In my work with hundreds of over stressed and burned out physicians, one thing is constant. Documentation is always one of their biggest sources of stress.
In fact, if you ask the average working doctor to make a list of their top five stresses, documentation chores will take up three of the five slots.
1. EMR – especially if you use multiple EMR software programs that don’t talk to each other
2. Dealing with lab reports and refill requests
3. Returning patient and consultant calls and documenting them adequately and all the other places information streams have to be forced together by the sweat of your brow.
The average doc is walking the cliff edge of overload on a significant number of office days in any given month. Now comes ICD-10 and my biggest fear is the extra work of the new coding system will push many physicians over the edge into burnout.
How much more time will ICD-10 take?
Prior to attending medical school, Parth Desai took a gap year to help his mom manage his dad’s small internal medicine practice. She was worried about how she was going to handle the looming transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. Parth said he would help her out.
He looked at different consultants and programs, but they were all too complicated, too expensive, or both. He also looked at a number of different ICD-10 training programs, but didn’t really find anything that he thought was that good. He wanted help with code conversions, but everything he saw was slow, or required additional personnel, or was too costly.
So, he did what lots of entrepreneurs do, he decided to build what he needed himself. He enlisted his former college roommate, Will Pattiz, a “tech whiz, outdoor enthusiast, and filmmaker” to help him and together they developed software that automates the conversion of ICD-9 to ICD-10 codes.
Medical 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.
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.
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.
Since 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:
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).
If the patient cannot provide this, have them pay at least 50% of the billed charges at the time of service.
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.
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.
Life 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.
Recently 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.