Sunday, February 17, 2019

Physicians

Physicians
The doctor is in ...

Sticker Shock

18

It was supposed to be a routine office visit for my patient. Unexpectedly, it turned into a real-world health economics lesson for me, the treating physician. The old adage “listen to your patients; they will always give you the answer” became exceedingly true in this case, even when it dealt with an issue beyond a medical diagnosis, such as lack of transparency regarding insurance coverage for medical procedures.

My patient had recently undergone an interventional procedure to treat severe peripheral vascular disease in order to improve his leg circulation. Usually, patients like him don’t seek treatment for vascular insufficiency until the discomfort associated with activity, or claudication, is severe enough to interfere with their regular rounds of golf. That is the real motivator for these patients. The procedure was a success and a few days following the procedure he was back to his normal activities and was pleased that his leg no longer bothered him as he motored around the golf course.

My patient calmly waited until after I checked his pulses, reviewed his medications and gave him a plan for follow-up before he expressed his real concern, and it certainly wasn’t about whether he could now get an extra 20 yards on his tee shot as a result of the new strength in his leg. Despite my office obtaining all the necessary private insurance pre-authorizations for the interventional procedure, he still had received a bill for approximately $10,000 related to out-of-network charges. I was baffled and my patient was disgruntled about this mix-up. After reviewing with him in the examination room the numerous sheets of paper he had received from his insurance company, it became clear what had happened.

Sunday Morning Post, by Brian Klepper

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Here’s a classical example of a federal regulatory agency holding fast to two opposing ideas at the same time. I wonder what it means?

Last week the Department of Health and Human Services posted an interesting notice announcing a new program that recognizes 14 (presumably) forward-thinking health care coalitions of providers, employers, insurers and consumers, which it refers to Chartered Value Exchanges, or CVEs. (Who comes up with these names?!)  HHS promises that, by summer of 2008, it will provide "access
to information from Medicare that gauges the quality of care
physicians provide to patients." This "physician-group level
performance information…can be combined with similar private-sector
data to produce a comprehensive consumer guide on the quality of care
available" in each community. Cool! Sign me up!

In Defense of the Defense of Mammograms

12

To the two certainties of life, death and taxes, add another two: mammograms and controversy surrounding mammograms.

The Canadian National Breast Screening Study (CNBSS) has reported results of its long term follow-up in the BMJ: no survival benefit of screening mammograms.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra “it’s mammography all over again.”

Is the science settled then?

No.

Before I wade further it’s important to understand what is implied by “settling the science.”

Einstein said “no amount of experimentation can prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”In physical sciences a theory need only be disproven once for it to be cast aside. Heliocentricity cannot coexist with Ptolemy’s universe. The statement “all swans are white” is disproven by a single black swan.

What do we do with the studies that showed survival benefit of screening mammograms? Why does the CNBSS not close the debate over mammograms, like Galileo did with celestial egocentricity?

The simple and simplistic answer is because there are powerful advocacy groups, special interests; the pink-industrial complex who have a vested interest in undermining the science.

But that lends to conspiratorial thinking. Special interests cannot undermine Maxwell’s equations or Faraday’s laws just because they do not like them.

The testability of Maxwell’s equations is inherently different from verifying that screening mammograms increase life expectancy. We must acknowledge two types of science; the former, physical science, a hard science; the latter, a hybrid of biology and epidemiology, soft science.

Soft science is a misnomer. There is nothing soft about performing a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the methodological gold standard; in ensuring factors that falsely augment or attenuate impact of screening mammograms are evenly distributed, data reliably collected, cause of death accurately recorded and correctly inferred. But the human factor and all its inevitable foibles are unavoidable in soft sciences.

Can Social Media Save Healthcare Reform?

39

Daniel Palestrant is the Founder & CEO of Sermo, the largest online physician community, and a friend of THCB’s from the Health 2.0 world. Lately Dan has been seen on cable TV representing the 110K+ Sermo members in the health reform debate—including a very public break-up with Sermo’s former partners at the AMA, which has endorsed the House 3200 bill. I’ve been asking Dan, if his members’ don’t want the House bill, what do they want? This is the piece he sent me in reply—Matthew Holt

Daniel Palestrant

Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Technology Conference last month, longtime healthcare reform advocate, Howard Dean pointed out that the “dirty secret” of social media is that it can put a whole lot of politicians out of business because it allows the truth to bubble up. For the sake of healthcare reform, let’s hope he is right.

Is There Really a Physician Shortage?

28

Large coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act have reignited concerns about physician shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) continues to forecast large shortfalls (130,000 by 2025) and has pushed for additional Medicare funding of residency slots as a key solution.

These shortage estimates result from models that forecast future supply of, and demand for, physicians – largely based on past trends and current practice. While useful exercises, they do not necessarily imply that intervening to boost physician supply would be worth the investment. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Most physician shortage forecast models assume insurance coverage expansions under the ACA will generate large increases in demand for physicians. The standard underlying assumption is that each newly insured individual will roughly double their demand for care upon becoming insured (based on the observation that the uninsured currently use about half as much care). However, the best studies of this – those using randomized trials or observed behavior following health insurance changes – tend to find increases closer to one-third rather than a doubling.

2. A recent article in Health Affairs found that the growing use of telehealth technologies, such as virtual office visits and diagnoses, could reduce demand for physicians by 25% or more.

3. New models of care, such as the patient-centered medical home and the nurse-managed health center, appear to provide equally effective primary care but with fewer physicians. If these models, fostered by the ACA, continue to grow, they could reduce predicted physician shortages by half.

Patient-Centered Service

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flying cadeuciiAmerican healthcare has a customer service problem.  No, customer service in the US is terrible when it comes to healthcare.  No, the customer service in the US healthcare system is horrendous.  No, healthcare has the worst customer service of any industry in the US.

There.  That seems about right.

What makes me utter such a bold statement?  Experience.  I regularly hear the following from people when they come to my practice:

  • “You are the first doctor who has listened to me.”
  • “This office makes me feel comfortable.”
  • “I didn’t have to wait!”
  • “Where’s all the paperwork?”
  • “Your office staff is so helpful. They really care about my needs.”
  • “This is the first time I’ve been happy to come to the doctor.”
  • “It’s amazing to have a doctor who cares about how much things cost.”
  • “You explain things to me.”
  • “You actually return my calls.”

Can Health Plans Explain Why They Aren’t Re-Empowering Primary Care?

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Mh_counseling

Sometimes a whisper is more powerful than a shout. Here’s a cartoon from Modern Medicine that shows a Medical Home counseling session between a primary care physician (PCP), a specialist and the health plan. The PCP looks forlorn, while the specialist and the insurer have their backs turned, fuming. It is perfectly true.

Along with changing the way we pay for all health care and creating far greater pricing and performance transparency, we need to turn around the primary care crisis if we hope to substantively improve quality and cost.

The Good Doctor

4

Dr. Brian Goldman is right.

We expect a level of perfection from our doctors, nurses, surgeons and care providers that we do not demand of our heroes, our friends, our families or ourselves. We demand this level of perfection because the stakes in medicine are the highest of any field — outcomes of medical decisions hold our very lives in the balance.

It is precisely this inconsistent recognition of the human condition that has created our broken health care system. The all-consuming fear of losing loved ones makes us believe that the fragile human condition does not apply to those with the knowledge to save us. A deep understanding of that same fragility forces us to trust our doctors — to believe that they can fix us when all else in the world has failed us.

I am always surprised when people say someone is a good doctor. To me, that phrase just means that they visited a doctor and were made well. It is uncomfortable and unsettling — even terrifying — to admit that our doctors are merely human — that they, like us, are fallible and prone to bias.

They too must learn empirically, learning through experience and moving forward to become better at what they do. A well-trained, experienced physician can, by instinct, identify problems that younger ones can’t catch — even with the newest methods and latest technologies. And it is this combination of instinct and expertise that holds the key to providing better care.

We must acknowledge that our health care system is composed of people — it doesn’t just take care of people. Those people — our cardiologists, nurse practitioners, X-ray technicians, and surgeons — work better when they work together.

Working together doesn’t just mean being polite in the halls and handing over scalpels. It means supporting one another, communicating honestly about difficulties, sharing breakthroughs to adopt better practices, and truly dedicating ourselves to a culture of medicine that follows the same advice it dispenses.

POLICY/PHYSICIANS: Another crazy doc in favor of single payer

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Yet another crazy doctor decides that the hassle of dealing with 301 separate insurers is just too much and that he, was well as everyone else but the insurance industry, would be better off with a national single payer system. Nothing that hasn’t been heard before from a minority of docs.

The only noteworthy thing about this one is that the doc in question is Benjamin Brewer, who writes The Doctor’s Office column in that filthy commie rag The Wall Street Journal. Wonder how long he keeps that job?!

NY Times examines CT scans and evidenced-based medicine

5

The front page of the New York Times Sunday morning had a don’t miss article on the financial incentives behind using CT scans to look for heart disease. Medicare’s decided in March to begin paying for the test despite no evidence that it saves lives (see this GoozNews post). The lobbying campaign by a newly created physicians guild that invests in CT scanning clinics is discussed in the last few paragraphs of the story. That campaign was aided by "entrepreneurial guidelines" touting the procedure, discussed in this GoozNews post.

Here are the two key quotes from the story:

"It’s incumbent on the community to dispense with the need for evidence-based medicine." –Dr. Harvey Hecht, Manhattan cardiologist and CT scan advocate

"There are a lot of technologies, services and treatments that have not been unequivocally shown to improve health outcomes in a definitive manner."–Dr. Barry Straube, chief medical officer, Medicare