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Medicare

Experts on a roll … to help rural doctors

“Meaningful use.”

It’s another confounding term in the often opaque lexicon of health care. But it represents a concept that is important for health care providers’ bottom lines.

The basic idea is that Medicare and Medicaid will pay incentives for hospitals and doctors to demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHRs) to improve patient care.

And to help rural doctors get up to speed with education and technical assistance on meaningful use, a two-day bus tour swept through central and eastern Georgia last week.

Technical assistance is given at Taylor Regional Medical Center.

Technical assistance is given at Taylor Regional Medical Center.

Experts on board the bus came from GA-HITEC at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; the state Department of Community Health; HP Medicaid; the Georgia Health Information Network; the Medical Association of Georgia; and HomeTown Health. They visited Thomaston, Hawkinsville, Eastman, Fitzgerald, Baxley, Springfield and Swainsboro to provide hands-on help to physicians and others.

“There have not been many resources out in rural areas,’’ Kathy Whitmire of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in the state, told GHN. She said the experts consulted with physician practices representing more than 120 eligible doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. full story

Georgia sinks in state-by-state health care rankings

Georgia improved on several important health measures from 2007 to 2012, but its overall health care ranking among states fell from 35th to 45th in a newly released study.

unnamedThe Commonwealth Fund’s 2014 state health system scorecard, released Wednesday, found that all states saw meaningful improvement on at least seven of 34 indicators.

Georgia improved on 13, including child vaccinations, hospital admissions for pediatric asthma, Medicare 30-day readmission rates, and infant mortality.

But Georgia’s health statistics worsened in 12 areas, including its rates of uninsured adults; adults with a usual source of care; and adults without a dental visit in the past year. full story

The Personal Side: Looking into getting older

While recently sharing a seafood dinner, three of my old high school friends and I also shared an inventory of our medical conditions.

“Old’’ is a relative term. We’re in our early 60s. And our annual reunion is a golf vacation in Florida, so we’re mobile enough to get around the links (and send too many Titleists splashing into lagoons).

After some initial chitchat, our dinner conversation eventually got around to health.

Andy MillerWe’re members of the generation born in the aftermath of World War II — the so-called baby boomers. But we haven’t been babies for a long time. And the older we get, the more the talk among us friends veers into what’s ailing us. One of our foursome is a physician, so he can often fill in the blanks of our knowledge.

First off, none of us has a perfectly functioning body. Few people at our age have everything in good working order.

One of my friends is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Another has atrial fibrillation, a heart condition he controls with medication. A third has high blood pressure. And I have occasional lower back problems, and take pills for cholesterol and thyroid conditions.

We’re all intent on maximizing our relative health for as long as we can. full story

Progress being made against costly readmissions

Hospital readmissions are bad for everyone.

They’re obviously bad for discharged patients. No one wants to leave the hospital, get worse instead of better and then have to be hospitalized again.

Readmissions are also bad for the hospitals involved, because they can be penalized by Medicare for a high readmission rate within 30 days of discharge.

signERIn turn, readmissions are bad for nursing homes that have to send patients back to the hospital. Given their incentive to reduce readmissions, hospitals may not want to steer people to nursing homes that send back too many recently discharged patients.

But new efforts to improve care coordination among hospitals, nursing homes and other providers are succeeding in reducing readmission rates, experts say.

Georgia’s nursing homes and hospitals are collaborating more than ever to reduce readmissions, say officials with Georgia’s Quality Improvement Organization (QIO), a state-based group funded by Medicare to review medical care.

A big driver in this change has been the readmission penalties that hospitals now face. These penalties were created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told GHN recently that the penalties have forced hospitals and nursing homes to improve their coordination. full story

A lingering gap in nursing home safety

More than 900 U.S. nursing homes, including six in Georgia, have been listed by federal officials as not fully complying with a regulation to have automatic fire sprinklers in every patient area.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a memo to state officials last week on the sprinkler rule compliance. It did not identify the nursing homes that are not fully sprinkler-equipped. The deadline for installation was Aug. 13.

smslogoIn 2008, CMS issued a rule that the long-term care industry had five years to install the systems in the approximately 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, where more than 1 million Americans live.

The federal rules came in response to the deaths of 31 people in nursing home fires in Nashville, Tenn., and Hartford, Conn., in 2003.

After the deadly fires, “there was enormous pressure on CMS to respond,’’ said Alan Horowitz, an Atlanta attorney with  law firm Arnall Golden Gregory who specializes in long-term health care issues.

Georgia’s record appears to be good compared with other states on the rate of compliance with the sprinkler regulation. full story

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