The shortcomings of the Fee For Service (FFS) model are widely known.
During the 1800s, the British empire shipped prisoners to newly formed penal colonies in Australia (technically, these were British prisoners, but that doesn’t make a catchy title). Ship captains were compensated for each prisoner who boarded the ship. The financial incentive ruled over decency, each captain stuffed as many prisoners on to the ship as it could handle. Of course, the prisoner survival rate lingered at a precarious 50%, while those who managed to survive the journey often arrived beaten, sick or starving.
Attempts were made to improve the survival rates, through what might be considered early wellness programs. Captains were mandated to bring citrus to combat scurvy, a 19th century wellness program. Doctors were required on each ship carrying prisoners, improved access ala concierge medicine. I’m sure someone may have proposed it’s the prisoners responsibility to survive the trip and they ought to engage in their own survival. Nevertheless, requiring lemons and limes and placing physicians on the ships proved equally ineffective.
In 1862, economist Edwin Chadwick suggested a change to the incentive structure. Ship captains were no longer compensated for each prisoner who boarded in England, but, instead, received payment for every living prisoner who got off the ship in Australia. The first pay for outcomes program in healthcare. The survival rate on ensuing trips jumped from 50% to 98%.
The moral of the story is that incentives matter.
- Primary care physicians are the ship captains of the 21st century.
- American patients are prisoners of the US healthcare system.
- Misaligned incentives are the root cause for what ails the system.
Christopher DeNoia is the Vice President of Business Development at Amplify Health, where this post originally appeared.
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Chris Denoia, Fee-for-service, Incentives, Physicians, Value
Oct 10, 2013
My worst night as a doctor was during my residency. I was working the pediatric ICU and admitted a young teenager who had tried to kill herself. Well, she didn’t really try to kill herself; she took a handful of Tylenol (acetaminophen) because some other girls had teased her.
On that night I watched as she went from a frightened girl who carried on a conversation, through agitation and into coma, and finally to death by morning. We did everything we could to keep her alive, but without a liver there is no chance of survival.
Over ten years later, I was called to the emergency room for a girl who was nauseated and a little confused, with elevated liver tests. I told the ER doctor to check an acetaminophen level and, sadly, it was elevated. She too had taken a handful of acetaminophen at an earlier time. She too was lucid and scared at the start of the evening. The last I saw of her was on the next day before she was sent to a specialty hospital for a liver transplant. I got the call later that next day with the bad news: she died.
The saddest thing about both of these kids is that they both thought they were safe. The handful of pills was a gesture, not meant to harm themselves. They were like most people; they didn’t know that this medication that is ubiquitous and reportedly safe can be so deadly. But when they finally learned this, it was too late. They are both dead. Suicides? Technically, but not in reality.
For these children the problem was that symptoms of toxicity may not show up until it is too late. People often get nausea and vomiting with acute overdose, but if the treatment isn’t initiated within 8-10 hours, the risk of going to liver failure is high. Once enough time passes, it is rare that the person can be cured without liver transplant.
According to a recent ProPublica investigation, acetaminophen overdose is the #1 cause of liver failure in the US. And between years of 2001 and 2010, 1567 people in the U.S. were reported to have died by accidentally overdosing.
Continue reading “My Worst Night as a Doctor”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: acetaminophen, painkillers, Patient Safety, Rob Lamberts, Tylenol
Oct 2, 2013
As the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) exchanges open and Medicaid expansion takes effect, millions of uninsured Americans will gain new coverage. This raises a key question: how are we possibly going to meet the demands of all of these new individuals entering the system? The physician workforce is growing slowly, at best, at a time when an aging population is increasing demand for care.
Predictions include long lines for everyone, rising prices and premiums as physicians are able to command greater market power, and reduced quality of care. Some have recommended additional government funding to help train more medical residents as a response.
But while studies predict ACA implementation will prompt an increase in demand for medical services, there is evidence that the increase in demand will not be as great as the raw number of newly insured Americans might suggest.
The latest CBO forecast projects the reduction in the number of uninsured Americans under the ACA will be 11 million people next year and 24 million by 2016. That’s an increase in the percentage of Americans with insurance of roughly 5% in 2014 and 12% in 2016. If the uninsured used zero health care today, but upon becoming insured used the same amount as a typical insured person, then the increase in demand for care would be the same as the increase in coverage.
In reality, the uninsured use substantial amounts of health care – but only about half the care that the insured use today. One reason is because they are uninsured – paying full prices for care rather than a small copay discourages use. Another reason also explains why many (but not all) are uninsured in the first place: they are healthy and don’t anticipate needing or wanting medical care.
When the uninsured gain coverage, demand does increase, but not dramatically, studies show. Evidence from the Oregon Health Insurance experiment, in which a funding cap forced the state to grant Medicaid coverage to some applicants but not others using a lottery-type system, found that those who did gain coverage increased their use of both hospital and physician care by about one-third relative to controls.
Continue reading “Will ACA Implementation Lead to a Spike in Demand for Care?”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: David Auerbach, Health Insurance Exchanges, Medicaid Expansion, Physician Shortage, The Affordable Care Act, the uninsured
Sep 26, 2013
It was spring. My medical school class, two years along in our five-and-a-half year endeavor, had earned the “medicinae kandidat” degree. We were now worthy of leaving the basic sciences and research center on the outskirts of town and starting our preparatory clinical, “propedeutic” semester at the University Hospital. In Sweden, at that time, we used a lot of Latin words and phrases. Crohn’s disease was Morbus Crohn, chart notes listed physical exam findings by Latin names for the bodily organs: Cor for the heart, Pulm(ones) for the lungs, Hepar for the liver, etc.
Uppsala Academic Hospital was an imposing campus, with several tall, white towers, housing the most modern wards, laboratories and operating theaters. We were relegated to a pink stucco building that housed the old tuberculosis clinic.
The physical exam course was taught by a couple of older pulmonologists. At first they struck many of us as relics from a bygone era, but as the course went on, our respect grew. These unassuming physicians could percuss a patient’s chest wall and describe in detail what the x-ray would look like, they made us feel the tip of the spleen by turning the patient on his right side, they measured jugular venous pulsations and pedal pulses.
Sometimes we had real patients with remarkably abnormal findings to examine, but we often were charged with examining each other for assessment of normal physical exam findings.
My partner for the Lymphatic System module was Sven Björk, a slow-talking kid from the very north of Sweden. He had jet black, completely straight hair and a broad face with eyes set wide apart. He was part Same, the native, reindeer-herding nomadic population from north of the Arctic Circle.
Continue reading “Morbus Propedeuticus”
Filed Under: Physicians
Tagged: Cancer, Country Doctor, International, Lymphoma, Medical Student's Disease, Morbus Propedeuticus
Sep 3, 2013
Here’s an interesting clinical dilemma brought to my attention by another physician.
She was asked to refill a prescription for a drug called domperidone to help a patient with lactation. Domperidone is not FDA approved in the United States for any indication. However, in Europe and in Canada it is approved as a promotility agent for patients with a condition called gastroparesis, which causes the stomach to empty very slowly and results in chronic nausea and vomiting. As a side effect the drug is also known to increase the production of prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production. In the case of this physician’s patient, she had adopted a child and found that the medication had effectively enabled her to produce milk and nurse, with seemingly no untoward effects. It’s unclear who had initially prescribed the drug, but various online lactation support forums discuss it as an option for women who have trouble with lactation.
The questions: Is it legal, ethical or good medical practice for a physician in the United States to write a prescription for domperidone for a patient who has been using it for lactation with good results? How about for gastroparesis? Where does one get the drug? Is it even legal to sell the drug in the United States?
I’ve cared for at least two patients who have used domperidone. In both instances it was ordered by prescription from an overseas source by a local gastroenterologist. In these two cases my patients had tried just about everything on the market in the United States for gastroparesis and were still struggling with debilitating symptoms. In one case, my patient had required hospitalizations and ultimately a feeding tube because of intractable vomiting. The drug was ineffective in both patients and it was eventually discontinued.
Continue reading “Should a Doctor Prescribe Drugs that are Unapproved by the FDA?”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: alternative therapies, doctor/ patient relationship, domperidone, FDA, Juliet Mavromatis, prescription drugs
Aug 26, 2013
The original Hipoocratic Oath states:
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
One modern version reads:
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
The idea here is that a doctor needs to recognize when another practitioner has a skill that they do not, and that they must refrain from “practice” when another person has demonstrable expertise in that area of practice.
It is now 2013. It is time for doctors to stop “writing their own EHR” from scratch. They need to bow out of this in favor of people who have developed expertise in the area.
I just found out about another doctor who has decided to write his own EHR, because he has not been able to find one that supports his new direct pay business model adequately. In the distant past I encountered a doctor who believed that his “Microsoft Word Templates” qualified as an EHR system. This is a letter to any doctor who feels like they are comfortable starting from-scratch software development for an EHR in 2013 or later.
You might believe yourself to be an EHR expert.
Are you sure about that? Are you sure that you are not just an EHR expert user?
This difference is not unlike your relationship with your favorite thoracic surgeon. Or for that matter, your relationship with the person who built your car. The fact that you are capable of expertly evaluating and using EHR products does not mean you are qualified to build one. Just like the fact that you are qualified to treat a patient who has recently had heart surgery or to discern when a patient might need heart surgery does not make you qualified to perform that heart surgery. Similarly, the fact that you can drive, or even repair your automobile, does not provide you with the expertise you need to build a car from scratch.
The ethical situation that you are putting yourself in by developing your own EHR is fairly tenuous. Performing heart surgery without being a heart surgeon, building and driving your own car without being an automotive engineer and a doctor coding their own EHR system from scratch all have the same fundamental problem: You might be smart enough to pull it off, but if you don’t you can really mess up another person’s life. Make no mistake, you can kill someone with a shoddy EHR just as easily as by performing medical procedures that you are not qualified for or by driving a car that is not road-safe.
Continue reading “Why Doctors Should Stay Out of the Business of Building EHRs”
Filed Under: Physicians, Tech, THCB
Tagged: Design, EHR, Fred Trotter, HIT, Patient Safety, Physicians, practice of medicine
Aug 26, 2013
Why aren’t people in hospitals more attentive to the needs of patients?
In a recent post, Dr. Ashish Jha raises this issue as he relates his own story of coming to an ED with a very painful dislocated shoulder. Unsurprisingly, prompt treatment of his pain was deferred while staff diligently completed registration, sent him for an xray, and waited for a physician to see him.
On the bike path where Jha took his initial tumble, people went out of their way to respond to his injury with attention and concern. But as he lay moaning on a gurney in the hospital corridors, waiting for an xray and not yet treated for pain, people avoided his eyes and even walked by a little faster.
What gives? Why aren’t people in the hospital more empathetic and attentive? Is this a “wonderful people, bad system” issue?
In reflecting on his experience, Jha remarks that people seem to leave their humanity at the door when they arrive at the hospital for work, and posits that we get desensitized to suffering. He notes that some workers were able to “break out of that trap,” and responded to him more empathetically when he directly solicited their help and attention.
“It is the job of healthcare leaders to create a culture where we retain our humanity despite the constant exposure to patients who are suffering,” writes Jha.
Culture change is necessary but not sufficient
Culture is important. Yes I’ll admit that I’m usually a bit skeptical when I hear of a plan to tackle a problem through culture change. In my own experience, this has consisted of leaders trying to “create culture” by describing to front-line staff what they should be doing, and repeatedly exhorting them to do it. (And maybe giving out gold stars to those who do it.)
This, of course, is never enough. Talking the talk does not mean people start to walk the walk, especially if the walk involves a slog uphill rather than an easier stroll down a path of lesser resistance.
If we – whether healthcare leaders or just concerned citizens who want to see healthcare improve – really want healthcare workers to demonstrate more compassion and empathy while on the job, then here is what we need to do:
- We should take seriously the task of understanding what might be interfering with this compassion and engagement. This means not only studying workflow, but also the behavioral psychology of individuals as well as groups.
- We should then be serious about creating the conditions that would allow regular human beings to reliably produce the desired behaviors.
Why it can be hard to help people in the hospital
What interferes with showing compassion and engagement? In reading Jha’s piece, I reflected on my own hospital days. Here are the obstacles that I remember, and the impact on me.
Continue reading “Creating Conditions for Humanity in Hospitals”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: caregivers, culture of healthcare, emergency room visit, Hospitals, Leslie Kernisan, patient engagement, Patient Safety
Aug 25, 2013
If you wanted to know what doctors thought about money and medical practice, including plumber envy, you’d read American Medical News(AMN). That’s the biweekly newspaper the American Medical Association just announced it’s shutting down.
Unlike JAMA, in which doctors appear as white-coated scientists, AMN focused on practical and political issues, not least of which was the bottom line. For outsiders, that’s provided a fascinating window into the House of Medicine.
Take, for instance, the sensitive topic of plumber envy. A 1955 AMA report I discovered during research on a book I wrote some years ago lamented physicians’ “consistent preoccupation with their economic insecurity,” including envious comparisons to “what plumbers make for house calls.”
Flash forward to 1967. Thanks to most patients now enjoying private or public health insurance, doctors’ incomes have improved substantially. The pages of AMN include advertisements for Cadillacs and convention hotels (Miami Beach is “Vacationland USA”). However, one man’s income is another man’s expenses, and complaints about rising medical costs have surged. When AFL-CIO president George Meany joins the chorus of carping, an AMN headline asks, “How about plumbing?”
If today’s doctors have finally piped down about plumbers – an electronic search of AMN archives back to 2004 produced no plumbing references – it may be because the average plumber earned about $51,830 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the average general internist earned $183,170. Meanwhile, the AMN ads for cars were long ago replaced by ads for drugs, where influencing a doctor’s choice can drive millions or billions in revenue.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of rising medical costs and its causes has been a persistent theme in AMN since its launch in 1958. (For my book research, I pored through its indexes and old issues.) While AMN ran articles with titles like, “Medicine Called ‘Best Bargain Ever,’” the AMA leadership knew health cost unhappiness was not a psychosomatic disorder.
Continue reading “What the Death of American Medical News Says About the Future of American Medicine”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: American Medical Association, American Medical News, GOP, Health Care Reform, Heritage Foundation, Medicaid, Medicare, Michael Millenson, Obamacare, Physicians
Aug 20, 2013
A fashion faux pas almost prevented me from getting into my dream medical school. Midway through the interview there, the interviewer pointed to my left earlobe and said, “Do you really think we accept men who wear … those things?”
I had no idea what he was talking about at first, but then remembered the gold post I’d forgotten to remove. In a disdainful southern drawl the interviewer let me know how dark a shadow this stylistic error cast on my otherwise favorable application.
I left his office fairly sure I would not be admitted. I also doubted whether I wanted to be admitted to a school that selected physicians on the basis of their jewelry. Really?
Twenty years later, medical schools around the country still struggle to find the right way to decide who should be the physicians of the future, and who should not. Most have evolved past caring about male earrings, but what are the right criteria for admission – what makes a good proto-doctor?
Over forty thousand students apply to medical school each year. Each applicant spends thousand of dollars in fees and plane tickets, and institutions spend still more to screen, host, interview and pick among the hordes of black-suited applicants. Increasingly, medical schools are considering innovative and creative ways to distinguish the most promising applicants from the rest.
New approaches include:
1. Using a more holistic review rubric that de-emphasizes grades and MCAT scores, such as at Boston University;
2. Suspending traditional pre-med requirements for humanities students, such as at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai; and,
3. Creative admissions interviews that include problem solving, multiple mini-interviews and even observed standardized patient interactions.
Each of these innovative methods sounds great. Used in combination I suspect they will identify applicants with the necessary academic chops plus a great bedside manner.
Continue reading “A Modest Proposal: Replace the Med School Interview With fMRI”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: FutureMed, Malcolm Gladwell, Medical Education, Nalini Ambady, practice of medicine, Tim Lahey
Aug 12, 2013
With the recent release of two mainstream exposes, one in the Washington Post and another in the Washington Monthly, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) medical procedure valuation franchise, the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), has been exposed to the light of public scrutiny. “Special Deal,” Haley Sweetland Edwards’ piece in the Monthly, provides by far the more detailed and lucid explanation of the mechanics of the RUC’s arrangement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (It is also wittier. “The RUC, like that third Margarita, seemed like a good idea at the time.
For its part, the Post contributed valuable new information by calculating the difference between the time Medicare currently credits a physician for certain procedures and actual time spent. Many readers undoubtedly were shocked to learn that, while the RUC’s time valuations are often way off, in some cases physicians are paid for more than 24 hours of procedures in a single day. It is nice work if somebody else is paying for it.
Two days after the Post ran its RUC article on the front page, it reported that the AMA is already visiting Congress in force, presumably to protect its role defining the value of medical services for Medicare. The question now is whether Congress will take steps to remedy the situation.
Continue reading “Why Congress Should Pass the Accuracy in Medicare Physician Payment Act”
Filed Under: Physicians
Tagged: AMA, Brian Klepper, Medicare, Paul Fischer, physician pay, RUC
Aug 12, 2013