EMRThe American healthcare system is quickly evolving into an entity never before been seen in the U.S.

Political jostling aside, Obamacare will have a significant impact on patients across the country. As I have outlined in part one of this article series, Obamacare is likely to have consequences that will significantly impact private practice.

There’s going to be a flood of new patients who need care in the next few years, and the impact on reimbursements is yet to be determined.

Medical professionals in all branches of the profession are going to be expected to see more patients, and likely lower reimbursements. I’ve talked extensively about the importance of diversification of referral services and several marketing strategies for private practice owners on my blog, but there is a lot more to survival in the Obamacare economy.

If you are not using an EMR system already, then the time to consider it is now. That’s not all. You want to ask the important question “Is my EMR system recognized and tested by the Office of the National Co-ordinator (ONC) and how can I verify this?”.

Healthcare is changing and practitioners must transform their practices to remain in business.

Government Sanctioned EMR Technology

We’re living in a new world, and I call it the “Obamacare Economy”. As a clinician, it’s your responsibility to document, code and bill effectively, and make sure everything is reported to CMS and other payers. You can achieve this the hard way with pen and paper, or the easy way with EMR technology.

The first step toward maintaining profitability is the use of a cloud-based, integrated electronic medical record (EMR) system like In Touch EMR.

Even through physical therapists are not ‘eligible professionals’ and therefore not eligible for Meaningful Use incentives like physicians, physical therapists should consider using (at minimum), a base EHR certified technology from January 1, 2014 to be eligible for PQRS incentives, according to a CMS Rule published 11/16/2012 that can be found here:


Here are relevant passages from the Rule:

“Therefore, based on the comments received, we are also finalizing to the requirement that a direct EHR product be certified by ONC as Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT), and therefore meet the definition of CEHRT in ONC’s regulations (see 45 CFR 170.102), to submit PQRS measures. (For the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria, please refer to 77 FR 54163)”

“We are discontinuing the qualification process and requiring that a direct EHR product be CEHRT beginning in 2014. A certified quality reporting module may be part of CEHRT, but CEHRT as a whole is more comprehensive. Please refer to ONC’s standards and certification criteria final rule for additional information on requirements for CEHRT (77 FR 54163).”

A CEHRT is defined as “EHR technology certified to the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria that meets the Base EHR definition and would support the objectives, measures, and their ability to successfully report the CQMs, for the MU stage that they seek to achieve.”

In case you’re wondering “Who’s an eligible professional (for Meaningful Use incentives) and who isn’t, here’s the direct link to get more information on Meaningful Use Stage 2 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

Definition of Base EMR Technology

Here is a link to the 2014 Edition requirements for a Base EHR and it’s something you need to ask your vendor about:

These are the minimum modules that an EMR must be certified in to meet the requirements of being a CEHRT and being able to directly submit PQRS in 2014.

Includes patient demographic and clinical health information, such as medical history and problem lists

  • Demographics § 170.314(a)(3)
  • Problem List § 170.314(a)(5)
  • Medication List § 170.314(a)(6)
  • Medication Allergy List § 170.314(a)(7)

Has the capacity to provide clinical decision support

  • Clinical Decision Support § 170.314(a)(8)

Has the capacity to support physician order entry

  • Computerized Provider Order Entry § 170.314(a)(1)

Has the capacity to capture and query information relevant to health care quality

  • Clinical Quality Measures § 170.314(c)(1) through (3)

Has the capacity to exchange electronic health information with, and integrate such information from other sources

  • Transitions of Care § 170.314(b)(1) and (2)
  • Data Portability § 170.314(b)(7)

Has the capacity to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of health information stored and exchanged

  • Privacy and Security § 170.314(d)(1) through (8)

The EMR software you use must satisfy these criteria, and must be tested and accredited by one of the four bodies approved by the ONC.

ONC Certified Base EHR Technology – Is Your Vendor Certified by one of the ‘Big Four’?

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is responsible for certifying electronic medical records software, and it does so through FOUR ‘Certification Bodies and Testing Laboratories’, which play a key role in the ONC HIT Certification Program.

Certifying and testing Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology provides assurance to providers and other purchasers that an EHR system offers the necessary technological capability, functionality, and security to help them meet the Meaningful Use criteria, and helps maintain quality and consistency across the certified products. Once again, physical therapists are not eligible for Meaningful Use funds, but a minimum ‘base EHR’ technology is required for reporting PQRS measures.

In the ONC HIT Certification Program, ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies (ONC-ACBs) conduct certification and Accredited Testing Laboratories (ATLs) conduct testing.

A single organization can be both an ONC-ACB and an ATL. ONC has authorized the following certification bodies to serve as ONC-ACBs in the ONC HIT Certification Program:

  •     Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT)
  •     Drummond Group
  •     ICSA Labs
  •     InfoGard Laboratories, Inc

Only test tools and test procedures that have been approved by the National Coordinator can be used to test Complete EHRs and/or EHR Modules in order for them to be eligible for certification by an ONC-Authorized Certification Body (ONC-ACB). ATLs are authorized to test Complete EHRs and/or EHR Modules according to the 2011 and/or the 2014 Edition EHR Certification Criteria.

The test tools and test procedures that align with the 2014 Edition are available here


How to Check if your EMR is ONC Certified

Here is the link to the ONC CHPL site


On this site, providers can access all certified software and select individual products or combinations of products to use to attest for Meaningful Use funds through the CMS. Providers can also look for EHR vendors that have been tested and certified for certain specific criteria (these will appear as ‘Modular EHR’ technologies).

Try it out by selecting a 2011 or 2014 Edition software, placing it in the shopping cart, and see the resulting message that is generated.

What this Means for Physical Therapy Private Practice Owners

Physical therapists who bill Medicare must report PQRS measures (and Functional Limitation G codes) to avoid penalties and the best way to do this is with the use of an EMR system. Your EMR should be a registry, or provide claims based reporting options to CMS, or better yet, be recognized by the ONC as a ‘Modular EHR’ that fulfills the requirements of a ‘base EHR’.

Technology like this offers the ability to collect reimbursements quicker, maintain security compliance, and increase the profitability of practices.

EMR systems contain functionality to track multiple variables that affect the practice and market services successfully. The software can be deployed on tablet technology for portability, allowing therapists to save time during the patient encounter and complete paperwork electronically for quicker billing turnaround.

The EMR technology of the future must help grow your practice. It’s not enough for an EMR vendor to be ‘just another vendor’ that sells you software for scheduling, documentation, compliance and billing. It’s not enough for the software to have perks like appointment reminders and home exercise programs.

Your practice needs way more than that to be able to help you grow in the Obamacare economy, and that’s why we built In Touch EMR.

Your EMR software has to go above and beyond what it’s doing now.

It has to help you increase profits by integrating all the following within the interphase of the EMR software:

  1. Increase referrals from physicians with automated marketing systems
  2. Increase referrals from patients with automated newsletters, greeting card, phone, text and email communication systems
  3. Increase referrals from other business in the community by creating and automating cross promotion marketing campaigns
  4. Converting prospects to patients with done-for-you educational resources automatically distributed to patients

Diversification – The Way to Thrive in this New Economy

In this new economy, you don’t want to ‘keep all your eggs in the Medicare basket’. As patients see a decline in the quality of physical therapy, they will be looking for (and willing to pay for) options that make them healthier.

This is an unprecedented new opportunity, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in physical therapy private practice.

That’s exactly where you come in.

Today’s patient is eager to partake of services and products perceived as “luxury” items.  Known as cash paying services, they’re paid for at the time they’re delivered. Options include selling supplements, durable medical supplies and medical products to better serve patients and create multiple income streams.

Hiring the right staff to provide the services, and the right systems to be able to track these services is the first step towards diversification. Speaking of systems, nothing is more important than a simple, yet powerful electronic medical records (EMR) system for your private practice.

With the portability of EMRs, practitioners can expand their repertoire of offerings at the clinic and in other venues. Clinicians can feature a variety of different massage therapies, weight loss clinics and nutritional information, along with personal training, acupressure and wellness programs. Aquatic therapy, women’s programs, athletic training services and fall prevention offerings are also popular.

Your Action Plan with Obamacare

Strategies to maximize Medicare payments include:

  1. Be more efficient with time spent with all patients, especially Medicare
  2. Be more knowledgeable about the types of CPT codes and number of units billed

Here is how you can maintain (and even increase income) in the Obamacare economy:

  1. Diversify your payer mix by having payers other than Medicare, preferably those who pay more than Medicare. Look at your payor contracts to determine how much you are getting paid and identify the ones where you are paid more. Reduce your dependence on Medicare patients. We can help you analyze this, as part of our coaching service in the Referral Ignition Elite program.
  2. Setup different cash paying programs to increase income and increase lifetime value of each patient. Mobilize your staff, patients and referral sources to help you increase referrals and grow the practice. Diversify sources of income and services to serve patients better to make your business multi-faceted and diverse. You can get several free tips and tricks on how to market your private practice at our blog.
  3. Use an electronic medical records and a medical billing software that streamlines and automates practice workflow.

Empower your Biller to Focus on Critical Tasks

Clinicians must be more efficient in the time they spend with patients, from ascertaining the source of their ailments and creating documentation to preparing claims for billers.

Besides the clinician, the biller is the most important person in the practice. Here are some of the most time consuming aspects of billing:

  1. Creating claims by copy pasting ICD, CPT, modifiers, supporting diagnosis data into the billing software
  2. Editing and scrubbing this data before it is submitted to the payer
  3. Manually batching claims and uploading them to the clearing house
  4. Manually reviewing and posting ERAs to the patient record
  5. Submitting secondary claims
  6. Generating and mailing patient statements

Here’s the good news – EMR systems such as the In Touch EMR and the fully integrated In Touch Biller Pro automate all of these tasks for the biller. This allows the biller to focus on the things that drive revenue for the private practice such as:

  1. Make sure all claims are submitted as quickly as possible
  2. Identify reasons for denials and eliminate them
  3. Provide simple guidelines to clinicians to maximize reimbursement and minimize denials
  4. Call the insurance companies to follow up on claims
  5. Make sure all EOBs are entered promptly
  6. Write and mail appeal letters
  7. Follow up with patients to make sure statements are paid

This makes things easier for the private practice owner, allowing him or her to plan and implement diversification endeavors.

Concierge Services – A Bold New Alternative

Concierge practices, also known as direct pay practices, are typically the bastion of primary care physicians, but the concept can work for physical therapists. In a concierge practice, patients pay a monthly or annual fee for enhanced services that can include same day appointments, email consultations, extended patient encounters and 24/7 access to their therapist, along with other perks.

Practitioners generally maintain a smaller roster of clients, but are paid better and work fewer hours. It’s a healthcare option that enables clinicians to practice in their own way, reduces staffing, compliance and administrative costs, and treats patients as individuals rather than part of an assembly line. Therapists can also continue to accept insurance payments if they choose.physical therapy EMR

Therapists don’t want to turn away any patient, especially those with Medicare who may need them most, even though they’re underpaid through Obamacare.

To combat the negative impact of Obamacare on patients and practitioners, clinicians must increase the efficiency level during the patient encounter.

Identifying cash paying services and products appropriate for the practice allows clinicians to attract a larger and more diverse clientele. Those services and products will establish multiple streams of revenue that ensures profitability through any economy and helps practices survive Obamacare.