Small Practice

Small Practice

Go Beyond Using Your EHR; Practice Heads Up Medicine

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Tom GuillaniWhen providers and their staff don’t have the time or tools to effectively communicate with patients, a slew of issues can result: from physicians missing important cues and misdiagnosing patients to preventable hospital readmissions and poor outcomes because patients didn’t understand or follow care guidelines.

The problem has become endemic. According to one study, 80% of what doctors tell patients is forgotten as soon as they leave the office. Beyond that, 50% of what the patient did recall is incorrect. In addition to impact communication and follow up have on care and outcomes, patients are expecting a different experience than they once had. Nearly two thirds of patients now say they would consider switching to a physician who offers access to medical information through a secure Internet connection.

Patients are NOT Customers

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Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 4.26.26 PMRecently I wrote about the problems with Maintenance of Certification requirements.  One of the phrases I read repeatedly when I was researching the piece was “the patient as customer.”  Here’s a quote from the online journal produced by Accenture, the management consulting company:

Patients are less forgiving of poor service than they once were, and the bar keeps being raised higher because of the continually improving service quality offered by other kinds of companies with whom patients interact—overnight delivery services, online retailers, luxury auto dealerships and more. With these kinds of cross-sector comparisons now the norm, hospitals will have to venture beyond the traditional realm of merely providing world-class medical care. They must put in place the operations and processes to satisfy patients through differentiated experiences that engender greater loyalty. The key is to approach patients as customers, and to design the end-to-end patient experience accordingly.

Except for one thing.  Patients are NOT customers.

The definition of a “customer” is a person or entity that obtains a service or product from another person or entity in exchange for money.  Customers can buy either goods or services.  Health care is classified by the government as a service industry because it provides an intangible thing rather than an actual thing.  If you buy a good, like a car, you voluntarily decide to shop around and get the best car you can for the price.  Even a vacation, especially a vacation package or a cruise, is a good.  A nice dinner, while a good in the sense of the food, is also a service.  You buy the services of the cook and servers.

Here is why the patient shouldn’t be considered a customer, at least not in the business sense.

1. Patients are not on vacation.  They are not in the mindset that they are sitting in the doctors office or the hospital to have a good time.  They are not relaxed, they have not left their troubles temporarily behind them.  They have not bought room service and a massage. They are not in the mood to be happy.  They would rather not be requiring the service they are requesting.  Which leads to number 2:

2. Patients have not chosen to buy the service.  Patients have been forced to seek the service, in most cases.

3. Patients are not paying for the service.  At least not directly.  And they have no idea what the price is anyway.

4. Patients are not buying a product from which they can demand a positive outcome.  Sometimes the result of the service is still illness and/or death.  This does not mean the service provided was not a good one.

5. The patient is not always right.  A patient cannot, or should not, go to a doctor demanding certain things.  They should demand good care, but that care might mean denying the patient what the patient thinks he or she needs.  The doctor is not a servant; she does not have to do everything the patient wants.  She is obligated to do everything the patient needs.

6. Patient satisfaction does not always correlate with the quality of the product.A patient who is given antibiotics for a cold is very satisfied but has gotten poor quality care.  A patient who gets a knee scope for knee pain might also be very satisfied, despite the fact that such surgery has been shown to have little actual benefit in many types of knee pain.

Independent Practice Equals Higher Satisfaction

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Tom Guillani

Thinking of starting a new practice?  Is the lure of independence calling to you?  There are more reasons than every why independent practice is a great option. Being your own boss is not only easier than it once was, it can actually make you happier.

Independent physicians have many more options available to help them today than they used to. Affordable technology has revolutionized private practice from EHRs to easy-to-use practice management and billing software, adding flexibility to staffing and simplifying paperwork needs. And, the increased availability and ease of outsourcing has further reduced the burden of running your own practice. Physicians can now choose to outsource inbound calls, reminder calls, pre-authorizations, marketing, and of course, billing. In addition, independent providers can transition to new agile practice models such as concierge and hybrid that can offer higher incomes and smaller patient census and reduce some of the headaches associated with traditional practice structures.

Added to the fact that starting and running a private practice is now easier than ever, is the higher level of happiness experienced by independent physicians. In fact, a study done by Medscape in March 2014 reported that 74% of self-employed doctors are satisfied in their practice and that of the physicians who left employment in favor of independent practice, 70% felt happier in their new practice while only 9% were less happy being self-employed. Seventy-four percent of these self-employed doctors also said that their opportunity to practice quality medicine met or exceeded their expectations.

There are many factors contributing to these high satisfaction rates in independent physicians but one of the biggest is the control these doctors have over their practice, their schedule, their treatment of patients, and their destiny. A survey in Hospital Topics on the impact of practice arrangements on physician’s satisfaction backs this up, reporting that physicians who work for HMO’s have much less autonomy and decision-making power than self-employed physicians. And, the report by Health Affairs found that 85% of doctors in private practice felt free to control their schedules compared to only 39% of HMO physicians.

Self-employed doctors also avoided the pitfalls of employment cited by the Medscape study while the doctors working for hospitals and group practices listed administrative headaches, added rules, and a more limited income potential as reasons for dissatisfaction in their careers. It’s easy to see why the 2014 Great American Physician Survey conducted by Physician’s Practice found that over half of independent physicians would do things the same way all over again. This isn’t to say independent providers done have regulatory challenges or administrative responsibilities. However, they have more control over the day-to-day operations and administration, eliminating frustrating bureaucracy.

Better, more affordable, easier-to-use technology, simple outsourcing options, greater autonomy and control, and higher levels of satisfaction…all of these factors make private practice a more attractive option than ever. So, if you are considering starting a new medical practice, now is the time. Just remember, doing it right from the beginning will save you from unnecessary stress, making the process of opening your new practice a much more enjoyable experience.

By joining the ranks of independent physicians, you will be in control of both your practice and your life. You will be free to set your own schedule, manage patient care to your standards, work with a staff of your choosing, and have the final control over your income potential. All new practices will face challenges along the way but you will find a wealth of resources to make your life easier and guide you to success in your new venture.

Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, is the chief medical information officer at Kareo. He is a respected innovator in the medical technology arena with more than 15 years of experience in mobile technology and medical software development. Previously, Giannulli was the founder and chief executive officer of Caretools, which developed the first iPhone-based EHR.

The Case for Case-Based Reasoning

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flying cadeuciiCase-based reasoning has been formalized for purposes of computer reasoning as a four-step process[1]:

  • Retrieve: Given a target problem, retrieve cases from memory that are relevant to solving it. A case consists of a problem, its solution, and, typically, annotations about how the solution was derived.
  • Reuse: Map the solution from the previous case to the target problem. This may involve adapting the solution as needed to fit the new situation.
  • Revise: Having mapped the previous solution to the target situation, test the new solution in the real world (or a simulation) and, if necessary, revise.
  • Retain: After the solution has been successfully adapted to the target problem, store the resulting experience as a new case in memory.

The complexities associated with programming and implementation of a knowledge management system based on case histories is both non-obvious and difficult, but ironically this is the actual process that an expert physician uses in his day to day clinical work.

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.”

Will Independent Physicians Go Extinct?

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Richard Gunderman goodLife is tough for physicians in solo and small group practice.  The federally mandated introduction this fall of ICD-10 requires physicians and their staffs to learn a new system of coding diseases.  “Meaningful Use,” another federal program, requires physicians to install and use electronic health records systems, which are complex and expensive.  And PQRS, the Physician Quality Reporting System, is beginning to penalize physicians for failing to report individual data for up to 110 quality measures, such as patient immunizations, each of which takes time to collect and record.

Of course, such requirements are not being imposed solely on solo and small-group physicians.  In many ways, they affect all physicians alike.  Yet the burdens of complying are disproportionately high for small groups, which cannot spread out the costs of purchasing equipment, hiring employees and consultants, and training personnel over so large a number of colleagues.  Hospitals and large medical groups can afford to hire full-time specialists to meet these challenges, but such approaches are not economically feasible for a group that consists of only a few physicians.

Such challenges are not just raining down –  they are pouring down on the heads of physicians.  Some physicians fear they smell a conspiracy to drive solo and small-group practitioners out of business.  And the problem is not just the money.  It’s also the time.  Many physicians already work long hours and simply cannot afford to shop for such systems, negotiate contracts, and enter data.  We personally know physicians who report spending two hours each evening completing records that they did not have time to attend to while they were seeing patients.

Calcium Scan and Subtractive Medicine

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Being a radiologist, I rarely speak to patients, but I was asked to counsel Mrs. Patel (not her real name, so calm down HIPAA totalitarians), who was worried about the risks of radiation from cardiac calcium CT scan. Because of her risk factors for atherosclerosis, her cardiologist wanted her to take statins for primary prevention, but she was reluctant to start statins. They eventually reached a truce. If she had even a speck of calcium in her coronary arteries she would take statins. If her calcium score was zero she wouldn’t. This type of shared decision making is the most frequent reason why cardiologists order calcium scans at my institution.

Google Algorithm to Favor Websites That Work on Mobile Devices

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Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.28.41 AM
In a major update, the search giant has announced that on April 21, the algorithm will be updated to favor websites that are designed to work on both mobile and desktop devices, now often referred to as Responsive Website Designs.

Does your practice have a responsive website?

Google has had multiple mobile initiatives, including the GoMo campaign where the company provided free tools to help small businesses build websites that worked on mobile devices without the dreaded pinching, resizing, and squinting. That campaign had limited success because the technology didn’t quite work as elegantly as possible, but just last week Google took its most aggressive approach yet by declaring that they were going to start penalizing websites that did not have mobile capabilities.

Once referred to as mobile-friendly website design, geeks refer to it simply as responsive website design now. So how does one get a mobile-friendly, er, responsive website?

How to Avoid Being a Dumb-Ass Doctor, Blog Edition

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Evil Dr Rob Part 2It’s been two years since I first started my new practice.  I have successfully avoided driving my business into the ground because I am a dumb-ass doctor.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not a dumb-ass when it comes to being a doctor. I am pretty comfortable on that, but the future will hold many opportunities to change that verdict.  No, I am talking about being a dumb-ass running the businessbecause I am a doctor.

We doctors are generally really bad at running businesses, and I am no exception.  In my previous practice, I successfully delegated any authority I had as the senior partner so that I didn’t know what was going on in most of the practice.

The culmination of this was when I was greeted by a “Dear Rob” letter from my partners who wanted a divorce from me.  It wasn’t a total shock that this happened, but it wasn’t fun.  My mistake in this was to back off and try to “just be a doctor while others ran the business.”  It’s my business, and I should have known what was happening.  I didn’t, and it is now no longer my business.

This new business was built on the premise that I am a dumb-ass doctor when it comes to business.  I consciously avoided making things too complicated.  I wanted no copays for visits (and hence no need to collect money each visit).  I wanted no long-term contracts (and hence no need to refund money if I or the patient was hit by a meteor or attacked by a yeti).   The goal was to keep things as easy as possible, and this is a very good business policy.

My Doctor Just Gave Me His Cell Phone Number …

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flying cadeuciiThat’s right…it really happened.

At the conclusion of a recent doctor visit, he gave me his cell phone number saying, “Call me anytime if you need anything or have questions.”

In disbelief, I wondered if this was a generational thing – and whether physicians in their late thirties had now ‘gone digital’.

My only other data point was our family pediatrician, who is also in her late thirties. Our experience with her dates back nearly seven years when my wife and I were expecting twins.  A few pediatricians we met with mentioned their willingness to correspond with patients’ families via email as a convenience to parents.  The pediatrician we ultimately selected wasn’t connected with patients outside of the office at that time, but now will exchange emails.