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Category: Medical Practice

Simple Bills are Not So Simple

By MATTHEW HOLT

I went for an annual physical with my doctor at One Medical in December. OK it wasn’t actually annual as the last time I went was 2 & 1/2 years ago, but it was covered under the ACA, and my doc Andrew Diamond was bugging me because I’m old & fat. So in I went.

I had a general exam and great chat for about 45 minutes. Then I had blood work & labs (cholesterol, A1C, etc) and a TDAP vaccination as it had been more than 10 years since I’d had one.

Today, about one month later, I got an email asking me to pay One Medical. So being a difficult human, I thought I would go through the process and see how much a consumer can be expected to understand about what they should pay.

Here’s the email from One Medical saying, “you owe us money.”

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The Healing Power of Even Virtual Human Connection

By HANS DUVEFELT

Almost two years into this new age of varying degrees of self quarantine, I am registering that my own social interactions through technology have been an important part of my life.

I text with my son, 175 miles away, morning and night and often in between. I talk and text with my daughter and watch the videos she and my grandchildren create.

I not only treat patients via Zoom; I also participate, as one of the facilitators, in a virtual support group for family members of patients in recovery.

I have reconnected with cousins in Sweden I used to go years without seeing; now I get likes and comments almost daily on things that I post. I have also video chatted with some of them and with my brother from my exchange student year in Massachusetts 50 years ago.

I have stayed in touch with people who moved away. And I have made new friends through the same powerful little eye on the world I use for all these things, my 2016 iPhone SE.

Members of my addiction recovery group stay in touch with each other via phone or text between clinics. They constantly point out the value of the social network they have formed, even though they only meet, many of them via Zoom, once a week. The literature has supported this notion for many years and is very robust: Social isolation is a driver of addiction.

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Where’s Our National Health Tech Academy

By KIM BELLARD

It has been said that if your company has a Chief Innovation Officer or an Innovation Department, it’s probably not a very innovative company. To be successful, innovation has to be part of a company’s culture, embraced widely, and practiced constantly.  

Similarly, if your company has a Chief Digital Officer, chances are “digital” is still seen as a novelty, an adjunct to the “real” work of the company. E.g., “digital health” isn’t going to have much effect on the healthcare system, or on the health of those using it, until it’s a seamless part of that system and their lives.

What got me thinking about this, oddly enough, was a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) as to the advisability of a Federal Academy – “similar to the military academies” – to develop digital expertise for government agencies.  As the GAO noted: “A talented and diverse cadre of digital-ready, tech-savvy federal employees is critical to a modern, efficient government.”

Boy, howdy; you could say that about employees in a “modern, efficient” healthcare system too. 

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Behind the Mask

By HANS DUVEFELT

Today I saw a patient I have known for years. He suddenly pulled his mask down and said, “I’d like to know what you think I should do about this”.

On his nose was an 8 mm (1/3”) brownish-red flat spot with a crack or scrape through it.

“How long have you had it?”, I asked.

“Oh, a while now” he answered. That is about the least helpful time measurement I know of. I asked him to pin it down a bit more precisely. He settled for about a year. I prescribed a cream and made a two week follow-up appointment for either cryo or a biopsy. It’s probably just an excoriated, premalignant, actinic keratosis.

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We are Asking Our Physicians to Do Too Much. It’s No Wonder They are Burnt Out.

By GAIL PEACE

We have heard the phrases “physician fatigue” and “burnout” too often in the last year – and for good reason. Covid-19 has placed an incredible burden on our healthcare providers. However, as healthcare professionals, the stats representing physician burnout are not new for us.  

We have seen similar trends and stats for years. Covid-19 did not cause the current state of physician burnout, it has just exacerbated it and further exposed critical issues with the expectations placed on physicians in today’s healthcare system. Ludi conducted a survey of physicians across the country confirming that exact theory:

  • 68 percent of physicians feel pessimistic or indifferent about their occupation
  • 48 percent describe the relationship with their hospital partners/employers as combative or transactional at best

We need to ask ourselves: What is actually causing this dissatisfaction and how can hospitals better align with their physician partners?  

According to the physicians surveyed, 68 percent agreed they have too much administrative burden placed on them. More often than not, our industry blames EHRs for dominating administrative time, but from the physicians we surveyed, EHRs are just part of the problem. In fact, 54 percent of physicians indicated they spend 1-3 hours per day on administrative work outside of EHR time, with another 35 percent spending more than 4 hours per day on similar tasks.

Let’s put that into perspective. On top of seeing patients, charting in EHRs, and all the other things physicians are expected to do to take care of patients, physicians are also spending at least another 1-3 hours per day on “everything else.” This everything else includes meetings, training, compliance, policy, etc.  

We are asking our physicians to do too much. It’s no wonder they are burnt out.

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We Use Too Many Medications: Be Very Afraid of Interactions

By HANS DUVEFELT

I happened to read about the pharmacodynamics of parenteral versus oral furosemide when I came across a unique interaction between this commonest of diuretics and risperidone: Elderly dementia patients on risperidone have twice their expected mortality if also given furosemide. I knew that all atypical antipsychotics can double mortality in elderly dementia patients, but was unaware of the additional risperidone-furosemide risk. Epocrates only has a nonspecific warning to monitor blood pressure when prescribing both drugs.

This is only today’s example of an interaction I didn’t have at my fingertips. I very often check Epocrates on my iPhone for interactions before prescribing, because – quite frankly – my EMR always gives me an entire screen of fine print idiotic kindergarten warnings nobody ever has time to read in a real clinical situation. (In my case provided by the otherwise decent makers of UpToDate.)

I keep coming back in my thoughts and blogging about drug interactions. And every time I run into one that surprised me or caused harm, I think of the inherent, exponential risks of polypharmacy and the virtues of oligopharmacy.

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Medicine is a Moving Missile, Aiming for a Dangerous, Elusive Target

By HANS DUVEFELT

(Desperate times called for desperate measures.)

In the tech world, we have come to expect our devices to become outdated and obsolete very quickly. The biggest tech companies in the world didn’t even exist a few years ago. Bitcoin, a virtual currency which at least I can’t wrap my head around, seems to be more attractive than gold.

I get the sense most people embrace or at least accept the speed of change in tech.

But medical advances that occur rapidly are frightening to many people. Vaccine hesitancy, for example, involves concerns and characterizations like “unproven” and “guinea pigs”.

But can we as a society strive for and reward rapid progress in one area and reject it in another, especially if we feel threatened by outside forces or phenomena – be that a virus, climate change or the collapse of our economy’s infrastructure like supply chains and raw materials.

Tech has its own momentum, more driven by profit motives than altruistism or a desire just to make peoples lives better. Medicine clearly has profit as a driving force, but also a goal of improving life for people. Curing or mitigating disease must rank higher than making life more convenient.

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We Shouldn’t Tolerate Sloppy Allergy Lists

By HANS DUVEFELT

The medication and allergy lists seem like they would be the most important parts of a health record to keep current and accurate. But we all see errors too often.

I think it shouldn’t be possible to enter an allergy without describing the reaction. Because without that information the list becomes completely useless.

The other day I saw a patient who needed an urgent CT angiogram. The allergy list said “All Contrast Materials”, which isn’t even “structured data entry”, and thus not recognized by the computer if my EMR (Me again, Greenway!) would have been clever enough to check for allergies when I order a CT scan.

After a lot of probing, the “allergy” in this case turned out to be a host of nonspecific, chronic symptoms after several lumbar CT myelograms in a short period of time many years ago.

Some people claim to be penicillin allergic because “it never works”. Others list ciprofloxacin or sulfa antibiotics because they get a yeast infection after taking them. Others were slightly nauseous after their first dose of an SSRI like fluoxetine or fatigued after starting gabapentin.

Some symptoms listed as allergies are poorly understood. For example, morphine causes itching in many patients, even skin manifestations like blushing as well as sweating. But this is not usually a histamine mediated symptom, and not an allergy. Other opioids, like hydromorphone, tend to have less risk for itching.

Cough from ACE inhibitors isn’t a true allergy, but we often note that in our allergy lists. People with this side effect can safely be switched to angiotensin receptor blockers, ARBs.

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American Primary Care is a Big Waste of Time (When…)

By HANS DUVEFELT

Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, books in Europe were copied by hand, mostly by monks and clergy. Ironically, they were often called scribes, the same word we now use for the new class of healthcare workers employed to improve the efficiency of physician documentation.

Think about that for a moment: American doctors are employing almost medieval methods in what is supposed to be the era of computers. Why aren’t we using AI for documentation?

The pathetically cumbersome methods of documentation available (required) for our clinical encounters is only one of several antiquated presumptions in American healthcare. Other inefficiencies, often viewed as axioms, especially in primary care, make the trade I am in chock full of time wasters.

Whereas in most other “industries”, people talk about reach, scale, leverage and automation, primary care is still doing things one patient at a time. The automation in our field is not one where processes happen without human involvement according to preset patterns. Instead, it is an ongoing effort to make medical providers behave in automatic fashion with patients on a one-on-one, one visit at a time basis. The value of one-on-one is when you individualize, give unique advice considering multiple individual parameters; saying “in your particular case”, rather than “everybody should eat a healthy diet”.

Primary care here is wasting time in many ways:

When health maintenance and disease prevention is done by physicians. I keep writing about this, but a standing order to offer pneumonia or shingles shots, diabetes or lung cancer screenings and so many other things to people over a certain age or with certain risk factors can be handled by non-physicians. This would keep the six figure problem solvers doing what only they can do. It would also (a not-so-wild guess) probably double physician productivity.

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I Am a Decision Maker, Not a Bookkeeper

By HANS DUVEFELT

Perhaps it is because I love doctoring so much that I find some of the tools and tasks of my trade so tediously frustrating. I keep wishing the technology I work with wasn’t so painfully inept.

On my 2016 iPhone SE I can authorize a purchase, a download or a money transfer by placing my thumb on the home button.

In my EMR, when I get a message (also called “TASK” – ugh) from the surgical department that reads “patient is due for 5-year repeat colonoscopy and needs [insurance] referral”, things are a lot more complicated, WHICH THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE! For this routine task, I can’t just click a “yes” or “authorize” button (which I am absolutely sure is a trackable event in the innards of “logs” all EMRs have).

Instead, (as I often lament), I have to go through a slow and cumbersome process of creating a non-billable encounter, finding the diagnostic code for colon cancer screening, clicking on REFERRAL, then SURGEON – COLONOSCOPY, then freetexting “5 year colonoscopy recall”, then choosing where to send this “TASK”, namely the referral coordinator and , finally, getting back to the original request in order to respond “DONE”.

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