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…
Oh, that clever Center for Public Integrity. Look what they’ve gone and done now! My, oh my. According to the article, doctors are much of the the problem, billing “billions” of Medicare upcharges according to the center.
But what if the medical coding game itself is flawed? Stop for a moment and imagine what it would look like if lawyers billed like doctors. Suddenly, we see how bizarre the world of government billing codes and chart-completion mandates has become.
Not long ago I asked readers what my time is worth on a per-hour basis. Collectively and independently, they settled on a number of about $500/hr (see the comments). Now look for a moment at what Medicare pays, even at its highest level of billing for a physician’s time for evlauation and management of a medical problem: for 40 minutes of a physician’s time, it’s $140 (or $210/hr) before taxes. Again, we see another disconnect as to how doctors are valued in our current system.
Doctors are working long hours to collect these fairly low fees from Medicare while jumping more hoops than ever to do so. They have become pseudo-experts at the coding game, trying to get as much money for their extra efforts as legally possible. But these fees paid by Medicare do not cover payments for time spent on phone calls, e-mails, and working insurance denials. These services are still considered by our system as gratis. To partially counteract this coding problem, doctors realized (and the government insisted) that doctors use electronic medical records.
But when independent doctors set out to implement these records they quickly discovered that the expense and long-term maintenance costs of local office-based EMRs could not compete with more sophisticated systems already in use by their neighboring large health care systems. Because of ever-increasing cost-of-living and overhead costs, not to mention the threats of large fee cuts, doctors have migrated to large health systems faster than ever. With the fancier electronic record at those systems (streamlined for billing, collections, and marketing) fields required for higher billing codes (but not always material to the problem at hand) are completed in less time. So are doctors really the problem?
It happened again. I was talking to a particularly sick patient recently who related another bad experience with a specialist.
“He came in and started spouting that he was busy saving someone’s life in the ER, and then he didn’t listen to what I had to say,” she told me. ”I know that he’s a good doctor and all, but he was a real jerk!”
This was a specialist that I hold in particular high esteem for his medical skill, so I was a little surprised and told her so.
“I think he holds himself in pretty high esteem, if you ask me,” she replied, still angry.
“Yes,” I agreed, “he probably does. It’s kind of hard to find a doctor who doesn’t.”
She laughed and we went on to figure out her plan.
This encounter made me wonder: was this behavior typical of this physician (something I’ve never heard about from him), or was there something else going on? I thought about the recent study which showed doctors are significantly more likely than people of other professions to suffer from burn-out.
Compared with a probability-based sample of 3442 working US adults, physicians were more likely to have symptoms of burnout (37.9% vs 27.8%) and to be dissatisfied with work-life balance (40.2% vs 23.2%) (P < .001 for both).
This is consistent with other data I’ve seen indicating higher rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide for physicians compared to the general public. On first glance it would seem that physicians would have lower rates of problems associated with self-esteem, as the medical profession is still held in high esteem by the public, is full of opportunities to “do good” for others, and (in my experience) is one in which people are quick to express their appreciation for simply doing the job as it should be done. Yet this study not only showed burn-out, but a feeling of self-doubt few would associate with my profession.
Today I am going to write about how the US could save up to 10% on its healthcare bill.
The US spends more on health care than any other nation, $8,500 per person per year. Multiply that by 300 million people and try to grasp the vast sum of $2,5 trillion.
A lot of changes are taking place with the intent to save healthcare dollars. So far, many of those changes have involved creating new layers of middlemen, whose paychecks will come out of the same healthcare budget as MRI’s, prescription medicines and physician salaries.
Every so often physician salaries come into focus as a place where money might be saved. Some people even picture physician pay as a major driver of healthcare costs.
Now, I am just a country doctor, and I don’t have an MBA or any financial background. But I used to be pretty good at math, and I’d like to think I still am.
If the 2.5 trillion dollars this country spends on healthcare is paid to or prescribed by our 850,000 physicians, then each doctor controls 3 million dollars from our nation’s healthcare budget.
Of course, physicians aren’t the only providers or prescribers. I don’t have a figure for how much money is controlled by our 100,000 Nurse Practitioners and 70, 000 Physician Assistants. I also don’t know what portion of our 50,000 chiropractors’ work falls inside the traditional healthcare budget, but let me assume each physician on average controls only 2-2.5 million dollars worth of products or services…
Then, if every physician took a $200,000 pay cut, we could reduce our healthcare spending by up to 10%!
Despite a constant buzz around the idea of using mobile technologies for patient engagement, the depth and breadth of these solutions has remained consistently thin and frankly dated. Today, healthcare organizations who are adopting and deploying engagement solutions are focusing these efforts on marketing/patient retention (e.g., simplifying transactional processes such as appointment scheduling, prescription refills, etc., online access to lab results & records) and accelerating payments (online bill-pay). Despite all the talk about using mHealth for care provisioning, our research for the upcoming report that will be released later this month, mHealth Adoption Trends for Provider-Patient Engagement, finds a market that is still in an early, embryonic stage of development.
So why the disconnect between the hype of mHealth for care provisioning and reality? Of the many potential reasons, there are two that are dominant: a lack of solutions with proven clinical efficacy and few financial incentives to drive adoption.
While there is little argument that increasing the interaction between a care team and their patients is a good thing, the best means for accomplishing this feat are still unclear. A year ago, Group Health published results from an internal study testing just what impact this increased communication may have on outcomes and patient satisfaction. What they found comes as no surprise to us as trusting advocates of patient engagement. In this study, Group Health provided patients suffering from depression a relatively simplistic form of engagement wherein patients were able to communicate with their care team through the EMR portal. The results, impressive: antidepressant medication adherence increased 33%, overall depression scores decreased, and satisfaction with treatment improved 61%.
On October 1, 2013, the entire US healthcare system will shift from ICD9 to ICD10. It will be one of the largest, most expensive and riskiest transitions that healthcare CIOs will experience in their careers, affecting every clinical and financial system.
It’s a kind of Y2k for healthcare.
Most large provider and payer organizations, have a ICD10 project budget of $50-100 million, which is interesting because the ICD10 final rule estimated the cost as .03% of revenue. For BIDMC, that would be about $450,000. Our project budget estimates are about ten times that.
CMS and HHS have significant reasons for wanting to move forward with ICD10 including
1) easier detection of fraud and abuse given the granularity of ICD10 i.e. having 3 comminuted distal radius fractures of your right arm within 3 weeks would be unlikely
2) more detailed quality reporting
3) administrative data will contain more clinical detail enabling more refined reimbursement
Large healthcare organizations have already been working hard on ICD10, so they have sunk costs and a fixed run rate for their project management office. At this point, any extension of the deadline would cost them more.
Most small to medium healthcare organizations are desperate. They are consumed with meaningful use, 5010, e-prescribing, healthcare reform, and compliance. They have no bandwidth or resources to execute a massive ICD10 project over the next 2 years.