Every lawyer, every accountant, every architect, every engineer — indeed, every professional in every other field — is able to do something doctors cannot do. They can repackage and reprice their services. If demand changes or if they discover a way of meeting their clients’ needs more efficiently, they are free to offer a different bundle of services for a different price. Doctors, by contrast, are trapped.
To see how trapped, let’s look at another profession: the practice of law. Suppose you are accused of a crime and suppose your lawyer is paid the way doctors are paid. That is, suppose some third-party payer bureaucracy pays your lawyer a different fee for each separate task she performs in your defense. Just to make up some numbers that reflect the full degree of arbitrariness we find in medicine, let’s suppose your lawyer is paid $50 per hour for jury selection and $500 per hour for making your final case to the jury.
What would happen? At the end of your trial, your lawyer’s summation would be stirring, compelling, logical and persuasive. In fact, it might well get you off scot free if only it were delivered to the right jury. But you don’t have the right jury. Because of the fee schedule, your lawyer skimped on jury selection way back at the beginning of your trial.
This is why you don’t want to pay a lawyer, or any other professional, by task. You want your lawyer to be able to reallocate her time — in this case, from the summation speech to the voir dire proceeding. If each hour of her time is compensated at the same rate, she will feel free to allocate the last hour spent on your case to its highest valued use rather than to the activity that is paid the highest fee.
Well, the future of American health care is now controlled by lawyers. That may not be news – doctors, drug makers, and medical-device makers have long complained about the cost of lawsuits. But this different: The future of PPACA is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of lawyers billed thousands of hours analyzing and preparing briefs for the case. And that’s after countless hours spent by Congressional staff lawyers putting the bill together in 2009 and 2010. The result? A “law” so confusing that even the legislators – themselves mostly lawyers – could not bother to even try to read it.
It makes one think: If the lawyers are designing the health-care system, shouldn’t they be forced to operate under regulations similar to those they’re imposing? How, for example, do lawyers get paid? Today, they negotiate fees with clients. That hardly seems fair. In health care, doctors don’t negotiate fees with patients, they get paid according to an opaque schedule determined by health plans. Lawyers should do the same. The solution is “legal insurance”. After all, who amongst us knows when we’ll need a lawyer? It is often an unpredictable expense, and yet the “market” seems to have failed to provide such insurance. Government must intervene.
When British Prime Minister David Cameron defended his reforms of the National Health Service against a series of aggressive attacks from critics this week, he fell back on a familiar argument – that his reforms would hand control from bureaucrats to clinicians. But the reforms don’t, in fact, hand power to clinicians generally – they hand responsibility for commissioning in the NHS largely to general practitioners (GPs), our answer to US family practitioners. I think it’s worth spending a bit of time explaining quite why, because as other bloggers have written on this site, US policy experts often find it surprising that in the UK such a high status is afforded to family medicine.
GPs in the UK often earn more than their specialist colleagues, and they do so because they have a much more central and wide-ranging role in the British NHS than family practitioners do in the American healthcare system. GPs are in traditional terms, the gatekeepers, and in updated terms, the navigators for the NHS. Patients can’t simply book themselves in to see a hospital doctor – the great majority of first contacts with the health system are with the GP practice. GPs are highly trained, following their medical degrees with two foundation years and then three years of specific GP training (with pressure to extend that to four or even five years).
Although they’re generalists, the profession is regarded as a specialism – and its expertise is measured partly by its ability to manage as many patients as possible in primary care, without the need for referral to hospital. GP care has proved highly cost-effective, both by controlling the numbers of patients who access expensive hospital treatment, and by directing patients to the most appropriate part of the NHS when they do need specialist attention. And in an NHS facing unprecedented cost pressures, that’s given them an enormous amount of power, and is about to gain them a whole load more.
I just received another email from another EHR Vendor pandering to physicians to implement their technology so that the physician so they can access some usability incentive to use technology that they should already be using. Here is the offending language:
“State Medicaid providers across the country have an unprecedented opportunity to collect over $21,000 in EHR incentives in the last few weeks of 2011. If you’re already using Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxx, there are a few easy steps you can take to earn your incentive.“
This is just so wrong on so many levels to me. First, I find it completely incongruous that we have to incent physicians to use a simple tool that is designed to make their life easier, their practice more efficient, and their care more effective. I can’t recall, but I didn’t see the need to incent the stethoscope, antibiotics, or any other health innovations.
Second, the offer itself is just dripping with the grease and slime of “taking” something “while the getting is good”. Does anyone care that this “stimulus” money is subject to the grossest abuses? That it will be misapplied? That most of it is being doled out to people who have already implemented these technologies and now are getting a little gloss on top? Does anyone care that our country is broke and this is just another program that is unsustainable, unnecessary, and incapable of producing its intended results. Is there any evidence that this is having an impact?Continue reading…
Remember the fear mongering rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction and all sorts of other bogey men that sometimes led to war death and true destruction and other times to just animosity, hatred and counterproductive waste of time and resources?
This is exactly what we are witnessing today in Health Information Technology (HIT). Granted this is only a sideshow, while the main stage is occupied by the unprecedented Federal push to computerize medicine, but it has a very shrill voice and it seems to be confusing many good people. There are many legitimate questions that need to be asked, many strategies that should be debated, many errors that must be corrected, but the unsubstantiated, dogmatic and repetitive accusations directed towards HIT in general, EHR in particular, and chiefly at technology vendors and their employees, are borderline pathological in nature.
To be clear here, there are many practicing physicians and nurses who are either forced by an employer to use an EHR they dislike, have tried to use an EHR and didn’t enjoy the experience, or are opposed to the EHR concept on principle because the software has no return on investment in their situation, is not “ready for prime time” or is too closely aligned with the goals of the Federal government. These are all valid points of view and should be listened to and considered by policy makers as well as technology builders, and I have to confess that I do agree with much of what these practicing folks write and say, and as I said many times in the past, practicing physicians, i.e. those who see patients every day, are dangerously underrepresented in all HIT policy and technology decisions being made now at a federal level. Unfortunately, the practicing doctors’ message is being obscured and tainted by the “naysayers who predictably and monotonically chant the “HIT is evil” mantra at every opportunity” (quoting the famed HIT blogger, Mr. Histalk). These “self-proclaimed experts” and their incendiary and largely self-serving monologues are making it very easy to dismiss legitimate problems present in HIT policy and technology.Continue reading…