Almost three years ago, I excoriated the American College of Sports Medicine for partnering with a medical screenings company to push useless screens upon, of all things, their membership. You can read the post here. It was truly embarrassing to a supposedly credible organization. The leadership’s reply, in addition to having their communications director call me and implore me to take the post down, was to claim they had no idea this was happening.
Now, the American Council on Exercise, another fitness industry trade group, beggars itself with an open letter to the U. S. Congress, in which it essentially asks to hop aboard the national healthcare gravy train. You can read the entire plaintive wail here. The essence of it, however is this:
The American Council on Exercise, which educates, certifies, and represents more than 55,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals, and advocates for extending the clinic into the community with science-based preventative services delivered by well qualified professionals not necessarily thought of as health providers, welcomes you to Washington.
Let me translate both the highlighted paragraph, and, indeed, the entire letter: hey, Congress, everyone else is making money from healthcare reform, what about us? Where’s our handout? We’re healthcare providers, too, sort of. That ought to be enough to qualify us for reimbursement, even though we have zero evidence that the fitness industry, or any specific category of fitness professional (you could be one by 5:00 pm today), actually can change outcomes. Exercise? Important almost beyond expression. Fitness industry and its entire coterie? Not so much. Over the past three decades, the fitness industry has boomed.Continue reading…
My life changed dramatically 18 months ago when I started my new practice. The biggest change personally was a dramatic drop in my income as I built a new business using a model that is fairly new. That’s a tough thing to do with four kids, three of whom were in college last fall. OK, that’s a stupid thing to do, but my stupidity has already been well-established.
Yet even if the income stayed identical to what I earned before the switch, the change in my professional life would have been nearly as dramatic.
I am no longer focused only on patients in my office.
I am no longer focused on ICD and CPT codes.
Saving patients money has become one of my top priorities.
I feel like my patients trust me more, and see me as an ally.
Patients accept my recommendations for less care (avoiding unnecessary testing and unnecessary medications) much easier.
I focus far more on preventing problems or keeping them small.
I laugh with my patients far more.
I no longer feel like a Zombie at the end of the day (and I no longer eat brains)
Times have changed. And it’s time they change again.
In the past, medical care was more episodic than it is now. People went to see the doctor when they felt unwell. Diabetes affected mostly older patients, who didn’t live long enough with the disease to develop complications.
There were no blockbuster drugs for high cholesterol, Hepatitis C, fibromyalgia or chronic heartburn; we didn’t manage nearly as many patients on multiple medications as we do now.
In those times, a payment scale based on the length and complexity of the visit made sense, and there wasn’t much doctor-patient interaction between visits.
Today, we manage more chronic conditions, use more medications, do more laboratory monitoring, more patient education, and more administrative work on behalf of our patients than before.
Payment scales based only on what we do in the face-to-face visit have become hopelessly antiquated and stand in the way of the new demands of society – physicians providing longitudinal care for chronic conditions in patient-centered medical homes.
The fall sports season is tantalizingly near; players and fans alike are gearing up for the Friday night lights and Sunday afternoon showdowns. But the season comes at a cost; every bone-jarring hit and wince-inducing header carries the risk of sustaining a concussion.
Most media coverage focuses on the National Football League’s professional players, but 65% of traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children. The majority are thought to be undiagnosed, but the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year. This puts athletes at risk of sustaining a second concussion before their brains are fully healed, leading to longer recoveries, permanent neurological damage, and the potentially-fatal Second Impact Syndrome.
A just-released app hopes to change that. Sway Medical, founded by Chase Curtiss in 2011, aims to help health professionals objectively rate the risk of concussion at the source: on the football field or soccer pitch. On-the-spot concussion diagnosis is just the beginning, though; in the near future, the young company plans to enter the hospital space by the end of the year.
The FDA-approved app, called Sway Balance, uses proprietary software and the iPhone’s accelerometer to assess an athlete’s balance over time. In a phone interview, founder and CEO Chase Curtiss said that the app can be used by a health professional to “set up a baseline,” then “compare an athlete over the course of a season to that established norm.” Poor performance compared to baseline is indicative of a possible concussion.
Health care professionals can purchase a yearly subscription to the app for $199 – a fraction of the cost of a typical balance platform – and the patient-facing app is free to download.
Sway Medical has partnered with ImPACT Applications, an organization which Curtiss described as conducting the “gold standard of concussion testing on the market.” ImPACT uses baseline cognitive testing – verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time – and synchronous testing immediately after a hit to assess if a concussion has occurred.
“But you don’t have an element of physical control of the body,” Curtiss said – which is where Sway Balance comes in. “[ImPACT’s] interest in us is in pairing a balance test with cognitive testing.”
Every day, 10,000 people in the U.S. celebrate their 65th birthday, making each one of these seniors eligible for Medicare. The very program that gives America’s seniors access to affordable health care will turn a youngish 48 on July 30, but in a biting irony, it could go bankrupt before reaching its 65th birthday.
We cannot wish away or ignore the reality that Medicare’s Part A trust fund — the portion that pays hospital claims — is currently projected to run out of money by 2026. The good news, however, is that it is possible to put Medicare on a sustainable path if we can surmount current political hurdles.
It is no secret that Washington is better known for what it is not doing than what it is doing these days. Partisan gridlock has proved to be an insurmountable impasse for potentially worthy legislative efforts. This is especially true when it comes to making the changes needed to sustain Medicare’s future, where Washington is truly making things much harder than they need to be.
Much of the current debate has focused on reforms that would only slightly defer Medicare’s pending insolvency, with the potential for mere cost-shifting. With many of those recommendations, political disagreement is so strong that an extremely limited chance exists to pass a compromise version. However, even if enacted, these reforms would only address the symptoms of Medicare’s condition rather than the underlying problem. The result would only help Medicare limp to its 65th birthday at best.
There is a much more meaningful reform out there that addresses the underlying problem, and, surprisingly, bipartisan consensus exists around the need to end the fee-for-service system in Medicare.
The current fee-for-service payment system compensates physicians and other health care providers for each service they deliver, such as an office visit, test or other procedure. While it is critical that providers be fairly compensated, Medicare’s fee-for-service structure contributes to inefficient care that is often disconnected with actual patient outcomes. It has accelerated the program’s financial imbalance with inflationary spending that has little or no connection to helping beneficiaries get healthier. Continue reading…
“This GAO report sheds new light on the behavior of physicians reaping personal gain by referring patients to services at locations where they have an ownership interest. The analysis suggests that financial incentives for self-referring providers is likely a major factor driving the increase in referrals for these services. As Congress looks to reign in unnecessary spending, my colleagues and I should explore this area in greater depth,” Rep. Waxman said.
Explore you should, Representative Waxman. For if you look beyond the GAO’s conclusions, you will find that what we really need are bundled payments and a regulatory environment that supports, not inhibits, innovation to improve high-value health care.
Just because physicians have come together to manage their own futures doesn’t mean that their intent is to collude and increase costs. Could it not also indicate that health-care professionals have joined together to provide better care in a more efficient manner that reduces waste and unnecessary services to save the system money? Continue reading…
Lately, my virtual inbox in our electronic medical record has seen a surge in requests for prescriptions for the vaccine against Herpes Zoster, shingles. This has made me think a lot about our responsibility as physicians to inform patients about the evidence behind our recommendations – but who informs the patients when doctors are kept out of the loop or put under pressure to prescribe without seeing the patient?
What has happened is that our local Rite-Aid Pharmacy started to give these shots, covered by many insurers, but still requiring a doctor’s prescription.
I cannot give the shots in my clinic, because as a Federally Qualified Health Center, we are reimbursed at a fixed rate. The shingles vaccine costs more for us to buy than we charge for an entire office visit. I used to have the discussion about the shot, and would give patients a prescription to take to the pharmacy if they wanted it.
The pharmacy can give the shot at a profit, because it is considered a medication, just like a bottle of Lipitor.
The new system creates a bit of a dilemma for me. I get a message through the pharmacy that the patient wants the shot, and I don’t have the opportunity to sit down and review the effectiveness, side effects and long-term efficacy according to the available evidence with the patient.
For example, the shingles vaccine only cuts the risk of getting shingles in half. This is about the same effectiveness as the flu vaccine, but far less than, say, the vaccine against smallpox, which has now been eradicated.
Most patients are very surprised to hear about the 50% efficacy when I catch up with them at some later date; so many health care interventions are portrayed as both completely effective and absolutely necessary.
I see my role as a primary care physician as a guide and resource for patients, who are bombarded with overly optimistic claims and recommendations by mass media, drug companies and retailers.
For all of those out there anticipating the 2014 official role out of Obamacare, also known as the ACA (Affordable Care Act), here is a cautionary tale.
Many years ago, as I was growing my cardiology practice, it became evident that diagnostic services for my specialty, like stress tests, echocardiograms, etc., were done less efficiently and cost more at the local hospital, then in the office. This stimulated many groups in the 1980s and 90s to install their own “ancillary” diagnostic services. Patients loved not having to deal with the long waits and higher copay prices at the hospitals. And yes, the cardiologists did increase their revenues with these tests. However, lower costs to patients, insurance companies, Medicare, and improved patient satisfaction were just as powerful a stimulus to the explosive growth of these diagnostic tests, and later even cardiac catheterization labs, when integrated into the physicians’ offices.
As the growth in testing spiraled upward, the hospital industry saw their slice of the outpatient revenue pie nosedive. Hospital lobbyists and policy-makers cried foul and complained of greed and self-referral, which they said was spiking the rapid rise in healthcare costs.
Studies laying blame on self-referrals being the major culprit for escalating healthcare costs, have been inconclusive. However, after years of lobbying and the passage of ACA, the hospital industry finally had the weight of the Federal government on their side. It did not take long for Medicare to start dialing back the reimbursements for in-office ancillary tests and procedures, and outpatient cardiac catheterization labs were one of their main targets. Hospitals had lost millions of dollars to the burgeoning growth of these labs inside the cardiologist’s office.
Our twelve-man group had a safe and successful lab for about ten years. Then after the ACA was passed, Medicare began to cut the reimbursements for global and technical fees in this area. The cuts were so Draconian that it became impossible financially to continue the service. Never mind that we could provide the same service as the hospital more efficiently, with better patient satisfaction, and at a third of the cost.
Patient satisfaction has garnered new attention as an indicator of provider performance and an important dimension of value-based health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Defined in any number of ways, it is often publicly reported to help patients choose among health care providers.
This month, patient satisfaction takes on even greater importance as ACA provisions set to begin October 1, 2012, tie patient satisfaction to Medicare reimbursement, as measured by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. HCAHPS scores reflect patients’ perspectives on several aspects of care: communication with doctors and nurses, responsiveness of hospital staff, pain management, communication about medicines, discharge information, cleanliness of the hospital environment, and quietness of the hospital environment—and are estimated to place at risk an average of $500,000 to $850,000 annually per hospital.(1)There’s a lot riding on patients’ perceptions of the health care experience, our satisfaction with the care we receive. But what do we really know about patient satisfaction, its relationship to patient outcomes and cost—and just what is it we are rewarding?Continue reading…