Busy doctors not expected to track freebies using Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' new mobile app, even though it could help them check government's accounting of gifts later.
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Physicians, especially in smaller practices, are unlikely to use the free mobile app that the government is offering to help them keep track of the reportable payments and gifts they receive from pharmaceutical and device companies, observers say.
The mobile app is one of two applications for tracking these payments that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently made available. The other app is designed for pharma and device firms and group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which must report certain payments to CMS starting next year. Both apps are available for download in iOS and Android formats through the Apple and Google online stores.
Under the Sunshine Act, part of the healthcare reform law, the applicable manufacturers and GPOs may begin reporting data on their financial relationships with physicians on Aug. 1, 2013. They must report the data for August through December 2013 by March 31, 2014, and CMS will release the data publicly by Sept. 30, 2014. Next year, physicians and teaching hospitals will be able to access the data prior to public posting and initiate data disputes with the manufacturers and GPOs if they believe the information is wrong.
According to a CMS fact sheet about the mobile apps, "Physicians are not required to report any information, though they may wish to use this technology to help them validate reports submitted by manufacturers about payments they’ve received."
CMS also assures physicians that it will not look at the financial data that they collect with this app and that it cannot be used for data reporting to CMS or its contractors.
Despite the app's apparently benign intent, however, not many doctors are expected to make use of it. "We do not think the new 'Open Payments' app will be a high priority or high-use mobile app for family physicians," said Jason Mitchell, MD, director of the Center for Health IT at the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), in an e-mail to InformationWeek Healthcare. "Most family physicians will likely opt not to accept items from industry to avoid complicating their lives. Physicians who already accept significant gifts from industry will likely view it as the industry's responsibility to report."
Kenneth Hertz, a principal of MGMA Consulting who advises physician practices, also doubts that many doctors will download the CMS app for tracking industry gifts. "People are so overwhelmed with everything that's happening now," he said. "In the scheme of things, this isn't as important as some of the other things they have to be concerned about."
Physicians in practices of fewer than 10 doctors, he said, are less likely to use the app than are those in larger groups and those employed by hospitals, which are more conscious of the need for compliance with government regulations. However, he pointed out, it's the smaller practices that could probably benefit from using it.
"It's easy, it's a mobile app, so they should just go ahead and do it," he said. "It's not required, but it at least gives them some information that potentially protects them from erroneous reporting on their behalf."
Regarding Mitchell's point that most family practices avoid taking gifts from industry sources, Hertz said that even small gifts are reportable, and that it's often hard for practices to turn down everything that could be construed as a gift or a payment. For example, he said, lots of practices let drug reps buy lunch for their staffs at least once in while.
"There are practices I go to where for the 280 working days a year, the staff never buys lunch," he said. "They've always got pharma companies to buy it."
Overall, he said, the CMS app is a "pretty easy way" to keep track of minor gifts. "I'd probably agree with AAFP, but you've got to protect your practice," he noted. "As the business manager of a practice, you've got a responsibility to ensure your practice is protected in all ways."
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