September 28, 2009 08:30 ET

Changing the Way to Pay for Healthcare

Is Reforming How We Pay a Way to Improve the System?

FLORENCE, IN--(Marketwire - September 28, 2009) - With all the noise being made about healthcare reform the past few months, focusing on everything from public option vs. insurance agencies and what will and will not be covered, what's slowly coming into focus is that it is not that healthcare is necessarily in need of an overhaul, but the way in which Americans pay for it.

The United States' healthcare tab is an estimated $2.4 trillion, according to many sources. As a nation, we spend more than twice as much on healthcare per person as all other developed nations and since 2000, spending grew faster than any time since 1970.

Currently, costs for Medicare are projected to increase by 114 percent over the next 10 years, but facilities are facing huge cuts. Already, healthcare professionals are facing lower Medicare and Medicaid payments because of the weak economy, increased state spending and reduced tax revenues for various programs, according to American Medical News. With almost all healthcare providers in the U.S. relying on Medicare to fund their practice (the organization accounts for an estimated one-third of total healthcare expenditures), there is increasing concern among health and wellness professionals about whether they can afford to continue to keep their doors open and maintain quality of care.

All is not bad news, however. "If we better manage the payment of healthcare through technology, we can likely better manage the overall healthcare process," said Amber Blaha, Director of Marketing for IVANS, a healthcare information technology services company that provides Medicare access, electronic data exchange and networking solutions. "This will go a long way to help ease the burden on facilities and the healthcare workers and ensure a better flow of the system."

A recent survey conducted by the company asked providers for their input on issues ranging from pay-for-performance, national health insurance and other issues on the forefront of the healthcare debate. Following the survey, IVANS spoke with the providers to get a better perspective on the key findings. "What we discovered is that while they embrace the technological advantages, such as improved patient care, greater efficiencies and cost savings, they are not about to install technology just for the sake of saving time," said Blaha.

Among the findings:

--  Nearly 70 percent of home healthcare and nursing home organizations
    say that electronic health records (EHRs) will have a positive impact on
    their day-to-day business (a fact echoed by the National Coordinator for
    Health Information Technology, which estimates that the healthcare system
    will save an estimated $140 billion/year if this technology is adopted)
--  56 percent of respondents have begun to or plan to implement EHRs
    within the next year
--  More than half (52 percent) of providers doubt that stimulus money
    will successfully encourage adoption of healthcare information technology
--  Providers support the use of Health Information Technology to increase
    quality of care and improve efficiencies
--  Almost three quarters (72 percent) believe a pay-for-performance model
    could lead to improved patient outcomes.

The study also reveals that while hospitals and health centers have been on the frontlines adapting healthcare information technology, those in smaller practices remain hesitant. "For them," said Blaha, "finding the money to implement the technology in the first place is not easy and they are uncertain about return on investment."

Georgine Owens, Administrator, Associated Homecare in Valparaiso, IN, agreed. "We are a smaller home health services provider, so when it came to even thinking about incorporating new technology, we were afraid that the initial investment would be daunting." However, she continued, as a business, it really was a practical solution. "We know we need to be flexible in order to adapt to changes and incorporate common sense to keep costs down but maintain the level of care."

Wendy Fitzsimmons, Billing Manager at the Indiana-based office of Maximum Home Health Care, said, "We know that the people who come to us are looking for comfort -- either for themselves or loved ones and our priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our patients. Wherever we can reduce the burden on our staff, including the administrative, and find alternatives to everything from managing hours to processing payments, we will."

The bottom line, said Blaha, is that the "installation of technology, including payment tools, reduces the time spent on the process and eases the stress on already overburdened healthcare workers. By freeing up clinicians and the staff, they can focus more time on the patient than on time-consuming administrative tasks."

For more information, including local facts and figures, more detailed survey results or to schedule an interview with any of the professionals quoted, please contact Ellen Werther @ / 212 980 4499.

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