important, they do not tell the whole story. Patients may be receiving high-quality care that is resulting in good outcomes, but they may also be receiving poor quality care that is resulting in bad outcomes.
Provider experience – In order to provide high-quality care, providers must receive high-quality training. In addition, they must have access to the right tools. If they do not, they will not be able to provide high-quality care.
Define your value-based care services
Identify your core services – Before you can define the value-based care services you will offer, you must first determine your core services.
Identify your add-on services – Once you have your core list of services, you can then identify add-on services that you offer patients but that are not absolutely required for them to receive care from you.
Assign value-based care units (VBUC) – Next, you must assign a value-based care unit cost (VBUC) to each service.
Create a menu of value-based care services – Once you have identified your core services and have assigned VBUCs to each one, you can then create a menu of value-based care services.
Value-based care has the potential to transform healthcare in the United States. It is important to note, however, that value-based care is not a fad or trend that will quickly come and go. It is a system that has been around for decades and is continuously evolving as more is learned about what it takes to provide high-quality, cost-effective care to patients. If you want to survive and thrive in today’s healthcare environment, you must be willing and able to adapt to the changing needs of your patients, payers, and providers. The best place to start is with value-based care.
Looking for a quick HCC coding knowledge hack? Use this Quick Guide to identify HCC codes for risk adjustment. Diagnosis coding for value-based payment models is one of the key drivers for innovation in modern healthcare – aligning incentives with care in ways that were only talked about in decades past. However, without appropriate and deep HCC coding knowledge, properly documenting chronic conditions that risk adjust is simply not possible.
The need for HCC coding knowledge continues to rise, from ACOs to ACO REACH and to payors and groups in VBC contracts with varying degrees of risk. The CMS’s Alternative Payment Models (APM) increasingly require clinicians to have more than a basic understanding of HCC coding – mastery is becoming the industry standard. Mapping ICD-10 codes to HCCs (Hierarchical Condition Categories) is more than a simple conversion, knowing when and where to use which codes—and how to document accurately–is vital.
And while we advocate for tools that increase the fund of HCC coding knowledge across all relevant clinicians, we also know that your team almost certainly needs a quick-fix that can be deployed today.
You must be able to diagnose the severity of your patient population’s illness in order to accurately and effectively provide care. Obviously, there is an ROI discussion to be had around lost revenue for under-billing for sicker patients. But the bigger risk is under-caring for those patients, and failing to avoid preventable visits to the “expensive care” department.
And while there are those who believe that HCC coding should be in the bailiwick of coders, and clinicians should stick to treating the patients, most modern doctors understand the complex interweaving of the relationship between practicing medicine and following protocols. Diagnosing with a deep understanding of HCC coding and its impact on RAF scores and patient outcomes is an essential component of the modern doctor’s toolkit.
One key piece of that toolkit is a modern approach to HCC coding education, such as what you’ll find in the DoctusTech app. But for today’s lesson, we’re going to give you the shortcut – our HCC Quick Guide, free download.
“We have found that by using a simple workflow intervention and tool, physicians can ensure that their diagnosis coding is informed by HCCs and optimized for payers’ risk adjustment calculations.”
Obviously, we’re biased as to which workflow intervention tool physicians should be using. But before deploying a tool inside the EMR, physicians must be educated on HCC coding – and the old ways are simply not working. So if you need a quick fix, get our Quick Guide. And if it’s time to look into a real solution to cut onboarding times, and get physicians engaged in learning HCC coding and documentation, maybe it’s time to look into more than a quick fix.
And as you identify which chronic conditions have HCC codes that impact risk adjustment, documenting those correctly in the patient’s chart is an important next step. BUT, even if your team is capturing the appropriate codes, but not appropriately documenting, that diagnosis and the dollars earned against it are itching for a bad time. Not only is CMS bringing audits, the DOJ has increased scrutiny on VBC contracts and is incentivizing whistleblowers. This is no longer an area where you can get by on good intentions.
In VBC, not every chronic condition contributes to risk adjustment, so look for those conditions are weighted for risk adjustment – these will be the ones that require more costly care. Don’t rely on the EHR to do this for you, HCC coding knowledge is critical.
Our HCC Quick Guide can help you as your team dips toes in the water, but again, today’s clinicians badly need a deep and growing fund of knowledge on which diagnoses map to HCC codes, which contribute to risk adjustment, and how to document them.
Download the HCC Quick Guide now – print and post it, carry it, laminate it! This will be a vital tool as you lean into risk adjustment
Practicing in value-based payment models requires clinicians to diagnose and document all appropriate chronic conditions that contribute to Risk Adjustment Factor. Each condition must be documented and readdressed annually. This is a critical piece of the annual wellness visit, and any further appointments.
You cannot treat what you don’t diagnose. And you cannot bill against poorly documented diagnoses that have not been properly HCC coded. And you don’t get paid to treat conditions that do not contribute to Risk. So when you put that all together, HCC coding education should be a central component of your team’s toolkit.
It has long been thought that the machinery of the US healthcare system is so big, so complex and so established that steering the ship is nearly impossible. However, if we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can be nimble when we have to be. Lives were on the line, the nation itself was at stake, and The Industry dodged and weaved as nimbly as an NFL receiver. Truly, the entire industry adapted in ways that would have been called impossible a year earlier. Legislative and commercial interests flexed to co-author solutions that feel second nature today – so we know it can be done.
Enter Value-Based Care.
The market shift toward VBC has been slow, but for such an unwieldy thing to shift at all, it has been meaningful in its steadiness. The market is truly moving toward value. We recently blogged on the annual dollars paid in each model, from FFS to full risk, and the trend is a steady annual march. (Read that full blog here: The Rise of Risk: Value-Based Care Payments Increasing Year Over Year
The challenges and opportunities inherent in any change are perhaps more significant, as literally millions of lives hang in the balance. If the nation shifts toward VBC, the sick and aging have a much better chance of receiving better care. One study found that full-risk payment models correlated to a statistically significant decrease in avoidable hospitalizations. (Read the full report here: VBC: Full Risk Shows Lower Preventable Hospitalizations of MA Beneficiaries, Study)
Rather than the high volume-based rewards inherent in the fee-for-service model, value puts the revenue on the other side of patient health, rewarding better results in quality, outcomes, and costs.
But is this good? The CMS has made it clear that their goals for 2030 are a massive shift toward VBC, even though many of the benefits of the model are still largely theoretical. And documented benefits of organizations currently operating in VBC contracts—with either shared savings or varying degrees of risk—have even been deemed untrue, or correlated through dubious means like selection bias. And to be sure, some programs have favored less sick patients to avoid the risk of costly visits to the ED.
But overall, the benefits appear to be demonstrably there – and the industry is shifting. Glacially slow, sure. But shifting all the same.
And while some parts of the industry shifts, there are also vast swaths of healthcare that are so deeply entrenched in fee-for-service that they may never move. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, if there was no darkness, how would we know to be grateful for the daylight?
And so the industry gradually shifts toward value. Investors in the for-profit side of the business of health are taking notice of the ROI in well-run VBC programs. And conscientious investors are becoming more committed to the humanitarian side of wealth, urging boards to take a risk on risk in the interest of improved patient outcomes. And even the most pecuniary of fiduciaries are inclining toward value as the revenue cost-justifies the risk when things are done right a risk adjustment.
And yet, there are organizations that simply refuse to budge – and maybe never will shift to Value. And the reluctance to shift is almost reasonable. VBC incurs significant startup costs, and FFS pays pretty well. Why rock the boat? In a nearly even split between risk and FFS (40% / 40%), there is not yet enough market pressure to force the change.
But will that day come? Will the US consumer eventually learn about value-based care, and start to demand that providers and payors align their financial gains with patient outcomes?
Will legislation force or speed the shift?
Or will there always be fee-for-service as an unavoidable piece of the US healthcare system? And is that such a bad thing?
As we help organizations streamline their shifts into profitable VBC programs through our HCC coding education for doctors and our EMR integrated platform, in many ways, we are also watching from the sidelines.
And while some still say the jury is out, we’ve seen enough from the inside of some of the best operators in VBC to know that the case is closed. Sure, there is plenty of room for improvement. New legislation and increased scrutiny continue to make the compliance piece daunting to the uninitiated. But whether you’re operating the old FFS model, shifting toward VBC, or in it to win it, it’s more clear now than ever that Value-Base Care is the future, and it’s time to make the shift.
Got questions? Curious about the tools and resources required to raise RAF accuracy, boost diagnostic specificity, and lockdown documentation? Need your doctors to learn HCC coding yesterday? We get it. Value-Based Care is important, but it can also be incredibly complex and difficult.
The US healthcare market is leaning in the direction of Full Risk Value-Based Care. While the system is often characterized as a monolith; a massive, unwieldy machine (and as immovable objects go, it is a big one), that big machine is trending steadily toward full risk value-based care.
The CMS recently reported that total spending reached “$4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person [in 2020]. As a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 19.7 percent…” That’s one out of five American dollars. And somehow, with all that money on the table, we still struggle to improve outcomes. (Source: CMS)
According to OECD.org, of the 38 member nations, The US spends more per-capita on healthcare than any other member nation. Also, our already lower-than-average life-expectancy took a higher-than-average hit from the pandemic. “The United States recorded the largest drop in life expectancy of any OECD country during the pandemic, falling from 78.9 in 2019 to 77.3 in 2020 – a decline of 1.6 years, compared to 0.6 years on average.” (Source: OECD)
With the US staring down these and myriad other daunting data points, this is an ideal time to chart a path forward, up, and out of the quagmire of fee-for-service stagnation. Thankfully, change is coming. As we recently posted in our blog, the total dollars of US healthcare spending are gradually shifting away from FFS, through Quality, and into risk models.
CMS Innovation Center has stated that its Goals for 2030 are that all Medicare and the vast majority of Medicaid beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care by 2030. They aren’t specifically stating the “full risk model” as their 2030 goal, but that is the trend and a worthy goal.
And on the topic of trends, doctors increasingly favor full-risk payment models. While educating clinicians—without the right tools—can be a daunting task, more and more clinicians are moving their small practices into full risk value-based care contracts. And while engagement is tricky without the right resources, doctors are consistently in agreement that the incentive alignment inherent within a full risk model is moving the business of medicine in a direction that validates the same noble reasons that compelled them into medical school: patient outcomes. And so long as doctors are supported with access to engaging and impactful HCC coding education, the transition to full risk will continue.
Why is Full Risk Value-Based Care growing, year over year?
As mentioned above, doctors practice medicine for one very simple reason: they want to help people. And while the past century has focused heavily on healing sick people, full risk value-based care models are empowering doctors to achieve an even nobler goal: to keep people healthy. And while pulling a sick patient back from the brink certainly has its thrills, real job satisfaction is found in keeping patients living stable, healthy lives – far away from the avoidable acute events that would have sent them to the ED.
Why do doctors care about Full Risk in Value-Based Care?
When the financial incentives align to incentivize better outcomes, or put another way, healthier patients, one product of that machine is a steady stream of happy doctors. The business goals agree with the doctors’ goals. And with the advent of better clinician HCC coding education tools, engagement is on the rise. And engaging with the tools to improve specificity and accuracy in diagnoses puts clinicians at the forefront of change. The more they engage, the more they learn; the more they learn, the better they diagnose; the better they diagnose, the more they can impact patient health before an avoidable acute health event occurs. Simply put, improving clinician engagement on HCC coding directly impacts every bottom line. ROI improves, ability to deploy more preventative measures improves, patient health improves and physician satisfaction inevitably rises.
What is slowing the transition to Full Risk in Value-Based Care?
Inevitably, there are blockers. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. And it’s incredibly hard to move a massive machine – especially one that comprises one fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product. And frankly, much of the for-profit side of healthcare is resistant to a move away from fee-for-service. That model has grown the revenue streams of many massive corporations, whose shareholders are opposed to not-making-money. And whose leadership has a fiduciary responsibility to those shareholders to keep making money. And while Full Risk in Value-Based Care does show strong ROI, that revenue comes with strings—and risk—attached.
“There is activity in value-based care, but what we see as the biggest challenge is provider engagement… Providers need to understand how to be successful in value-based arrangements.”
— Dr. Andrei Gonzales, assistant vice president of value-based payments for Change Healthcare
The Department of Justice released an analysis of all False Claims Act settlements and judgments in the fiscal year 2021, and healthcare was the source of 5 out of 6 BILLION dollars in settlements and judgments. (Read more on our blog HERE and HERE) Medical fraud took the top line, but Medicare Advantage abuses like upcoding and over-coding—diagnosing conditions that were not in the chart—came in close behind. And these cash-grabs are only the ones that were caught – but they represent enough of a red flag that CMS, the DOJ, and the OSI are all looking very hard at recent changes in payment models. And a RADV audit is no longer the bogeyman exclusively haunting payors. In an effort to restore public trust and recoup misspent healthcare dollars, the Department of Justice and a host of other agency audits are increasing every year. And with whistleblowers rewarded up to 30% of the significant financial judgments, every employee stands to become a robber-baron just for speaking up. In effect, taking a massive cut of the ill-gotten gains.
Dr. Andrei Gonzales, assistant vice president of value-based payments for Change Healthcare said, “There is activity in value-based care, but what we see as the biggest challenge is provider engagement… Providers need to understand how to be successful in value-based arrangements.” (Source: ModernHealthcare)
Educating doctors is not an easy thing. Even Hippocrates himself required future doctors to vow to teach his children how to practice medicine if they cared to learn. Because with the ever-evolving fund of knowledge required just to stay in the stethoscope, the challenge is steep. And for modern providers, the ask is bigger than ever. But it does not have to be like Sysiphus, pushing his rock uphill every day, only to watch it roll back down again. Thankfully, with modern HCC education platforms like the DoctusTech app and integrated tools to drive engagement, today’s doctors have the potential to learn HCC coding faster and more deeply than ever before.
And the faster physicians can learn HCC coding, the faster we will see the industry shift toward to Full Risk in Value-Based Care. And while it may not be a panacea for all that ails the US healthcare system, the transition toward Full Risk in Value-Based Care is the single best way to align incentives, ease the clinician workload, improve outcomes and decrease costs.
Want to try teaching HCC coding to your doctors in a way that really works? No more zoom calls, no more email blasts – a truly engaging platform with proven results. Demo the DoctusTech app today – your doctors will thank you. The ROI from your risk contracts will thank you. Your patients will thank you. And you will help the US take a critical step toward Full Risk in Value-Based Care that actually works.
As we look forward to the release of ACPLAN’s 2022 Alternative Payment Method report, let’s review data from their previous six annual reports. One clear takeaway is that Value-Based Care payments increasing year over year is a trend that shows no signs of stopping. Trend lines point to the inevitable rise of Full Risk, but slowly – as most of the year-over-year movement is coming from transitions from FFS linked to quality to full VBC models.
The APM Framework is the LAN’s landmark achievement, establishing a common vocabulary and pathway for measuring successful payment models. Originally published in 2016 and refreshed in 2017, the Framework classifies Alternative Payment Models (APMs) in four categories and eight subcategories, specifying decision rules to standardize classification efforts. It lays out core principles for designing APMs, which have influenced payers and purchasers, and forms the basis of the annual APM Measurement Effort. Private payers like Anthem use the Framework to set value-based payment goals, and at least 12 state Medicaid agencies use it to set value-based purchasing requirements in contracts with managed care organizations.
From the HCPLAN, Health Care Payment Learning & Action Network
HCPLAN Annual Reports show Increasing Value-Based Care Payments
Within the constructs of this framework, the LAN publishes a yearly report of dollars spent across the four categories, from Category 1(traditional Fee-For-Service or other legacy payments not linked to quality), Quality Category 2 (pay-for-performance or care coordination fees), and Categories 3 & 4 (VBC arrangements with shared savings, shared risk, bundled payment, population-based payments, integrated finance and delivery system payments).
Industry trending toward VBC, Risk, Value-Based Care Payments Increasing
By plugging in data from their annual reports, we can see that the market-share of the various payment models has been shifting toward categories 3 & 4, VBC arrangements with shared savings, shared risk, bundled payment, population-based payments, integrated finance, and delivery system payments.
The trends are clear and compelling: dollars spent in category 3 & 4 payment models are steadily rising, category 2 (pay-for-performance or care coordination) is declining, and Fee-For-Service is gradually shifting downward.
Since releasing their first report in 2016, HCPLAN has been tracking not just the dollars spent, but the trends over time. The below graphic shows one view of the data, as dollars spent increase across all payment models, but does not show the changing position of the various models.
CMS Innovation Center Goals Dictate Value-Based Care Payments Increasing
The CMS Innovation Center has stated that the goals of their strategic direction are that:
All Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care by 2030.
The vast majority of Medicaid beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care by 2030.
While the 2030 goal appears ambitious, the trend-lines are trending in that direction. Not only is Value-Based Care increasing as a total percentage of all payments, but specifically categories 3 & 4 are increasing against category 2. The movement is both away from Fee-For-Service and moving toward full risk models.
HCPLAN Annual Reports Demonstrate Increasing Value-Based Care Payments
Below, we have linked all the HCPLAN data from previous year’s studies, with links to their interactive reports. The data is clearly pointing to Value-Based Care payments increasing, year-over-year.
The overall change from 2019 to 2020 was very small, with Categories 3 & 4 gaining most ground from Category 2, and Category 1 (FFS) moving very little. It will be interesting to see how 2021 measures up.
Will Category 1 remain stalled at 39.3%, or will things continue shifting away from FFS? Will Categories 3 & 4 continue to take from Category 2, or will FFS give up a few of its dollars to VBC? We are grateful for the work of the LAN, and eager to see the next report. Optimistic, even!
Specificity and accuracy are the keys to any successful Value-Based Care program. And clinical vignettes are a great way to learn.
Five years ago, the AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) published a crash course to educate family physicians on HCC coding. To this day, the clinical vignettes from this family physician HCC coding education course are still a great example of how and why family physicians need to diagnose specifically and code accurately in order to fully capture and treat the actual needs of their patients.
So if you are trying to educate family physicians on HCC coding, this Crash Course is a great place to start. As always, the M.E.A.T. criteria must be met in order to properly diagnose and accurately code any diagnosis.
And here are the clinical vignettes presented in the AAFP’s HCC Coding Education Crash Course for Family Physicians:
Risk Adjustment Scores vs. Optimized Risk Adjustment Scores in Common Primary Care Encounters
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #1
Patient with DM II presents for routine follow-up. A1C 8.3. Also has stable COPD, oxygen dependent. O2 DME papers signed earlier this year.
Chronic Resp Failure w/ hypoxia
DM w/ hyperglycemia
Total optimized risk=
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #2
68 y/o patient with hypertension and hyperlipidemia and BMI 37.2. Has been using CPAP for years.
Total optimized risk=
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #3
Patient with diabetes and polyneuropathy. Right great toe amputated several years ago. He continues to smoke. Patient brought in multiple records from other providers. In addition to refill of meds, you counseled for 5 minutes regarding smoking cessation. You spend 35 minutes reviewing and summarizing the outside records and include that in the visit note.
DM w/ polyneuropathy
Acquired loss L great toe
Total optimized risk=
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #4
Patient with HTN comes in for upper respiratory infection. Remote history of colon cancer and now has a chronic colostomy bag. DME orders signed earlier in the year.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Upper Respiratory Infection
Total optimized risk=
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #5
76 y/o presents with swelling of the left arm, redness, and pain. He takes warfarin for atrial fibrillation. He is also a liver transplant patient. Given IM ceftriaxone. PT/INR and CBC ordered.
Cellulitis of L upper ext
Cellulitis of L upper ext
Long term anticoag therapy
Liver transplant status
Total optimized risk=
Family Physician HCC Coding Example #6
Patient for follow-up of major depression, improving. New med started 6 weeks ago.
Major depression, single, unspec
Major depression, single episode, moderate
Total risk= .000
Total optimized risk=
When educating doctors on HCC coding, be sure to avoid common HCC coding pitfalls by remembering these rules:
• Use documentation and coding to capture the severity of illness/risk of high cost
• Make sure that you capture the complexity of the patient
• Major issues need to be captured at least once a year (clock restarts Jan. 1)
To access the full AAFP HCC Coding Education for Family Physicians Crash Course, Click Here.
Need a real solution to train your family physicians on HCC coding for value-based care?
While this crash course is a great place to start, family physicians prefer to learn HCC coding and documentation for Risk Adjustment in the DoctusTech HCC coding education app. It is the only tool that consistently ranks #1 with both physicians and operators. Demo the app today.
Requiring clinicians to learn one more thing—especially when HCC coding does not feel connected to treating patients—is a big ask. Expecting them to learn in ways that are both ineffective and profoundly dull is just plain cruel.
Doctors talk a lot about behavior change in patients. But behavior change in doctors is incredibly tricky to effect. But to make Value-Based Care actually work, behavior change has to happen at the clinician level. Is it any surprise that asking doctors to sit in a classroom (or on a Zoom call) for an hour to be lectured on HCC coding is both wildly unpopular and not actually effective?
The importance of clinicians mastering HCC coding cannot be overstated. Without proper coding and documentation, Value-Based Care will fail. So we need doctors to understand Hierarchical Condition Categories: how to use them, when to use them, which ones to use and for what. And ultimately, why.
You cannot treat what you do not diagnose.
(And you cannot diagnose what you do not document.)
(And you cannot document what you don’t know.)
While we acknowledge that HCC coding lectures do result in limited initial behavior change, doctors inevitably regress back to the mean. They return to doing what they already know.An email blast with the code of the month has even less impact than a lecture. And even the “gold standard” of one-to-one coaching returns a much smaller lasting impact than the time required to conduct the coaching.
Onboarding a new clinician with zero HCC knowledge can be as daunting as moving established providers into Value-Based Care arrangements.
So what is the answer? If the gold standard only makes a small dent in the needed fund of knowledge, and classroom learning is only marginally effective at short-term behavior change—and email blasts are worth less than the paper they’re not printed on—is all hope lost?
Please allow me to introduce you to the DoctusTech HCC Coding Education App.
Five reasons you should try this app for your team:
Do something different. If you are doing what the rest of healthcare has done for years, your approach is not likely to be any more effective. Ask your CDI team. Ask your doctors. Ask your Director of Quality. It’s time to try something new. Our app teaches HCC coding in a new, fresh way that doctors actually enjoy. We use the socratic method, the same technique used when studying for boards: clinical vignettes.
Timing matters: act fast, learn fast. By not embracing HCC coding fast enough, your VBC contracts are not generating the revenue they need to. And in order to support clinicians and patients, you need to learn and adopt – faster. The in-app lift requires less time than microwave popcorn, per week, and delivers real-world behavior change right away. Our app is fast.
Money matters. Patient care is directly related to revenue. Revenue is directly related to RAF accuracy. And RAF accuracy is downstream from HCC knowledge. Invest in your clinicians, change behavior, capture and document new diagnoses, boost RAF accuracy. It all starts with changing the behavior of your doctors. Our app changes behavior.
Happy doctors practice better medicine. By using a tool they enjoy, and driving results right away, your doctors will thank you. Our app has a 90+% month-over-month engagement rate across all clients. Our app makes doctors happy.
25 Hours of CME. Learning HCC coding in the DoctusTech app is not only fun and rewarding, it also provides 25 hours of accredited CME per year. So if you are asking your doctors to learn HCC coding, give them the tools they need to succeed, along with a nice 25 hour CME bonus on the side. Our app provides 25 hours of CME.
In Friday’s “State of the Department” address, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke candidly about upcoding and overcharging in Medicare Advantage. After offering prepared remarks on the continuing COVID public health emergency, Robert King of Fierce Healthcare asked very pointedly about upcoding in Medicare Advantage. Secretary Becerra answered with few specifics, but a clear directive that upcoding, overcharging and costs within Medicare are very much a priority of the department.
“All those things are being examined…
We’re going to get our money’s worth for Americans.
– Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary
>> Robert King: Hi, Robert King with Fierce Healthcare. Thanks so much for taking my question.
I want to talk to you about the Medicare Advantage program, which has grown a lot in popularity, but it has undergone criticism from progressive lawmakers about risk adjustment tactics like upcoding, which is leading to Medicare overpayments.
Do you share those concerns? And if so, what actions is HHS doing to kind of alleviate these issues?
>> Xavier Becerra: Robert, great question, and thanks for asking a question that seems to be a little bit different from some of the others.
So, Medicare Advantage started as a program where we were told by the plans that are offering Medicare Advantage that they could provide as good a level of services health care to seniors on Medicare as the existing traditional system of Medicare, what we call a fee for service, but for a better price.
So it was going to be a good deal for Medicare recipients to have access to good health care services through a Medicare Advantage plan, and it was going to be a good deal for the taxpayers because we would save money in the process.
So far, from what I understand in the evidence, the data, it shows that we spend more per Medicare recipient through the Medicare Advantage program than we do through the fee for service program for Medicare recipients.
We have seen some evidence that in certain areas there seems to be charges that go beyond what would be necessary.
You mentioned the upcoding, which means that a provider will say that they provided a service that is greater or more intense than what was actually needed by the patient, and therefore they get a higher level of reimbursement.
All those things are being examined. There is clearly evidence out there on a lot of these things, and we are taking a close look at how we can make Medicare, writ large, work for Americans and for taxpayers.
We’re going to get our money’s worth for Americans.
We want to make sure that every American senior, every American who receives Medicare, gets what they deserve. Americans work really hard for their Medicare, and so we want to make sure it’s there for them. We don’t want anyone overcharging seniors or any other Medicare recipient for services, and we don’t want taxpayers to be duped.
And so we’re going to do everything we can, whether it is Medicare Advantage or Medicare fee for service to make sure that we’re getting our money’s worth.
And with that, Secretary Becerra concluded the press conference. While no specifics were given as to just what exactly HHS and Secretary Becerra have planned, it’s clear that the concerns about upcoding, overcoding, and overcharging in Medicare Advantage are clearly in their sights.
CMS recently unveiled their replacement for the Direct Contracting Model (DCE), renamed now as the ACO REACH Model. Many of the original Direct Contracting Model tenets will remain the same, with a few significant changes announced.
From heightened scrutiny on up-coding and documentation accuracy to improved Access and Equity, the new model looks to improve upon DCE without replacing it entirely.
Download the full CMS webinar presentation deck, and read our interpretation of the new guidelines.
Levi Wiggins: Alright. Here we are. Live with Dr. Kazi for Year End Preparation for 2022: things to stop doing, things to start doing and things to keep doing. Our host, as always, is Dr. Kazi. Give us a brief introduction!
Farshid Kazi, MD: Thank you everybody. Farshid Kazi, internist by training, with a palliative care focus, then hospitalist, outpatient doctor, and kind of grew up in the value-based care system. And now I’m here with DoctusTech.
Levi Wiggins: All right now, I want to jump right in. So we’re going to start with things to stop, what to start its place. And when we get to the end, we’re going to talk about some things to continue.
So the first bad habit of VBC and HCC documentation to break in 2022 is the 60 minute lectures once or twice a year – stop doing that. But why Dr. Kazi?
Farshid Kazi, MD: Uh, other than the fact that they’re mind-numbingly boring, and as we all know, we don’t actually retain the information. The data is very clear that doctors don’t have sustained behavior change from it. So if you think about your attention span, post-college, I’m assuming most of you can’t sit and listen to a lecture for 60 minutes anymore.
Nobody can, so why do we keep doing it? Because it makes us feel good. We should stop doing it, call it for what it is. Let’s find a better way to meaningfully engage doctors, teach them about this information, and then hold them accountable. And what that means can vary by organization. It can mean that you’re running some type of test to make sure knowledge retention is happening.
You can do one-to-one coaching, which is still a very meaningful way to give feedback to your docs. But please, please stop doing the one hour lectures—for the sake of your doctors—and start holding them accountable for real knowledge retention through one of many ways. And DoctusTech is one of those as well.
Levi Wiggins: Wait, so you’re saying the 60 minute lectures, just like they do in medical school (sarcasm)! Right? That’s how doctors like to learn, right?
Farshid Kazi, MD: Yeah. I mean, Levi, there’s no magic there, right? So you can teach doctors multiple different ways. Teach them with clinical vignettes. You can teach them with one-to-one feedback. You can even teach them by doing charts and dissections, but what you should not do is put them in a classroom setting for an hour and teach them about ICD 10.
Levi Wiggins: That sounds so boring. Alright. The next bad habit to stop as we roll into the next year: pre-templating notes for doctors with new diagnoses. “Here doc, I think you missed one!”
Farshid Kazi, MD: Yeah, we all do it. Any organization has a lot of different strategies on making it easier for doctors. We get it. Doctors are really busy. There’s a lot to do. But pre-templating notes, giving them the diagnosis, is really frowned upon by CMS and DOJ. And if you haven’t seen our white paper around RADV audits, you should take a look at it, because there really have been some slaps on the wrist saying, look, let the doctors do what they’ve been trained to do, make clinical decisions.
And that should not be by prompting from non-clinicians around new diagnoses.
Levi Wiggins: So the thing to start in place there, uh, improving physician workflows inside the EMR. Tell me more about that without a doctor’s tech infomercial. I’m warning you!
Farshid Kazi, MD: So when we think about how we make that easier for doctors, oftentimes we’re trying to do the work for doctors, but really that’s a heavy lift and the hardest solution. Fix the problem inside the EMR. Find a way to get the data that you have outside of your EMR, into the EMR, and solve for the issue, so that doctors can make clinical decisions while they’re with their patients at the point of care.
Levi Wiggins: Okay. And I’ll go ahead and make the infomercial being the marketing. We have a way to do that. So if you’re trying to break that bad habit, hit me up on LinkedIn.
The next thing is stop the checklists of claims-driven diagnoses without supporting evidence – or start getting in big trouble.
Farshid Kazi, MD: Again, the same slap on the hand that happens from pre-templating notes with diagnosis for doctors can happen when you start putting bad data in front of them. We all know claims data is notoriously noisy and inadvertently inaccurate. And so if you start to put inaccurate data in front of your doctors, hoping that they’re going to be a hundred percent accurate, you’re going to find yourself in a bad spot.
So really, starting to think of, “how do I get the right data in front of the doctors at the right time with meaningful support so they can make a true informed decision” is critical here as far to part of your accurate risk adjustment documentation.
Levi Wiggins: We do talk a lot about that checkbox culture, and that’s not why you help patients. You don’t want to check boxes. You want to help them.
Farshid Kazi, MD: You give the doctors a list of check boxes to go through. Their only mission is to get through that. It’s not to make sure it’s accurate. It becomes really a difficult task for them to do. But if you’re giving them insights, giving them clinical guidelines, and letting them do what they do best—which is make medical diagnoses and treat patients—they will optimize their documentation and it will optimize your risk adjustment score accuracy.
Levi Wiggins: So the start on that is to make more of an effort to get supporting documentation and then provide it to your doctors with any claims data. Does that sound about right?
Farshid Kazi, MD: That’s absolutely right.
Levi Wiggins: So when we look at these organizations that are really forward-thinking, they’re kind of where everybody wants to be. There are a few things we see that they’re doing. And if your organization is doing this, first off, I want to commend you – because you guys are doing the hard work of making this easier for the doctors. Thank you. You guys are heroes.
Ok, of the things to continue in 2022 internal audits. I know you hate it, but there’s so much better than an external audit.
Farshid Kazi, MD: Tell me about it. Yeah, gone are the days of just trying to increase your RAF. That should never be part of the nomenclature. It should not be the talk talk-track for any of your teammates. Really, you need to be thinking about how to make your documentation accurate.
Not only for increasing the proper diagnoses, but looking for inaccurate over-documentation. It happens inadvertently. It happens in every organization and, some of the data is showing somewhere between 5% and 15% of data submitted is inaccurate. So starting to look both ways and telling Medicare, CMS, DOJ: we are doing our best to make sure we’re documenting accurately.
And that’s because we are internally auditing for anything that is over-coding. Give the money back before you ever receive it. So you don’t get into trouble.
Levi Wiggins: That’s absolutely right. And, and it’s partly just an ethical thing. Partly it’s an administrative thing, but for those of you who are doing those internal audits, you guys are true heroes.
Levi Wiggins: OK, the next thing to continue for 2022 is accountability for your doctors!
Farshid Kazi, MD: Yeah, too often, we start to, to spread ourselves thin. Everyone’s doing everything. It’s a team approach, but really, who’s going to be held accountable for the knowledge game? How do we make sure the doctors have retained information to be accurate and compliant with their documentation?
We need to show some type of effort and accountability. And again, thinking through this is not easy to do, transitioning from a fee for service model to value-based care requires a massive change – and dovetails into a few other things that good practices are doing. But really, having a tracking dashboard, showing that it matters.
And then giving feedback to your doctors is critical around that.
Levi Wiggins: Now this one, to be honest, I don’t really know what this means. What I want you guys to continue is time allotments and you and I are both going to find out what this means now!
Farshid Kazi, MD: Documenting accurately takes some time. And so if you’re going from a predominantly fee for service driven model to a value-based care driven model, you need to get C-suite buy-in to have commitment on increasing time of visits, giving doctors time to document accurately. So they’re not trying to get done quickly, working in the car, at home on the weekends, or even worse – while they’re with family.
It’s giving them time to document accurately and change the schedule – it has to be done with intentionality. You cannot fit the same model of value-based care into fee for service and expect something totally different when it comes to outcomes.
Levi Wiggins: Oh, that makes perfect sense!
OK, the last thing we have for those of you who are doing it, continue, keep up the fight! And for those of you who are not doing it, this is the year to make those changes. Clinically driven ROI. Over to you, David, in the studio!
Farshid Kazi, MD: Levi, too often risk adjustment documentation accuracy is around financials. It’s about the numbers and the dollars coming. Why does that matter? The mission behind value-based care is we’re trying to help reinvest into delivering better outcomes.
And so if you do your documentation accurately, you can invest in the palliative care, you can invest in the tele-health, or remote device monitoring. So show your doctors how that capital is being repurposed towards improving patient care. And all of a sudden you will see buy-in and commitment.
I am a big believer that my colleagues are trying to do the best for their patients, but the infrastructure… The healthcare system was not built to help them succeed. So as you make this transition, if you start to show how you’re reinvesting those dollars, it will have a meaningful impact for your doctors.
Levi Wiggins: That’s great! Now, forgive my naiveté here, but I know we encounter organizations that aren’t doing some of these things. And to me, you know, I’m just over here in my office, doing my own thing. Help me understand why some organizations aren’t embracing these things, they should start still doing the things they should stop.
Is it, is it budget? Is it time? Is it sloth and human frailty? What is it? Lack of resources? What’s what stops an organization from doing the things they should do – this list that they know they should start and stop and continue?
Farshid Kazi, MD: Can I say, all of them, Levi? Is that a cop-out answer? I mean, it could be any number of those, right? But there’s no question. If you look at this list, things we’ve talked about, they should be hopefully obvious and things that you should do. And yet 80% of the groups we talk to do some combination of the things we’re asking people to stop. It’s clear as day that the DOJ has a high degree of focus on documentation accuracy, as does CMS.
And so, right now is the time to start thinking about how you stop this. You get your C-suite, buy-in have physician champions and try to do this the right way from the get-go.
Levi Wiggins: And this can all be done… every single one of these can be done without ever booking a demo of our tools, talking to us – like, you don’t need us to do this stuff, right?
Levi Wiggins: Obviously we help, we help automate a lot of these processes. Am I Canadian? I just said “PROcesses.” So I’m probably Canadian. Anyway, we do make it easier, but they can do it without us. Right?
Farshid Kazi, MD: A hundred percent. The purpose of this is so that it makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable and saying, Hey, let’s try to do 2022 better.
And yes, we, a hundred percent can help. And that’s why we built DoctusTech, but you don’t need us. You don’t need a vendor to do this. You can really start to do this with the resources you have without spending a single dime.
Levi Wiggins: But also, DoctusTech: solutions for people like you who need to stop doing things they did last year and do different things in 2022!
Levi Wiggins: All right. That’s a wrap! Ok, to sum it up, here’s the full list:
CMS released its final Medicare Shared Savings Program rule, called “Pathways for Success” for ACOs. The new rule is designed to help establish a path toward risk, with a heavy focus on Risk Adjustment Coding.
CMS = Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services || MSSP = Medicare Shared Savings Program || ACO = Accountable Care Organization
MSSP lays out a clear transition to risk, and allows ACOs to start at different points, depending on where they are as an organization. Also, it extends the agreement period from 3 to 5 years, which provides more time to measure performance against the benchmark. This creates a Basic and Enhanced track option en route to risk. (See Image A below)
Image A Basic & Enhanced Tracks
There are several best practices an ACO can adopt to help succeed within the new model. Many ACOs are now looking toward Risk Adjustment which not only allows highlighting of high-risk patient populations, but will also provides a more accurate way of predicting cost and determining reimbursement.
The adoption of HCC risk adjustment best practices has been recognized by Medicare Advantage plans for several years. In contrast, ACOs who participate in Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) have opted away from any type of program, as they felt it had little effect on their benchmark. This is often due to an ACOs past experience within the MSSP. However, the new changes open many doors to those who may have shied away from risk in the past, for reasons such as:
Benchmarks were based 100% on an ACO’s historical success.
No adjustments were made on the true risk score of the beneficiary, thus no penalty for similar low risk scores year over year.
False/inaccurate predictions of condition profiles of beneficiaries.
Re-enrolled beneficiaries given a demographic adjustment only, making it very difficult for an ACO to improve coding and increase benchmarks.
Given the new Pathways to Success Rule, ACO groups are being shown risk adjustment in a different light. There are no more restrictions on RAF changes for the historical beneficiary. Instead, there is a 3% limit on the total increase from historical to performance year.
ACOs continue to lag in adoption of HCC coding practices. From the most recent 2019 Shared Savings PUF file, 49% of groups have seen a drop in RAF from benchmark year 3 (BY3) to Performance Year (PY1). RAF scores on these groups dropped from 1.0149 within BY3 to .9819 in PY1 on average, showing a -3.25% drop (see below in Image B). As a result, ACOs could have faced a significant uphill battle over the next few performance years as they attempt to true up their future benchmarks. This is one significant issue addressed by MSSP.
Image B: RAF Decrease PUF file 2019 ACO MSSP
Coding improvements are capped at 3%, however, with this drop (shown above) from BY3 to PY1, RAF improvement can actually be significantly above the allowed 3% to offset the drop of -3.25%. Therefore, now is the time for ACOs to begin adopting HCC Risk Adjustment best practices to help in this effort.
By adopting best practices within HCC coding, you can ensure that your medical group has the highest specificity of diagnoses, ensuring quality of care and compliance.
What exactly are these best Risk Adjustment Coding practices that can be adopted?
Making correct preparations prior to encounter
Documentation of all chronic conditions that are current
Ensuring a clean clinical workflow to display conditions for clinicians
Post-encounter review for quality assurance
As value-based care is being adopted on a wider scale, the old model of Fee for Service payment is slowly dwindling. More time is being spent with a patient to treat all chronic conditions at the encounter is becoming best practice.
One of the major issues that medical groups contend with is the ability to use all relevant data to create an aligned clinical workflow that helps the physician recapture, diagnose, and reject any conditions which are inaccurate. A melee of data is combined in the form of claims data, RX data, member eligibility, historical diagnosis, and utilization. The ability to organize this data into actionable insights, clinical suggestions, and quality opportunities is a huge task for any ACO.
Here at DoctusTech, we can offer a solution to this issue…..
Value-based Care Contracting is a key component to your VBC program. Fee-for-service contracts continue to be a challenge for VBC. The pandemic led to a drastic reduction in volumes that impacted FFS contracts revenue ($15B loss due to volume dips).
During the pandemic, organizations with value-based contracts were able to pivot operations to maintain revenue even when the volumes dropped. VBC payments will increase rapidly in the near future as hospitals and physician practices look to protect themselves against future downturns.
Revcycle Intelligence (of Xtelligent Healthcare Media) shared an in-depth article highlighting how to succeed at value-based contracting. We share our takeaways from the article below.
Prior to engaging in contract negotiations:
Have a strong clinical leadership team to engage your physicians as their top priority (not 0.2 FTE).
Build a strong referral network that can be managed tightly with hospitals and specialists
Make a meaningful investment in changing FFS workflows to optimize patient care and care coordination. Tracking and accountability are key.
Build strong financial models. Do you have the resources that you need to manage those medical costs and administrative costs of that population that you might get?
Heading into contract negotiations:
Promote your organization’s quality metrics. Do you have longer clinic hours compared to your neighboring groups? Do you have better STARS/HEDIS scores? Are you leading in patient satisfaction scores?
Build an experienced team to handle payor contract negotiations. Every contract is unique, and the fine print matters. Most importantly, understand how your payor will attribute patients.
Don’t over-commit on what data you can collect and report. Prepare your IT infrastructure well ahead of time.
Make sure your payors will be good partners in promoting your group and helping you grow your patient base.
After the negotiation:
Growth is key because organizations need a panel of patients for contracts to work, and those patients cannot all be high-risk.
Keep close tabs on provider satisfaction, physician growth, and employer satisfaction with the care delivered.
Noticeable dips in quality performance may necessitate change and possibly another round of negotiation. Identify shortfalls early and frequently communicate with your payor partners.
Success begets success with payor contracts.
Read More: Value-Based Contracting 101: Preparing, Negotiating and Succeeding