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Tag: Rob Lamberts

Progress


Finally.

I can finally see progress in what I am doing.  Above is a photo of the front page of my new practice website (visit http://doctorlamberts.org).

There still is a little “Lorem ipsum” here and there – like having labels you missed on a shirt you are wearing – but I am very happy with the look.  The pictures of the sepia photos with the iPad making it color were the genius of my web developer (with some suggestions from me), giving a perfect image of the use of technology to accomplish “old-fashioned care made new.”

I’ve spent good portion of the past few days writing the content (replacing most of the “Lorem ipsum”).  Of what I’ve written, the strongest was in the section “Why It’s Different,” where I compare life in a traditional practice to what I intend to do.  Here are a few examples:

“I Need an Appointment”

Traditional Practice

· Call the office, hear a message about calling 911, get placed on hold or leave voice message (after navigating automated attendant).
· Get called back to find out the reason for your appointment.
· Appointment is made around what is open for the doctor.
· Take time away from your schedule to meet doctor’s schedule.

Our Practice:

· Log on to portal and directly make your own appointment to fit your schedule.
Or
· Call the office and tell a human being that you need an appointment.

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Questions and Answers

Things have been crazy.  It’s much, much more difficult to build a new practice than I expected.  I opened up sign-up for my patients, getting less of a response than expected.  This, along with some questions from prospective patients has made it clear that there is still confusion on the part of potential patients.  So here is a Q and A I sent as a newsletter (and will use when marketing the practice).

About My New Practice

Q. Why did I do this?

A.  I get to be a doctor again (perhaps for the first time).  I got tired of giving patients care that wasn’t as good as it could be.  I got tired of working for a system that pays more for bad care than for good.  I got tired of forcing patients to come in for care I could’ve given over the phone.  I got tired of giving time that should be for my patients to following arduous regulations.  I got tired of medical records not meant for actual patient care, but instead for compliance with ridiculous government rules.  Making this change gives me the one thing our system doesn’t want to pay for: time devoted for the good of my patients.

Q. How can I afford to do this?

A. I have greatly decreased my overhead by not accepting insurance and keeping my charges simple.  My goal is to have 1000 patients paying the monthly fee, which will limit the number of staff I need to hire.

Q. When will it open?

A.  My office will open in January, 2013, but the exact date is still not set.  I had initially hoped to be already seeing patients, but things always are harder than they seem.

Q.  What makes this better for patients?

A.  The main advantage is that I am finally able to give them the care they deserve: care that is not hurried, not distracted by the ridiculous complexity of the health care system, and not driven by the need to see people in person to give care.  This means:

  1. I don’t ever have to “force” people to come to the office to answer questions.  This means that I will let people stay at home (or work) for most of the care for which I would have required an office visit in the past.
  2. I will be able to give time people deserve to really handle their problems
  3. I won’t have to stay busy to pay the bills, so I can take care of problems when they happen (or when they are still small), rather than having to make people wait to get answers
  4. Patients won’t get the run-around.  They will get answers.
  5. I won’t wait for patients to contact me to give them care.  I will regularly review their records to make sure care is up to date.
  6. I will help my patients get good care from the rest of the system.  Avoiding hospitalizations, emergency room visits, unnecessary tests, and unnecessary drugs takes time; I will have the time to do this for my patients.  This should more than make up for my monthly fee.

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What If Success Sucks?

“This could be big,” he said after I told him about the company who wants me to cover their 100+ employees.  I pay him to give me the stark reality of things, but his optimism made me uncomfortable.  ”You’ve got to go for this.  I know you don’t feel ready for it yet, but this could really be huge for your business, and I don’t think you should pass this up.”

I sighed.  Yes, this is a victory of sorts (still only theory, not reality), but what if I can’t deliver?  What if I fail?

“You know,” a colleague told me during another phone conversation, “you are the buzz of the medical community right now.  We talked about you for half an hour at lunch today…and it was all good!”  He went on to use phrases like “our only hope,” and “the way out,” to describe the potential for my practice model.

“No,” I thought, “I am not Obi-Wan.  I’m not your only hope.”  I sighed.  I don’t want that kind of pressure on me before I even see my first patient.  What if I fail?

Even worse: what if I succeed?

One of the main things that separates good clinicians from the rest is the ability to think through contingencies.  When I order a test or prescribe a treatment I have to consider the possible outcomes: if the test shows X, then we do Y; if it shows not-X, then we do Z.  Or, here’s the plan if you get better on the medication, and here’s the plan if you don’t.  The more contingencies I can anticipate and plan for, the more direct the path to the ultimate destination: resolution (or management) of the problem.  I find that my experience in thinking through contingencies serves me well in my current job of building a new and innovative practice.

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Tough Hard Decision: What To Do About Medicare

It seems both ironic and inevitable: I won’t be getting any more “meaningful use” checks. It’s not that I didn’t qualify for the money; I saw plenty of patients on Medicare and met all of the requirements. I was paid for my first year money without much hassle. The problem I am facing is this: I am probably going to be “opting out” of Medicare, and once I do that I will cease to exist as far as HHS is concerned, and they are the ones who write the “meaningful use” checks. No existence equals no money.

This is ironic because I have gotten famous for how well I’ve used electronic medical records, have written advice for physicians trying to qualify for “meaningful use,” and am esteemed enough to be often asked for my opinion on the subject (culminating in a presentation last year for CDC public health Grand Rounds).  I have spent much of the past 16 years disproving the myths that small practices couldn’t afford EMR, that EMR decreases profitability, or that they reduce quality of care.  We not only could afford EMR, we flourished, using it as a tool to increase both productivity and profitability.  Not to overstate the issue, but my practice (and others like it) paved the way for the existence of “meaningful use.”  I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

But, as fate would have it, I am leaving the practice in which I did all of this work and am starting a new practice with a different payment system.  Instead of charging for office visits or tests done in my office, I am charging a monthly “subscription” fee for access to my care and to the other resources I offer.  But there isn’t a Medicare code for a monthly subscription fee, and the rules of Medicare are such that, as far as I can tell, I cannot have the practice I intend to build and be listed as a Medicare provider.  This is the case even if I never charge Medicare for any of my services.

Regarding my status as a Medicare provider, there are three options:

  1. Accept Medicare as a “participating” provider – This means that I see Medicare patients and accept what they say I will be paid.  I bill CMS for my services, which are based on my “procedure codes.”  My main procedure is the office visit, but I can also bill for things like immunizations, lab tests, and office procedures.  The more procedures I bill for, the more I get paid, but I must justify this billing in my documentation or run the risk of being accused of fraud.
  2. Become a “non-Participating” Medicare provider – In this scenario, I am paid by the patient for the encounter and then they are reimbursed for what they paid me.  The choice of what I bill happens the same way, and I still must set fees based on what CMS tells me (although I can bill a little bit more than I would if I was a participating provider).  Billing is, once again, based on the documentation of the visit.
  3. “Opt out” of Medicare altogether – Opting out means that I am no longer in the Medicare database as a provider and won’t get paid by them at all.  Patients are free to come to me, but they must pay what I charge, and I set my fees based on what I think is best.Continue reading…

Campaign Promises

I had an amazing day on Friday.  It started with a phone call from a local physician, one who I have never seen as an outside-the-box thinker, who was very excited about what I am doing.  He feels much of the same frustrations as me, and thinks my approach to the problem is intriguing.  He asked me lots of questions – many of the ones I keep asking myself, actually – and had some good thoughts on the answers to some of these questions.  Apparently, there is quite a buzz around town about what I am doing, and most of that buzz is positive.  That’s quite reassuring.

Then I got an email from a local business, asking me if I would consider being the doctor for their 100+ employees.  I spoke to them on the phone and was very much encouraged by their insight and enthusiasm.  They have seen their costs of insuring their employees go up dramatically over the past few years (as have all businesses, including mine), and are looking for a way to tame this cost.  They were even more excited about the possibility of working with me when I pointed out two things they didn’t realize: 1. That a contract with my type of practice would, along with a high-deductible insurance policy, qualify them for the requirements of the ACA (thus avoiding the fines), and 2. My focus on care on the continuum (care outside of the office between visits) would have a potentially big impact on reducing absenteeism.  This is exactly what I was dreaming about a few months back when crystalizing the ideas of my practice, so the reality of having an employer contact me about this is incredible.

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Tool Kit: Why Portals Don’t Work Very Well

In it’s broadest definition, a portal is a doorway from one place to another.  On the internet, a portal is a site that has links to other sites.  In health care IT, the term refers to a feature of an electronic medical record that gives patients the ability to see parts of their medical record.

In each of these definitions there are two important things that are consistent:

1. To access what’s on the other side, a person must find the portal.

2. What is on the other side of the portal is not controlled by the person using it.

This is very important in the area of my concern: health care IT.  Our old friend “Meaningful Use” includes the requirement that the EMR system must “Provide patients the ability to view online, download, and transmit their health information.”

In case you’ve forgotten (deliberately or not), “Meaningful Use” is a program to encourage use of EMR by doctors, paying them real cash money if they meet the prescribed requirements.  The main way EMR vendors accomplish this provision is through the use of a “patient portal.”

So are portals the answer to patient engagement via online tools?  Are they the answer to e-Patient Dave’s demand to “Gimme My Damn Data?” I don’t think so.  They may be a step in the right direction, giving people some of the information they need, but there is still a wide gulf between giving someone a cup of water and ending a drought.

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The Doctor Is In

It’s been over a month since I joined the ranks of the unemployed and started building my new practice.  For not having a job I’ve kept very busy.  Here’s what I’ve done.

I presented the idea of my practice to about 150 people.

It was a wonderful experience, and was quite emotional for me seeing a bunch of patients in one place.  The reception was wonderful.  I was hoping to get a video of this up, but the fates were fickle and it was not possible.

I wrote a business plan

My accountant didn’t even laugh when I showed him.  The idea was to look ahead at my months ahead and see when things would become profitable.  There are a bunch of huge questions that my affect this: how many staff I have, how many patients I have, what it costs to upgrade my office space, but I did a worst-case scenario (short of the Zombie Apocalypse) and the fact that my overhead is low makes it easy to be profitable quite quickly.

I got a location for the practice.

Today I went through the building with a designer and am working on getting it ready to use.  I am not doing the whole renovation at the start, as I won’t really know what the practice will need until it’s up and running.  I want it to be very comfortable and welcoming.  Most doctor’s offices are not places that say “welcome” to patients, but that’s what I want to convey.

I set a fee schedule.

· Age 0-2: $40/month
· 3-30: $30/month ($10/month if they are away in college)
· 30-50 $40/month
· 50-65 $50/month
· 65+ $60/month

Family maximum will be $150/month

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The Good Doctor Learns to Fly

This is my new office. I signed the lease for this property yesterday – another big step in the process of getting my new practice off the ground.  I should feel good about this, shouldn’t I?  I’ve had people comment that I’ve gotten a whole lot accomplished in the 4 weeks since I’ve been off, but the whole thing is still quite daunting.  Yes, there are days I feel good about my productivity, and there are moments when I feel an evangelical zeal toward what I am doing, but there are plenty more moments where I stare this whole thing in the face and wonder what I am doing.

I walked through the office today with a builder to discuss what I want done with the inside; it quickly became obvious that there was a problem: I don’t know what I want done, and nobody can tell me what I should do.  Yes, I need a waiting area, at least one exam room, an office for me, a lab area, bathrooms, and place for my nurse, but since I don’t really know which of my ideas about the practice will work, I don’t know what my needs will truly be.  How much of my day will be spent with patients, how much will be doing online communication, and how much will be spent with my nurse?  I want a space for group education, but how many resources should I put toward that?  I also want a place to record patient education videos, but some of my “good ideas” just end up being wasted time, and I don’t know if this is one of them.

I come across the same problem when I am trying to choose computer systems.  I know that I want to do that differently: I want the central record to be the patient record, not what I record in the EMR.  I want patients to communicate with me via secure messaging and video chat, and I want to be able to put any information I think would be useful into their PHR.  So do I build a “lite” EMR product centered around the PHR, or do I use a standard EMR to feed the PHR product?  Do I use an EMR company’s “patient portal” product, or do I have a stand-alone PHR which is fed by the EMR?  I have lots of thoughts and ideas on this, but I don’t really know what will work until I start using it.

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The Organic Medical Home

What comes to mind when you hear the term “medical home?”  Perhaps you favor the definition put forth by our government (AHRQ):

The medical home model holds promise as a way to improve health care in America by transforming how primary care is organized and delivered. Building on the work of a large and growing community, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines a medical home not simply as a place but as a model of the organization of primary care that delivers the core functions of primary health care.

1. Comprehensive care
2. Patient-centered
3. Coordinated care
4. Accessible services
5. Quality and Safety.

The presence of these five attributes to care should then constitute a medical home, right?  It depends on who you get your definition from.

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The Day After

There is nothing exciting or glamorous about doing what I am doing: building a new practice from scratch.  It’s a slow and often mundane process that takes far longer than it looks like it should.  There are a thousand questions I need to answer: Where will my office be?  What will my logo look like?  Does it matter what my logo looks like?  Can I get the video of my presentation done?  Why is it taking so long?  Which EMR system will I use?  Will I use and EMR at all, or will a PHR product suffice?  Who will I hire?  What will I pay them?  When will I start?  How many patients will I accept at the start?  What will I do about my website?  Who should design it?  Can I do that myself?  Who should run it?  What about a phone system?  Each day uncovers a new set of questions that need answering, and each day passes with most of them left unanswered.

There are two things I’ve been doing which have kept me from becoming discouraged or overwhelmed by this process.  The first thing is something called Centering Prayer, which is well-described in the book Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird.  Whether from the tradition of the middle ages or from eastern religious practice, meditation is upheld by many in science as a sound life-practice.  What makes centering prayer, a form of meditation out of the Christian Tradition, different from other forms is the way one deals with distractions or worries.  I’m not an expert on eastern meditation, but my understanding is that the goal is to clear the mind from any thoughts and worries, coming to a place of peace and rest in the mind.  Centering prayer, however, does not push away worries or distraction, it changes the perspective on it.

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