Tag Archives: medical provider networks

Portrait of a Smart Medical Provider Network in Workers' Comp

Smart is cool, especially in electronics. Smart phones answer their users' most obscure questions instantly. Computers are smart, as are iPads, some TVs and even children's toys. So why can't workers' compensation medical provider networks be smart?

If they were, what would that look like?

Portrait of a Smart Medical Network

A smart medical network contains only the best doctors and other medical providers, those who drive the best results for injured workers and their employers. Moreover, a smart network does not rely on discounts on services as the requirement for participation. Instead, demonstrated positive outcomes are the qualifier for medical provider participation and continuing excellence.

Smart Networks Are Local

A network containing thousands of doctors is of no value to the injured worker. Workers need the closest provider who will treat them effectively and return them to work. The worker’s employer likewise needs the best local provider who will return the worker to pre-injury status in the shortest amount of time at the least cost. Smart networks are composed of this kind of medical doctors.

Network Participation Qualifiers

Smart networks are built by objectively measuring the performance of physicians who have actually treated injured workers. Objective evidence of performance is found in the data. Yet, indicators of performance are typically ignored in traditional networks. They do not measure or monitor the quality of provider performance. They simply contract with any providers and add them to the network directory.

Indicators of Quality

Many indicators of performance found in the data can be used to measure the level of provider performance. In the case of medical treatment of injured workers, the most telling indicators reveal doctors’ awareness and acknowledgement of the nuances of workers’ compensation that ultimately benefit both injured workers and their employers.

Revealing data elements influenced by the treating physician include return to work, medical costs, indemnity payments, legal involvement and disability status at the close of the claim. These outcome indicators in the data are important markers of quality and legitimate criteria for evaluation. Algorithms are executed using the indicators, and providers are scored based on their performance. Performance measurement must be objective and consistent. But performance measurement cannot end there.

Continuous Monitoring

To ensure continued quality, the data must be continuously monitored. Unlike traditional medical networks that contract for discounts with medical providers and go no further, smart medical networks for workers’ compensation continue to monitor for quality. Continuous monitoring is the very definition of medical management:

Good management is making sure what you did stays done!

California SB 863

In fact, California SB 863, effective Jan. 1, 2014 (now!), mandates continuous monitoring of medical provider costs and quality performance. This progressive legislation is an excellent model for selecting and monitoring smart medical networks, regardless of geographic location.

Establishing a smart medical network is essential, and the means are clear and available. However, the transition from traditional networks to smart medical networks can be tricky.

Converting to Smart Networks

Traditional networks are tethered to their established means of revenue generation. Shifting from the discount network model to the smart medical network model is challenging. The most practical approach is initially combining the two models, then weaning from the old model over time.

If the right physicians are a part of a smart medical network, claim outcomes will improve. Injured workers will receive good medical treatment and return to work early and successfully, and costs will be significantly reduced.

Moreover, physicians and other providers who qualify for smart networks should be rewarded. They should not have their fees reduced by discounts. Based on the excellence of their past performance, they should be included in the smart network on a very long leash. Continued performance for continued participation will be monitored scrupulously.

Win-Win

Nevertheless, it should be noted, payers have an obligation to participate in the transition to, and continuation of, smart networks by recognizing and paying for value received. Networks need support and cooperation from payers to integrate and analyze their data, score provider performance and realign medical provider preferences. The benefits will accrue to everyone: payers, networks, employers and injured workers.

Data Participation

Importantly, to achieve optimum results, data must be gathered from multiple sources and integrated for comprehensive claim analysis. Data from only one source, such as bill review, is sorely deficient for accurate analysis of medical provider performance. Claim system and pharmacy data must be added to bill review data at a minimum. Shortcuts in data gathering and analysis are not defensible.

Change Momentum

Network administrators are gradually stepping up to the challenge of shifting to smart networks. Momentum toward smart networks will be exponential with payer participation, resulting in quality improvement and cost control all around.

Moneyball and the Art of Workers' Comp Medical Management

Recently, I watched “Moneyball,” the movie, for the third or fourth time. The story is compelling, as is the book by the same name that preceded it.1

“Moneyball” is based on the concept called Sabermetrics, defined as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” The central premise of “Moneyball” is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders, including players, managers, coaches, and scouts over the past century, is subjective and flawed. The book argues that the Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, took advantage of analytic, evidenced-based measures of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against far-richer teams in Major League Baseball. During the 2002 season, the Oakland A's won enough games to make the playoffs in spite of a meager salary budget and “inferior” players.

Even though the two industries are diametrically dissimilar, distinct parallels can be drawn between baseball and workers’ compensation medical management.

Similar Resistance to Analytics

One similarity is the resistance to adopting analytics as a knowledge tool. Baseball insiders and managers opposed Beane’s analytics, sometimes vehemently. Long-held beliefs among baseball insiders promoted measures of performance such as stolen bases and batting averages. Beane’s metrics debunked the old methods, revealing unrecognized strengths in lesser-known, more affordable players.

Similarly, workers’ compensation leaders have relied on traditional medical provider networks and personal preferences to select medical doctors. If doctors are in a network and offer a discount on medical services, all is good. Yet, industry research has shown that not all doctors are equal. Doctors and other medical providers who understand and acknowledge the nuances of workers’ compensation drive better outcomes. It’s a matter of finding those doctors.

Finding Best Performers

The purpose of “Moneyball” Sabermetrics is the same as workers’ compensation medical metrics—to find the best performers for the job. The way to do that in baseball is to analyze the data defining actual performance in terms of outcome—games won. In workers’ comp, the data must be scrutinized to find doctors who drive positive claim outcomes. In both cases, a variety of metrics are used to support the most effective decisions.

Performance Indicators

As in baseball, the goal in medical management is to apply objective information to decision-making using evidenced-based measures of performance. For both industries, cost is a factor. However, in workers’ compensation, the cost of medical care must be tempered by other factors:  What is the duration of medical treatment? What is the return-to-work rate associated with individual doctors? What providers are associated with litigated claims?

As in baseball, the list of indicators for performance analysis is long. However, the sources of data differ significantly.

The Data Challenge

In baseball, all the data necessary for analysis is neatly packaged. Statistics are gathered while the game is in progress. In workers’ comp, the data that informs medical management resides in disparate systems and must be gathered and integrated in a logical manner.

Essential data lives in bill review systems, claims adjudication systems and pharmacy (PBM) systems and can also be found in utilization review systems, peer review systems, and medical case management systems. The data must be integrated at the claim level to portray the most comprehensive historic and current status of the claim. Data derived from only one or two sources omits critical factors and can distort the actual status or outcome of the claim.

Once the data has been integrated around individual claims, meaningful analysis can begin. Indicators of performance can be analyzed with new conclusions drawn about the course of treatment and medical provider performance. Moreover, concurrently monitoring the updated claim data leads to appropriate and timely decisions.

Data Positioned as a Work-in-Progress Tool

In baseball, the data is used as a work-in-progress information tool. Decisions about the best use of players are made daily, sometimes hourly. Workers’ compensation medical management can do the same. Systems designed to monitor claim details and progress can alert the appropriate persons when events or conditions portend complexity and cost.

Industry Status

Analytics in baseball is not exclusive to the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics. All of Major League Baseball now relies heavily on its use. Unfortunately, there are still only a few visionary Billy Beanes in workers’ compensation medical management. Yet, applying analytics for cost and quality control is simple and affordable and can be adopted quickly by all.

1Lewis. M. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game 2003. The film “Moneyball”, starring, Brad Pitt was released in 2011.

California SB 863, a Guide to Building and Monitoring Networks with Intelligence, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on building and monitoring networks with intelligence. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

California has defined how medical networks in Workers’ Compensation should be structured and managed. Part 1 and Part 2 of this series described how California’s SB 863 LC 4616 (b) (2) and LC 4616 (b)(3) takes medical provider network directives to a new level. The key imperative is, “Every MPN must establish and follow procedures continuously to review the quality of care, performance of medical personnel, utilization of services, facilities, and costs. However, a few additional key points should be considered when selecting and monitoring medical providers for the California MPN or any network.

Beyond legislation
Escalating problems in the industry with Opioid overuse and abuse, as well as physicians who are dispensing medications from their offices are additional factors that must be considered. While the California SB 863 legislation does not address these issues, the data should be scrutinized to identify physicians who demonstrate unfavorable prescriptive practices. Analyzing the data to evaluate physician performance in that regard is essential to vetting physicians for membership in a network. It is also crucial to monitoring networks going forward.

Opioid Over-Prescribers
Workers’ Compensation literature is replete with information about Opioid overuse and abuse with its disastrous human and resource waste. Unfortunately, measures taken to curb inappropriate prescribing behavior are few and vary widely across the country.

Simply stated, the best way to reduce Opioid abuse is to avoid Opioid over-prescribers. Analysis of the data will identify the perpetrators. They should never be a part of a Workers’ Compensation medical network.

Back to California – CURES
California has a program that approaches the problem by monitoring patient utilization of prescribed Schedule II drugs and making that information available to authorized prescribers and distributors (pharmacies) of controlled drugs.

California’s program is called CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, and PDMP (California Prescription Drug Monitoring Program).1 The California Department of Justice, has a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) system which “allows pre-registered users including licensed healthcare prescribers eligible to prescribe controlled substances, pharmacists authorized to dispense controlled substances, law enforcement, and regulatory boards to access timely patient controlled substance history.

The California Attorney General's Office said that if doctors and pharmacies have access to controlled substance history information at the point of care it will help them make better prescribing decisions and cut down on prescription drug abuse in California. The role of the CURES/PDMP ensures that well-informed prescribers and pharmacists can and will use their professional expertise to evaluate their patients’ care and assist those patients who may be abusing controlled substances.

The state’s database known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (C.U.R.E.S) contains over 100 million entries of controlled substance drugs that were dispensed in California. Each year the CURES program responds to more than 60,000 requests from practitioners and pharmacists. The online CURES/PDMP system will make it much easier for authorized prescribers and pharmacists to quickly review controlled substance information via the automated Patient Activity Report (PAR) in an effort to identify and deter drug abuse and diversion through accurate and rapid tracking of Schedule II through IV controlled substances.”

Submission Of Controlled Substance Data
Pursuant to Health & Safety Code Section 11190, and Business & Professions Code Section 1170, all licensees who dispense Schedule II through IV controlled substances must provide the dispensing information to the Department of Justice on a weekly basis in a format approved and accepted by the Atlantic Associates Inc. (AAI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Similarly, pursuant to California Health and Safety Code Section 11165(d), dispensing pharmacies and clinics must provide weekly dispensing reports to the DOJ on Schedule II, III, and IV prescription drugs.

For purposes of creating an intelligent MPN, ensure any physician under consideration for an MPN in California is a member of CURES/PDMP. That notwithstanding, the data should be monitored continuously to determine actual performance.

Physician-Dispensed Medications
Another prescription abuse issue not addressed by the California legislation is physician-dispensed medications. While it is portrayed as a patient convenience, and probably is, the medications are prepackaged and extraordinarily costly. Once again, this practice can be monitored in the data. Bills reflecting drugs dispensed by the treating doctor are not monitored by Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBM). Rather, they appear in normal provider billing.

Networks With Intelligence
All medical provider networks serving any jurisdiction should analyze integrated data, meaning all data associated with claims. Integrated data is sourced from claims level systems, bill review systems, PBM systems, and other sources such as utilization review to understand the broad spectrum of claims and all individuals, organizations, and events touching them. The goal is to select best-in-class doctors by objectively identifying excellent provider performance.

Authors
Karen Wolfe collaborated with Margaret Wagner to write this article. Ms. Wagner is President and CEO of  Signature Networks Plus. She is considered an expert in network selection, monitoring and management, thereby creating Networks with Intelligence™ for clients.

1 http://oag.ca.gov/cures-pdmp

Data Integrity – Y2K All Over Again?

Remember Y2K?
“January 1, 2000, that is the day that was to change all of our lives. That was the day that the computers on which we all depended would fail us. That was the day that all of our luxuries of daily life would crumble, and we would be once again forced to live without electricity, running water, heat. The great Y2K scare is what it was called. The scare was that all of our computer systems around the world would cease to function on December 31, 1999.”1 They did not.

Drawing A Parallel In Workers’ Compensation
The hype and fear of Y2K were paralyzing for some and organizations spent large sums of money to reprogram computers in preparation. Indeed, there is far less anxiety about the veracity of medical provider data in Workers’ Comp claims and bill review systems. Yet, medical provider records in Workers’ Comp are just as lacking as the year date in systems prior to 2000 and the ramifications could actually be consequential.

Opportunity Cost
The Y2K issue prior to the late 1990’s was caused by limited disk space that was conserved by using only two digits for the year. The number of bytes that would fit on a screen and in the memory of the machine was limited. On the other hand, the cause of limited medical provider data is simply a matter of traditionally paying the bill efficiently. Only name, address, and Tax ID is needed. However, inadequate and inaccurate medical provider data is opportunity cost for the industry.

New Applications
No longer is the industry interested in using medical provider information for bill payment only. Provider records in systems are key to evaluating provider performance beyond direct fees for service. Medical providers impact return to work, indemnity costs, claim duration, and other factors. The indicators can be found in the data.

Who Knew?
Medical provider records have recently risen to the level of essential information for quality and cost control. In order to evaluate individual medical providers, medical groups, and facilities, the data in provider records must be non-duplicative, accurate, and complete. Yet, most databases contain multiple records for the same, and presumably the same provider. Moreover, the records are incomplete, especially regarding unique identifiers such as state license numbers or NPI (National Provider Identifier) numbers that distinguish individuals.

Duplicate Provider Records
One of the major problems found in most Workers’ Comp data is duplicate medical provider records. Duplicates are a problem because the records for an individual are dispersed over multiple records and can only be evaluated separately rather than collectively. The cumulative data for a provider cannot be assessed until duplicate provider records are merged.

Duplicate provider records occur for many reasons. Some organizations simply add a new provider record to their database when a new bill is received, without checking to see if the provider already exists in the data. This is simple to correct administratively, by requiring data entry persons to check the data for the existing provider. A more reliable solution is to create systems with search and select utilities that limit “add” authority. However, duplicate records occur for other reasons as well.

Duplicate medical provider records can also occur when the same provider is added to the database, but the name is spelled differently, a different suffix is used, and when initials or abbreviations are entered differently. Computer systems read these as different and allow adding the new one. Similar address inconsistency has the same result. Using Ste, Ste., and Suite might result in three separate records for the same person or entity. The solution is using basic record search and select from a drop down list. Moreover, correcting the existing data by scrubbing the database is worth the time and cost.

Optimize Medical Provider Records
Tax ID, so important to paying a bill is nearly useless when evaluating medical provider performance because multiple persons often use the same Tax ID. Establishing a critical mass of data associated with one provider is difficult, and duplicate records simply dilute the information further. Certainty about individual identity is critical and the only way to achieve that is with state license numbers.

License Numbers
Unfortunately, NPI numbers, established by the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) are abused by some. Notorious medical providers apply for and receive multiple NPI numbers. State license numbers are the most reliable and should be added to provider records in databases to differentiate individuals.

Medical Specialty
Including medical specialty in the provider record increases its value exponentially. The most accurate, fair, and illuminating evaluation is comparing peers. Comparing neurosurgeons to dermatologists on some performance indicators makes little sense. Pain specialists, for instance, usually receive complicated cases late in the game and should be compared to other pain specialists, not those who treat acute injuries. Medical specialties are vital to evaluating performance accurately.

What To Do
While it may not be Y2K, the impact of poor data might be greater for Workers’ Comp organizations. Systems should contribute to medical cost management intelligence. However, many cannot because of data quality. Scrub and optimize existing data and establish protocols that prevent continuation of status quo. Outsourcing to a third party specialist is easy and the return on investment certain.

1The Y2K Scare

Implementing International Medical Providers Into The U.S. Workers' Compensation System, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on legal barriers to implementing international providers into Medical Provider Networks for workers’ compensation. Previous articles in the series can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2. Subsequent articles in the series will be forthcoming soon.

Heather T. Williams agrees with critics, that medical tourism is a trade-off for consumers, allowing them to opt-out of increased regulation in favor of fewer restrictions and greater cost savings. Factors unique to the medical tourism industry will help preserve the quality of patient care and insulate patients from the regulatory pitfalls critics fear. Williams points to the benefits of medical tourism as providing patients with substantial cost savings, due in part to lower labor costs overseas.43

The cost savings in the context of inflated health care costs in the U.S. indicates why patients are driven abroad to seek medical care. How much of a cost savings medical tourism offers patients can be seen in how much hospitals charge for major surgical procedures such as cardiac surgery, partial hip replacement, knee replacement, and rhinoplasty. A hospital in India charges $4,000 for cardiac surgery, compared to $30,000 in the U.S. Hospitals in Argentina, Singapore or Thailand charge $8,000 to $12,000 for a partial hip replacement that would otherwise cost twice that much here. Singapore and Indian hospitals charge $18,000 and $12,000 respectively for knee replacement that normally cost $30,000 in the U.S. Finally rhinoplasty that costs $4,500 in the U.S. costs only $850 in India.44

Though all patients can benefit, medical tourism’s cost savings are more likely to benefit those with inadequate health insurance coverage.45 Lower-middle-class individuals, who typically have sufficient means to pay for reduced-price care out-of pocket, will benefit most from medical tourism.46 This is a point to bear in mind with regard to workers’ compensation, as many claimants are generally lower-middle-class.47

Medical tourism disproportionately benefits uninsured or underinsured individuals,48 but they are not the only ones benefitting from cost savings from medical tourism.49 Self-insured employers and private insurance companies have begun integrating medical tourism into their policies. It is attractive to small businesses as well.50 Medical tourism is expanding as self-insured employers and insurance companies have integrated medical tourism into their policies.51 For instance, Blue Ridge Paper Products of Canton, North Carolina sought to send an employee overseas for gallbladder and shoulder surgery.52 They offered him 25% of the savings, but the United Steelworkers prevented them from doing so and union workers were removed from the pilot program.53 54

State governments, looking to save money anyway they can may accept medical tourism for their state employees. A bill introduced into the state legislature in West Virginia in 2006, (H.B. 4359), would have encouraged state employees covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) to utilize Joint Commission International accredited foreign hospitals, receive travel reimbursements for themselves and a companion, and participate in the savings with a cash rebate.55 56 The bill is still pending in the House Banking and Insurance committee.57

Large HMOs and health insurance companies have established plans to allow patients to obtain low-cost services overseas.58 BlueShield and Health Net of California, United Group Programs of Boca Raton, and BlueCross and BlueShield of South Carolina have offered such plans for travel to Mexico and Thailand for treatment.59 The effect of financial incentives on American’s willingness to travel for medical care is evident in a 2007 nationwide telephone survey of a representative sample of 1,003 Americans in which 38% of uninsured and one-quarter of those with insurance would travel abroad for care if the savings exceeded $10,000. One-quarter of uninsured, but only 10% of those with insurance would travel if savings were between $1,000 and $2,400. Fewer than 10% would travel to save $500 to $1,000, and no one would do so to save $200 or less. This represented a potential market share of 20-40 percent for non-urgent major surgery.60 61

Medical tourism is fast becoming a feature of American health care. In the next few years, more and more Americans will be going overseas for medical care. It is only a matter of time before medical tourism’s mark is felt on another arena of American health care — workers’ compensation.

43 Williams, 611.

44 Herrick, 8.

45 Williams, 614.

46 Ibid, 614.

47 Juan Du and J. Paul Leigh, “Incidence of Workers Compensation Indemnity Claims Across Socio-Demographic and Job Characteristics,” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 54 (2011): 758-770. The study suggests that low socioeconomic status was a predictor of reporting workers compensation claims, but did not include income levels; although it is possible to extrapolate from the data presented that the subjects were generally lower middle class or working class.

48 Williams, 614.

49 Ibid, 615.

50 Ibid, 615.

51 Ibid, 615.

52 Boyle, 43.

53 Ibid, 43.

54 Williams, 616.

55 Ibid, 44.

56 Nicolas P. Terry, “Under-Regulated Health Care Phenomena in a Flat World: Medical Tourism and Outsourcing,” Western New England Law Review, 29, no. 29 (2007) 427.

57 West Virginia Legislature website, (2006).

58 Williams, 616.

59 Boyle, 44.

60 Herrick, 2.

61 Arnold Milstein and Mark Smith, “Will the Surgical World Become Flat?,” Health Affairs, 26, no. 1 (2007): 138.