Telehealth and Inpatients
Medicare already reimburses for certain exchanges of medical information from off-site physicians or vendors via interactive electronic communications, also known as telehealth or telemedicine services. Under the 2009 Final Rule, CMS will create a new series of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes for follow-up inpatient telehealth consultations, allowing practitioners to bill for follow-up inpatient consultations delivered via telehealth.
These codes are intended for use by physicians or non-physician providers when an inpatient consultation is requested from an appropriate source, such as the patient’s attending physician. CMS emphasizes the codes are not intended for use in billing for the ongoing evaluation and management of a hospital inpatient.
E-prescribe Out of Reach
Much attention has been given to a new Medicare program, which promotes the widespread adoption of electronic prescribing (e-prescribing). Physicians who successfully participate in CMS’ Electronic Prescribing Incentive Program will earn an extra bonus; however, the program was designed for primary care programs and hospitalists are unlikely to be able to take advantage of this.
“We don’t even know if hospitalists will be able to participate,” Dr. Siegal explains. The only way a hospitalist can take part in the e-prescribing initiative is if the hospital already has an acceptable system. However, Dr. Siegal warns, “If you create a mandate requiring a system for medication reconciliation at discharge, and then require another, separate system for e-prescribing, you’ve got problems. The primary driver should be that the hospital’s system supports both. And as far as we can tell, most hospital systems don’t do this.”
In August, SHM and the American College of Emergency Physicians conducted a teleconference with CMS to voice concerns with the e-prescribe initiative. “What we wanted was an exception,” Dr. Siegal says. SHM’s concern: When CMS stops rewarding physicians for e-prescribing and begins to penalize those who don’t—currently scheduled for 2013—hospitalists who can’t participate will be penalized through their Medicare payments. The outcome of the meeting, Dr. Siegal says, is “CMS turned around and said ‘either you can participate or you can’t.’ But at least they are considering our points; they seem to understand them.”
The good news is there is time to work the problem out, “At the moment, while e-prescribing is all bonus and no penalty, there’s no urgency to address it,” Dr. Siegal says.
The Final Rule also includes improvements to PQRI, which allows eligible professionals to report on 153 quality measures. Physicians who successfully report on cases during 2009 will be able to earn an incentive payment, which has been increased to 2% (up from 1.5% in 2008), of their total allowed charges for covered professional services.
“I hope that more hospitalists will get on board with this,” Dr. Siegal says. He believes PQRI will be around for a while, and any hospital medicine group waiting to see if it is worth investing in the program can safely do so. “My feeling is that there’s growing bi-partisan support for something like this. I think it’s here to stay,” Dr. Siegal says.
SHM’s Opinion Counts
One reason the Final Rule is especially hospitalist-friendly is because SHM submitted extensive comment on CMS’s proposals in August. “SHM had a fair amount to say, and there are things in the rule that dovetail with our comments,” Dr. Siegal explains. “Part of the challenge is picking which battles to fight; there is a lot covered in this rule. We ended up focusing on areas that were really important to us, and on items where we thought we had a unique voice where nobody else was going to articulate.”