Small Practice

Small Practice

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.”

Doctors Going the Distance (In Education)

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We need more doctors.

Between older care providers retiring, and the general population shift that is the aging of the Baby Boomers, we are running into a massive demographic of more, older patients, living longer and managing more chronic conditions. This puts incredible pressure not just on the remaining doctors and nurses to make up the gap, but strains the capacity of schools to recruit, train, and produce competent medical professionals.

So how can schools do more to reach students and empower them to enter the healthcare field?

The increasing popularity of online programs (particularly at the Masters level, among working professionals looking for a boost to their career advancement) has called forth a litany of studies and commentaries questioning everything from their technology to their academics,compared to traditional, on-campus programs. More productive would be questioning the structure and measuring the outcomes of degree programs in general, rather than judging the value of a new delivery mechanism against an alternative more rooted in tradition than science.

In terms of sheer practicality, though, a distance education—yes, even for doctors and surgeons—makes a certain amount of sense. One of the hottest topics in the medical community right now is Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and the ongoing struggle to fully implement and realize the utility of such technology.

Surviving the Affordable Care Act Grace Period

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Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.39.10 AMSince the first open enrollment in 2014 more than 11 million people have gotten coverage through the insurance exchanges established through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the plans offered through the exchanges are provided by the same insurers you deal with every day, there are some differences.

The biggest one is the 90-day grace period. As we near the end of the grace period for 2015, many practices are still struggling to manage the ins and outs to ensure they get paid. Here’s why.

When a person goes into the exchange to select a policy, they get a 90-day grace period to pay premiums. This grace period is between the insurance company and the policy holder. As with other coverage, when the patient makes an appointment and/or goes to the doctor, he or she shows the insurance card. When the practice verifies eligibility, it shows that the patient is covered. If the patient comes into the office during the grace period, the claim will go out as usual and get paid. However, if the patient did not pay their premium during this grace period, the insurance company will come back to the practice and ask for the money back. Then, the practice has to bill the patient directly. This is difficult for providers for many reasons, not the least of which is that the longer it takes to bill a patient, the lower the chances of getting paid.

As a provider you may feel a strong reaction to this 90-day grace period and want to wait to see patients until the grace period is past. This is probably not realistic. Patients need care, and you need to have a positive relationship with your patients. So, here are a few steps to help manage the grace period and ensure you get paid:

  1. If the patient is in this grace period, ask them to bring proof of payment of their premium (cancelled check or receipt of some kind).

  2. If the patient cannot provide this, have them pay at least 50% of the billed charges at the time of service.

  3. Have patients sign a contract that states that they will pay the charges if the payer denies them or asks for the payment back after services are rendered.

  4. Implement a credit card on file option. Patients provide a credit or debit card and sign a contract that it can be charged up to a specified amount (i.e., $150). If the payer denies the claim or asks for the payment back, the practice can charge the card and send a receipt to the patient.

Over 30% of physicians believe that the largest barrier to good healthcare is inadequate insurance coverage. So it is no wonder that over 40% of physicians also believe that the Affordable Care Act is mostly good and a similar number are accepting exchange plans. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the new plans come with challenges.

As a small business you can’t really afford to wait too long to get paid, or worse, have to return payments and then wait again. By implementing some simple steps now you can help reduce the headaches of exchanges plans in the years to come.

Kathleen Young is the CEO and co-founder of Resolutions Billing & Consulting, Inc., which was founded in 2003. Kathleen is also the owner of Healthcare Chart Audits, which offers auditing to physicians and attorneys. Kathleen has been in healthcare since 1989 and has worked for physicians, large corporations and three billing companies. Kathleen is a CPC and a CPMA with the American Academy of Professional Coders and speaks to many groups on coding, billing, and auditing.

 

Bridging the Gap between MUS2 and Patient Engagement Through Appointment Reminders

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MaloofMedical technology has undergone dramatic changes in the last 10 years. Right now, I make and cancel appointments, get prescriptions filled, look at test results, pay bills and email my doctor—all from my computer. I track multiple health markers on my cellphone, and am proactive about my preventive screenings. I am the definition of an engaged patient.

But, I know how the system works from the inside out. The question for most doctors is how to teach patients to be more engaged with the convoluted, fragmented, and confusing healthcare system. They are asking this because they are struggling to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.

Most docs complain that the 5% patient portal requirement is unfair because it is out of their control. Maybe it is, or maybe there are smarter ways to work the system in their favor that they just don’t know about.

How to Safeguard your Career in Treacherous Healthcare Times

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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:

Zen and the Quest For Quality

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Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.45.17 AMCelebrating its 40 anniversary this year, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance bears several distinctions.  It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the eventual bestseller that was rejected by more publishers than any other, 121.  It went on to sell more than 5 million copies, making it the most popular philosophy book of the past 50 years.  And it focuses on a truly extraordinary topic, which its narrator refers to as a “metaphysics of quality.”

Quality is a hot topic in healthcare today.  Hospitals and healthcare systems are abuzz with the rhetoric of QA and QI (quality assessment and quality improvement), and healthcare payers including the federal government are boldly touting new initiatives intended to replace quantity with quality as the basis for rewarding providers.  Yet as Pirsig’s narrator, Phaedrus (see Plato’s dialogue of the same name), comes to realize, quality is very difficult to define.

In fact, giving an account of quality is so difficult that it drove Zen’s author mad.  And this is a man whose IQ, 170, would make him one of the most intelligent people in any health system.  The problem, of course, is that there is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom, and in the quest for wisdom, mere intelligence often leads us dangerously astray.  Something similar is happening in healthcare today, where schemes to improve quality often precede sufficient efforts to understand it.

For example, we seek to gain greater control over healthcare outcomes through measurement, only to discover, to our chagrin, that people are massaging the data to meet their numbers.  We create new programs intended to increase patient throughput, only to discover unintended perverse effects on the quality of relationships between patients and physicians.  Initiatives intended to reduce error rates turn out again and again to stifle innovation.

A Radical Policy Proposal: Go Easy On Older Docs

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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.

The Doctor- Patient Relationship and the Outcomes Movement

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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

When it Comes to Healthcare IT Success Stories, Don’t Count out the Little Guy

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Tom GuillaniToday’s healthcare information technology headlines are littered with how large delivery networks are scaling up and successfully building and using IT infrastructure. But the real success story is hiding in the shadows of these large enterprise deployments, in the small and independent practices across the US. The recent ICD-10 transition, that had been foretold to drive small enterprise into financial despair due to their lack of IT savvy and infrastructure, has shown just the opposite. A report from a leading provider of billing software that was based on government and private payer claims analysis for the past 30 days shows a different story.