The December 2011 Issue

Amcom Software sponsor of Medical Call Center NewsATA Unveils FixLicensure.org to Remove Licensure Barriers, Advance Telemedicine

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) recently launched FixLicensure.org, a new initiative to reform current U.S. medical licensing practices that limit the efficient delivery of quality, modern healthcare. Current licensing restrictions limit patient access by requiring providers to obtain multiple state licenses and adhere to diverse (and sometimes conflicting) state medical practice rules.

“Telemedicine technologies empower patients to receive world-class healthcare, regardless of what state they – or their doctor – are physically located. Unfortunately, our antiquated medical licensure system limits the deployment of these vital services,” said Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO of ATA. “It is wrong to deny a patient healthcare because of state boundaries and overly cumbersome state licensing rules.”

FixLicensure.org aims to foster public support and petition legislators to remove these barriers, thereby increasing consumer choice, improving safety, and cutting costs for patients across America. FixLicensure.org is currently gathering signatures in support of a nationwide license portability system. Medical professionals, organizations involved in the delivery of healthcare, and healthcare consumers are encouraged to show their support. Signatories of the petition will be shared with congressional leaders, state medical licensure boards, and federal healthcare agencies to show a strong, united demand for licensure reform.

For more information, visit www.americantelemed.org.

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Office Ally Opens Call Center in Texas

Office Ally announced that it is relocating its corporate office to San Antonio, Texas, where it will also open a new, state-of-the-art customer call center and training facility to accommodate the company’s growth. Office Ally offers healthcare providers a suite of revenue-cycle management services, including a practice management system, electronic health records, clearinghouse, billing service, and patient portal. Company president and CEO Brian O’Neill said that his company is currently adding approximately 1,400 new practices a month to its client roster.

“A year ago we were taking 850 calls a day, and now that number has grown to 1,800,” said O’Neill. “The new 17,000-square-foot call center will allow us to better accommodate this growth while also providing a sixty-seat space for on-site training for local providers who want to avail themselves of that service.” To handle this volume, O’Neill said his company will add 100 customer service representatives, trainers, and technicians upon opening in San Antonio. He anticipates growing by an additional 150 employees after six months.

Currently, Office Ally operates technical training and customer call centers in Vancouver, Washington, and Irvine, California. “The new center,” said O’Neill, “will allow the company to better service clients located on the East Coast, given the time difference.” The space being occupied by Office Ally in San Antonio was previously an American Express call center, making it fully equipped to handle the needs of Office Ally and its customers.

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Surprising Decline in Consumers Seeking Health Information

The proportion of American adults seeking information about a personal health concern from a source other than their doctor dropped to 50 percent in 2010, down from 56 percent in 2007. This is according to a recent national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Although the proportion of consumers seeking health information fell between 2007 and 2010, it still has been a sizeable increase over the past decade, when 38 percent of adults in 2001 reported seeking health information, the study found.

Use of the Internet for health information showed only a slight increase, from 31 percent in 2007 to 33 percent in 2010, but the use of print sources – books, magazines, and newspapers – dropped by nearly half to 18 percent. “The drop in print media as a source of health information is partly explained by declining newspaper and magazine circulation and declining book sales,” said HSC senior researcher Ha T. Tu, M.P.A., the study’s author. “Still, the magnitude of the decline in print media as a source of health information over just three years is striking.”

The reduced tendency to seek health information applied to consumers across nearly all demographic categories but was most pronounced for older Americans. The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Tracking Report – “Surprising Decline in Consumers Seeking Health Information.”

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CompTIA Offers Healthcare IT Technician Credential

As healthcare providers expand their use of information technology (IT) solutions for patient care and medical practice administration, CompTIA, the nonprofit trade association for the IT industry, has introduced a new credential for IT workers serving the healthcare market.

The CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician specialty certification is a vendor- and technology-neutral credential that covers the knowledge required to implement, deploy, and support healthcare IT systems, including electronic medical record and electronic health record (EMR/EHR) systems.

CompTIA also announced that the first CompTIA Authorized Quality Curriculum approved courseware for the Healthcare IT Technician specialty certification is now available from Element K. The instructor-led training from Element K focuses on essential healthcare IT concepts and terminology, as well as how to deploy and support EMR/EHR systems.

Technology is viewed as an important component of a medical practice by nine out of ten doctors, dentists, and healthcare administrators surveyed for CompTIA’s Third Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities study, published earlier this month. Three-fourths of healthcare providers expect to increase their technology spending in the next twelve months compared to last year.

“Technology is clearly changing the way healthcare is delivered,” said Terry Erdle, executive vice president, skills certification, CompTIA. “That means the skill sets of IT professionals working in healthcare must change as well.” For more information, visit www.comptia.org.

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Don’t Let Foodborne Illness Crash Your Holiday Party

Every year, 48 million Americans develop food poisoning. Holiday buffets and dinners offer more opportunities for contamination than most meals, but some simple precautions can reduce the risk, reports the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Most bacteria on fruits and vegetables can be washed off, but only thorough cooking destroys most of those on meat, fish, and poultry. Keep in mind that bacteria thrive in the “danger zone”—temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. Leaving raw meat or poultry in the danger zone for more than two hours may produce illness-causing toxins that aren’t destroyed by cooking. Take special care with the following holiday foods, beverages, and traditions:

Turkey: Make sure a fresh turkey reaches your refrigerator within two hours of leaving the merchant’s cooler. Thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator to prevent the surface from reaching temperatures above 40° F. Cook turkey until the temperature is 165° F in the innermost breast and thighs and serve it within two hours.

Stuffing: The safest approach is to cook the stuffing separately, not inside the turkey.

Eggs, an important ingredient in pumpkin pie and eggnog, can contain small amounts of the illness-inducing bacterium Salmonella. To destroy this bacterium, egg-containing foods must be cooked to a temperature of 160° F.

Food gifts: Prepared foods that travel more than two hours must be kept chilled or frozen en route. If a frozen food arrives fully thawed or a chilled food arrives at room temperature, discard it.

Buffets: Don’t allow prepared foods to sit out for more than two hours. Divide each dish into smaller portions and replace dishes as they empty. Wash a serving dish before reusing it.

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Paid Sick Days Would Save $1 Billion in Health Costs

Access to paid sick days could save $1 billion in medical costs annually according to a report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). This includes $500 million in taxpayer-funded public healthcare programs for children, elders, and low-income Americans. Currently, more than 44 million American workers do not have access to paid sick days, and more are unable to use time off to take care of sick children or other family members.

“Taking time off work to see a primary care doctor is common sense, but over 40 million Americans cannot do so without losing pay or their job,” said Kevin Miller, senior research associate with IWPR and an author of the report. “Americans are paying over $1 billion each year in preventable emergency department costs because hardworking people without paid sick days are unable to get the preventative and early treatment they and their children need.”

The United States spends approximately $47 billion annually on emergency department services. IWPR findings show that, by shifting the treatment of some preventable illnesses from emergency departments to less expensive doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospital outpatient settings, universal access to paid sick days would save $1.1 billion annually.

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Lose Weight Safely In the New Year

As 2011 draws to a close, many of us begin to think of creating new, healthier habits for the New Year. On most of our lists, there’s a desire to lose weight. While this is generally a step in a healthy direction, looking for a quick solution can often be unhealthy, even dangerous.

Such is the case with some advertisements for lap-band surgery, in particular those by a marketing company called 1-800-GET-THIN. These ads, posted on billboards throughout southern California, have been accused of being misleading by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company’s website features healthy, slim individuals and says, “Let your new life begin!” Recent radio spots feature Dr. Drew Pinsky (doctor to the stars) endorsing lap-band surgery, who has declined to comment to the FDA’s findings.

But behind all the positive buzz, the LA Times reported recently that five patients in southern California have died since 2009, and according to lawsuits and autopsy reports, the deaths are linked to this advertising campaign. On December 13, the FDA announced that it had sent warning letters to the surgery centers associated with 1-800-GET THIN, requiring that they must inform the public more fully about the potential risks of this type of surgery, which involves implanting a silicone ring around the stomach to lessen the desire to overeat. The surgery, which can cost around $12,000 on up to $20,000, is often covered by insurance.

This is just another serious reminder that ad campaigns don’t necessarily tell consumers everything they need to know about risks associated with various procedures. People who have struggled to lose weight are the most vulnerable to the onslaught of ads, and the more balanced approach the FDA is suggesting will hopefully inform consumers about the benefits and the risks of Lap-Band surgery.

There are many options for losing weight, so if one of your New Year’s goals is to shed unwanted pounds, make sure you make healthy choices!

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EHR Upgrades More Likely to Lead to Errors

Primary care physicians who adopted electronic health records (EHR) for the first time improved the quality of outpatient treatment, but doctors who simply upgraded EHR systems had a higher rate of prescribing errors, researchers reported at the recent the Digital Health Conference.

Quality measures of adopters and non-adopters for EHR taken at baseline and at follow-up showed a steady rate of quality for non-users, but an increase in quality measures over time, according to research presented by Lisa Kern, MD, of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, and colleagues.

However, in a separate study, after excluding inappropriate abbreviation errors in prescribing to patients, experienced electronic prescribers who transferred between systems showed an increased rate of prescribing errors over baseline at three months and one year after adoption. This was followed by a decrease from baseline after year two, investigators noted.

The first study took 15 different quality measures of 138 primary care physicians who had adopted use of EHR and measured quality of care against non-adopters. Physicians in the non-adopter group maintained a steady 50% quality measure at baseline and follow-up, versus a 58% quality measure at baseline and 65% quality measure at follow up.

A second study showed that sites that transitioned to electronic prescription from no electronic prescription showed as much as an 85% decrease in prescribing errors.

[This article is from MedPageToday, copyright MedPage Today, LLC. All rights reserved.]

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About Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan is the president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc., (http://peterdehaanpublishing.com) the publisher and editor of Connections Magazine and AnswerStat, and editor of Article Weekly. Peter DeHaan’s personal website (http://peterdehaan.com) contains information and links to his blogs, newsletter, and social media pages.