The current pay-for-reporting program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) seems tailor-made for hospitalists. Here’s a look at the voluntary Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) program, and why and how hospitalists are—and are not—participating.
CMS has revised the reporting program that began as a six-month trial in 2007. The current PQRI runs the full calendar year for 2008 and includes 119 quality measures—11 of which hospitalists can report on. Detailed specifications for the measures are available on the CMS Web site at www.cms.hhs.gov.
The earnings in this pay-for-reporting program remain the same as 2007: Physicians who successfully report on measures can earn a bonus payment equal to 1.5% of their total Medicare-allowed charges. Some hospitalists have collected their bonus for participating in the 2007 trial; it’s likely more will participate this year.
CMS has yet to release data on participation in the 2007 PQRI trial or this year’s initiative. However, SHM has urged hospitalists to participate, and many are. During a national, SHM-sponsored conference call with CMS in summer 2007, approximately 20% of the 160 hospitalists participating in the call responded to a follow-up survey. Almost half of all respondents indicated they planned to participate in PQRI reporting.
“That percentage comes from a select group of hospitalists who were highly interested in the PQRI,” points out Patrick J. Torcson, MD, MMM, FACP, director of hospital medicine at St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington, La.
Unlike many specialists, hospitalists are finding reporting to be a straightforward process. “For hospitalists, PQRI reporting on specific measures harmonizes nicely with workflow,” says Dr. Torcson. “Most applicable measures take place during admission or discharge. Documentation and reporting for PQRI can take place during these times.”
Report on Reporting
At St. Tammany, Dr. Torcson’s eight-hospitalist team is participating in PQRI. Although you need only to report on three measures to qualify for a bonus payment from the program, “we’re actually reporting on the full list of [hospitalist-applicable] measures,” Dr. Torcson says. It’s up to each St. Tammany hospitalist to remember to report on the 11 measures.
“Support for [reporting] really comes down to physician memory,” says Dr. Torcson. “Long term, this is going to have to be part of an electronic system, with decision support and billing capability from an electronic health record.”
In spite of the added step of PQRI reporting, Dr. Torcson says, “we’ve had an enthusiastic response from our hospitalists.” The payoff for the hospital medicine program and the hospital is yet to be seen. “You hope that PQRI performance reporting will result in improved quality of care,” henotes.
But many physicians—including hospitalists—are not participating in PQRI.
“It comes down to different practice models,” explains Dr. Torcson. “But for many physicians, a major reason not to participate is that they’re taking a wait-and-see approach. They’re waiting to see if this is just the latest flavor of the month, and think it’s not worth investing time and effort until it proves otherwise.”
Gregory B. Seymann, MD, associate clinical professor, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine, is a member of SHM’s Public Policy Committee and says he was disappointed his group is unable to participate in PQRI.
“I work for UCSD, where our hospitalist group is one of many, many subspecialty groups that work out of our hospital,” he explains “We do a lot of QI work, and we were certainly interested in participating in PQRI.” However, the hospital uses an electronic billing system incompatible with reporting on the measures. The software could be upgraded for about $15,000, says Dr. Seymann, but hospital administration sees no return on the investment.
“The cost wouldn’t match the increase in revenues because besides hospital medicine, there aren’t a lot of other subspecialties that would be interested in participating,” explains Dr. Seymann. “As much as I wanted our group to participate, I can’t fully fault UCSD on this decision on business grounds. They want to see some stability in [the decision to continue PQRI] before they invest.”
In the meantime, the orthopedics group at UCSD has invested in reporting. They are tracking PQRI measures on paper and reporting to CMS, and they’ll ultimately be able to show the administration whether the bonus per physician might add up to the cost of the necessary billing-system upgrade.
Everyone involved—not just UCSD—is asking: Is PQRI here to stay? That decision rests with federal lawmakers. At the end of this year, Congress must vote on whether to extend the program—and no one can guarantee whether that will happen.
“The chairs of the Senate Finance Committee have been tremendously supportive of the PQRI,” says Dr. Torcson. “There is a lot of political will behind this right now. [PQRI supporters in Congress] want better quality in healthcare for better pay.”
This year’s election will have a major impact on this decision: “A change in administration will definitely factor in,” warns Dr. Torcson. “The 2008 Medicare Physician Payment Update seemed to divide along party lines. Republicans were somewhat supportive, and Democrats didn’t seem to support it. It’s not quite that simple, but that was a general pattern.”
The best advice for physicians invested or interested in investing in PQRI is to keep an eye on the November election results and the Senate Finance Committee to find out what 2009 and beyond will look like for PQRI or other CMS pay-for-reporting initiatives.
Too Late to Participate?
Although the PQRI began Jan. 1, there is no enrollment process; physicians can start reporting any time during the year. However, participants reporting on three measures report in at least 80% of the instances in which those measures are reportable—that means all year—in order to qualify for a bonus. If you begin reporting this far into the year, you’re not likely to reach that threshold and earn your bonus.
“Starting late in the year could affect reaching that threshold, but it’s never too late to start the practice and process of reporting,” says Dr. Torcson. “You can still make that commitment to performance reporting. Even if you don’t get the 1.5% bonus, you get the benefit of getting started in the important practice of performance reporting.”
Read more about the PQRI on SHM’s Web site (www.hospitalmedicine.org). TH
Jane Jerrard has written for The Hospitalist since 2005.