Physicians

Physicians
The doctor is in ...

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Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Dennis Dimitri sent the following comments on Meaningful Use Stage III and the Medicare Access and Child Health Reauthorization Act  to CMS on Tuesday. THCB is pleased to feature them for our readers.  If you agree, we urge you to share with your colleagues, your elected representatives and on social media. – John Irvine  

Dear Mr. Slavitt and Dr. DeSalvo:

On behalf of the 25,000 physician, resident and medical student members of the Massachusetts Medical Society I am writing to provide our comments on Stage III Meaningful Use as it relates to the Medicare Access and Child Health Reauthorization Act. It is our understanding that the AMA is submitting extensive and detailed comments on specific aspects of the Meaningful Use Stage III, including a proposed revision of the program which we strongly urge the Department to consider going forward. Our comments will highlight several of the overarching problems with the meaningful use program as currently constructed and its impact on practicing physicians and our patients.

To put our comments into context I would like to underscore that Massachusetts physicians were early adopters of Electronic Health Records. The MMS has been committed to helping our members understand and implement successfully EHRs for well over a decade. We were one of the founding members of the MA EHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) and continue to support this important project which helps physicians choose and implement EHRs in their offices. We understand well the promise of this technology.

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Michel AccadDear medical student,

I am honored by the opportunity to offer some advice on how to safeguard your professional career in a treacherous healthcare system.

I will not elaborate on why I think the healthcare system is “treacherous.”  I will assume—and even hope—that you have at least some inkling that things are not so rosy in the world of medicine.

I am also not going to give any actual advice.  I’m a fan of Socrates, so I believe that it is more constructive to challenge you with pointed questions.  The real advice will come to you naturally as you proceed to answer these questions for yourself.  I will, however, direct you to some resources to aid you in your reflections.

I have grouped the questions into three categories of knowledge which I am sure are not covered or barely covered in your curriculum: economics, ethics, and philosophy of medicine.

I have found that reflecting on these questions has been essential to give me a sense of control over my career.  I hope that you, in turn, will find them intriguing and worth investigating.

One more thing before we proceed.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the depth of the questions posed and don’t attempt to answer them today, in a week, or in a year.  In many ways, these are questions for a lifetime of professional growth.  On the other hand, I believe that the mere task of entertaining these questions in your mind will be helpful to you.

So here we go:

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flying cadeuciiThrough Dec. 15, federal regulators will accept public comments on the next set of rules that will shape the future of medicine in the transition to a super information highway for
Electronic Health Records (EHRs).  For health providers, this is a time to speak out.

One idea:  Why not suggest options to give leniency to older doctors struggling with the shift to technology late in their careers?

By the government’s own estimate,in a report on A 10-Year Vision to Achieve an Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure, a fully functioning EHR system, for the cross-sharing of health records among providers, will take until 2024 to materialize.The technology is simply a long way off.

Meanwhile, doctors are reporting data while the infrastructure for sharing it doesn’t exist.  Now, for the first time, physicians will be reporting to the federal government on progress toward uniform objectives for the meaningful use of electronic health records.  Those who meet requirements will be eligible for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid, while those who don’t may face penalties. In addition, audits are expected to begin in 2016.

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Munia Mitra MD“Lawyers aren’t graded.”

“CEOs aren’t graded”

“How would you feel if I tracked every e-mail you sent and tracked how many people responded to them? You wouldn’t like that very much would you?”   

“The people who make EMRs. Why aren’t they graded?”

If there’s one negative I hear time and time again from doctors when the subject of quality measurement comes up, it’s this one near-universal complaint. The world is unfair, the cards are stacked against us.

As a specialist at a busy urban medical center I hear the complaints almost every day from colleagues and peers at other hospitals. We’re being singled out for unfair treatment:  They’re out to get us. It’s the world against the doctors.

Many of the so-called experts I’ve talked to at meetings around the country express disdain when the topic of physician resistance to quality improvement programs comes up.

But it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the idea that one’s performance is being tracked can be seen as intrusive and threatening. The reaction is in many ways completely predictable.

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Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.46.12 AMIn a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Erin Sullivan and Andy Ellner take a stand against the “outcomes theory of value,” advanced by such economists as Michael Porter and Robert Kaplan who believe that in order to “properly manage value, both outcomes and cost must be measured at the patient level.”

In contrast, Sullivan and Ellner point out that medical care is first of all a matter of relationships:

With over 50% of primary care providers believing that efforts to measure quality-related outcomes actually make quality worse, it seems there may be something missing from the equation. Relationships may be the key…Kurt Stange, an expert in family medicine and health systems, calls relationships “the antidote to an increasingly fragmented and depersonalized health care system.”

In their article, Sullivan and Ellner describe three success stories of practice models where an emphasis on relationships led to better care.

But in describing these successes, do the authors undermine their own argument?  For in order to identify the quality of the care provided, they point to improvements in patient satisfaction surveys in one case, decreased rates of readmission in another, and fewer ER visits and hospitalizations in the third.  In other words…outcomes

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Early in my career in the 1960s, I developed an interest in patients who had physical symptoms but no definable medical disease. I began to see a number of these patients referred from my colleagues. I asked myself, “If these patients do not have a medical disease, then what do they have?”

I defined “symptoms of unknown origin” as occurring when a patient had two or more symptoms for over a month, and whose symptoms remained unexplained after a thorough medical workup. I intended to study and follow these patients, hoping to uncover the underlying cause for their symptoms whatever they might be. I was surprised to discover that many such patients carried diagnoses of non-existent diseases – that is false diagnoses. I soon found that the presence of a false diagnosis created a barrier to uncovering the real cause for the symptoms.

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Michael MillensonPerhaps the most well-known part of the 1965 Medicare creation tale is the opposition by the American Medical Association (AMA) to “socialized medicine.” Yet with financial incentives assuming a new prominence for provider and patient alike, we shouldn’t overlook the AMA’s equally unsuccessful battle against the excesses of capitalistic medicine. The forgotten story of the professionalism’s failure to contain physician greed provides an important policy perspective.

The Myth Of Medicine’s ‘Golden Age’

Medical practice pre-1965 is often portrayed as a mythical “Golden Age.” The truth, as I found researching my 1997 book, Demanding Medical Excellence: Doctors and Accountability in the Information Age, was that the post-war years were a time when way too many doctors grasped for the gold.

The most common “entrepreneurial” excesses were fee splitting, where a specialist paid a kickback to the referring doctor, and ghost surgery, where a surgeon secretly paid a colleague to operate on an anesthetized patient. The first surgeon paid the “ghost” a small part of the total fee and pocketed the difference. Even worse was rampant surgical overuse, where common excesses included appendectomies for stomachaches and hysterectomies on young women with nothing more than back pain.

Although professional societies wielded far more influence than now, efforts by leaders of the AMA and the American College of Surgeons to stop these abuses repeatedly fell short. Doctors “display a consistent preoccupation with their economic insecurity,” a 1955 report by the AMA concluded with discomfiting bluntness.

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GundermanThere are different ways to take the measure of a life.  John Rockefeller, the richest person in the history of mankind, once asked a neighbor, “Do you know the only thing that gives me pleasure?  It’s to see my dividends come in.”  Television magnate Ted Turner once said, “I don’t want my tombstone to read, ‘He never owned a network.’”  And musical artist Lady Gaga has described her quest as “mastering the art of fame.”  But wealth, power, and fame are not life’s only metrics, and September 4 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the 20th century’s brightest counterexamples.

His name was Albert Schweitzer.  Winston Churchill once referred to him as a “genius of humanity,” and a 1947 issue of Time magazine dubbed him “the greatest man in the world.”  Though Schweitzer held four doctorates and achieved worldwide fame as a musician, theologian, medical missionary, and promoter of a philosophy of “reverence for life,” for which he received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, his most enduring contribution lies in his lifelong commitment — both theoretical and practical – to the suffering.

Schweitzer was born 1865 in the Alsace region of what is now eastern France, the son of a Lutheran pastor whose grandfathers were both accomplished organists.  Though already a world-renowned musician and writer, at age 30 Schweitzer decided to answer a call to missionary work, spending the next seven years of his life studying medicine.  Once he finished his medical studies, he and his new wife, Helene, traveled 4,000 miles to set up a missionary hospital in what is now Gabon in west central Africa.  There he spent most of the rest of his life, eventually dying there in 1965.

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flying cadeuciiTo understand why so many medical students (and pre-meds) (and doctors) contemplate business training, let’s consider two real-life examples: Dr. Bob Kocher and Dr. Bijan Salehizadeh. Both trained as physicians, both are currently healthcare investors, and both shared their stories with Lisa Suennen and me on our Tech Tonics podcast. (Kocher’s interview can be found here; Salehizadeh’s will available at the end of the month.)

(My usual disclosure: I work at a cloud genomics company in Silicon Valley; neither my company nor I have a financial relationship with Kocher, Salehizadeh, or their firms.)

Bob Kocher: The Hospital Consultant

Kocher is currently a partner at Venrock’s Palo Alto office, and is perhaps best known for his previous role working in the White House developing the Affordable Care Act in collaboration with Zeke Emanuel and others.

When he was growing up Seattle, Kocher says, his “dream was to be a leukemia and lymphoma doctor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.” He went to medical school, trained in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, and was accepted into a prized oncology fellowship at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 8.42.46 AMDid it ever occur to some of today’s physicians that many people work awfully hard and complain a lot less than they do about “burnout” and “work-life balance”?

Did it ever occur to them that “work-life balance” is the very definition of a first-world problem, unique to a very privileged class of highly educated people, most of whom are white?

Every day, I go to work and see the example of the nurses and technicians who work right alongside me in tough thoracic surgery cases. Zanetta, for instance, is the single mother of five children. She leaves her 12-hour shift at 7 p.m. and then faces a 60-mile commute to get home. She never complains, and unfailingly takes the extra moment to get a warm blanket for a patient or cheerfully help out a colleague