Don’t Write Off E-prescribing

I may appear to be somewhat of a troglodyte, but I actually have  committed myself to learning to love technology.  I am the proud owner of a smart phone, have mastered my email, and actually use two different EMRs.  So, you see, this qualified me as an expert on EMRs and e-prescribing (wipe that smirk off your face!)

It was with interest that I read “Effect of Electronic Prescribing With Formulary decision Support On Medication Use and Cost” in the December 8/22 2008 issu3e of Archives Of Internal Medicineby Michael Fischer, MD, MS et al.  The authors describe a study in which physicians using e-prescribing with formulary decision support were compared with physicians using traditional paper prescriptions with respect to prescribing tier 1 medications.  When prescribing electronically, the physicians were more likely to choose the lower cost generic tier 1 medication.  There was a 3.3% increase in tier 1 prescribing, with a decrease in tier 2 and 3 prescriptions.  Fischer et al estimate that this would result in an $845,000 savings per 100,000 patients, based on the assumption that each patient filled one prescription per month.

I love saving money, but what was the cost of saving money?  According to the authors, “government estimates of approximate first year costs were $3000 per prescriber.”  In the study, Blue Cross Blue Shield supplied the software to the physicians, along with a free wireless device, access to a secure Web portal, licensing and wireless carrier.  So, the cost was not borne by the participating physicians.

I think as a first step toward an EMR, e-prescribing makes sense.  I do not think that every insurance company should provide physicians with it’s wireless device.  Can you imagine, five different devices for five different insurance companies?!

So what is to be done?  The federal government must mandate one SINGLE e-prescription system that we all should use, and insurance companies should bear the cost, based on percentage of patients enrolled in each plan.  Why should health insurance plans pay?  Because they are the ones that will enjoy the savings!  I think this would be an effective way to usher in the beginnings of an EMR.  Mr. Obama and Mr. Daschle, are you listening?

As physicians, we must look for ways that we can use e-prescribing efficiently and effectively.  We must commit to learning all the bells and whistles, and using it to our advantage.  So, stop hiding behind your prescription pad, and make way for what is inevitable.  Get out there and lobby for what should be done, rather than whining when we get handed the bill for something that will most benefit the health insurance industry!

AHIP Rides in to Save Health Care

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has released a plan on how to reduce health care costs.  The platform is summarized below:

The new reform proposal would:

Ensure universal coverage by guaranteeing coverage for pre-existing conditions, fixing the health care safety net, giving tax credits to working families and enacting an individual coverage requirement;
Call on the nation to set a goal of reducing the growth in health care costs by 30 percent;
Enhance portability for people changing or in between jobs;
Provide more affordable health care options for small businesses; and
Increase value and improve quality.

An admirable statement indeed. But once again, one must look a little deeper. 

Reducing costs: AHIP points out “Respected studies have shown that patients do not consistently receive high-quality health care and receive care based on best practices only 55 percent of the time.”  Hmm, does  mean that we as physicians are giving ‘low qulaity’ care the other 45% of the time? Who is determining what is ‘high quality’ care?  They advocate using “evidence based standards.”  Aren’t we already doing this?  Furthermore, evidence based standards typically apply to ONE disease state, not the multiple chronic problems primary care physicians deal with.  C’mon give us something fresh!  Stop blaming the doctors for the problem.

AHIP also advocates “exploring” replacing medical liability with dispute resolution. No argument here!  Now who will reign in the powerful legal special interest groups that so effectively court congress?

The reform proposal also advocate controlling fraud.  Now really, how big of a problem is this?

AHIP also advocates pay for performance.  This is a little scary, given the current P4P mess.  I could see this as just another way to with hold payment to providers.  Based on my work as a hospitalist, I find it laughable when the 80 year old post op knee patient is expected to be discharged on day 3.  However, insurance companies don’t care to notice the hypoxia, anemia and confusion attendant with operating on the elderly. Instead, they leave a bright orange sticker on the chart demanding that I justify why the patient is still in the hospital.  Good thing I’m not currently paid for my performance in getting the total knee replacement patient out on time.  The heck with hypoxia!  Clearly I must be doing something wrong and my pay should reflect this!

They also advocate “streamlining” administrative costs.  Gosh, I’d love to streamline my claims, and not have to have extra office staff there to beg insurance companies to pay the bills, or jump through hoops for pre-authorization.  Insurance companies should begin immediately to streamline their administrative costs–they don’t need a government mandate or huge reform to do this–but, I suspect, this may take money from their own pockets.

AHIP states another priority: “Refocusing our health care system on keeping people healthy, intervening early, and providing coordinated care for chronic conditions.”  This is something the health insurance companies should be doing already!  It should not take a “crises” in health care for health care plans to make STAYING healthy a mandate.  They also advocate strongly for “patient centered homes”, a concept that I think is just repackaging of the current model, albeit more top heavy with “midlevel”  and ancillary providers.  

Information technology is embraced (how fashionable!) but no attempt is made as to explain WHO will pay for technology.  Why don’t we admit that the emperor has no clothes?!  There is no money to pay for an EMR and nationalized technology.  Putting it on the backs of primary care practices will drive more physicians out of primary care.  Perhaps insurance companies should pony up for this cost?

They also advocate that everyone should have insurance, regardless of condition.  AHIP also states there should be tax benefits to small businesses so they can offer health insurance, and “large markets should be strengthened.”  They even suggest that the government offer assistance to small businesses. They also advocate broadening SCHIP and medicaid eligibility, as well as offering tax credits to lower income families.    This completely ignores the fact that medicaid reimburses so poorly  that  physicians can’t afford to see medicaid patients!  AHIP also wants  “community health centers” to receive “adequate” support.  Ah yes, another bail out in the making!

American Health Insurance Plans close with a mandate that the feds should provide a “framework” for reform, and that state governments should follow suit.  They also pledge to “cooperate” with the effort.  After reading the entire proprosal, I am left with just one question: what are the health insurance companies going to do?  Are they going to fly to Washington in their private jets to ask the government to pay for the uninsured?

 Visit the complete reform platform at:

http://www.americanhealthsolution.org/assets/Uploads/healthcarereformproposal.pdf

The Common Sense Declaration: How to Fix Health Care

I am on a reading frenzy, and finally got to the October 17, 2008 issue of Medical Economics.  There was an excellent article by Elizabeth A. Pector, MD, on fixing health care.  I will highlight some key points, but encourage all of you to see the entire article (pages 29-33.)  (www.memag.com)

“Establish equal rights for doctors.”  Dr. Pector advocates appropriate reimbursement, taming the paper tiger, and reigning in “etitlementiasisis” by patients.  Bravo!

“Improve access to doctors.”  She again targets physician reimbursement, but my only question is “how”?  Increasing physician reimbursement will be a tough sell in today’s economic times.  Sadly, I don’t see a way off the office visit treadmill that is the bane of primary care existence.

“Stop the blame game.”  Our society has turned into expert finger pointers.  Bad things just happen.  People die.  Sometimes, physicians make mistakes.  We need to have mutual respect between patients and physicians, rather than mutual antagonism.  And hey, tort reform wouldn’t be so bad either!

“Establish workable technology standards.”  Amen.  “We need to establish workable standards for PHR and EHR systems, including mutually compatible communications platforms.  Also, cash strapped doctors need help to fund changes…”  Technology is here to stay, but we need a coherent direction for all of health care, such that physicians and patients can access records through out the spectrum of medical institutions (clinics, offices, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) 

“Stop punishing doctors and hospitals.”  See my previous rant on the medicare never ever no pay list.  The no pay list will continue to grow as Medicare pokes its fingers into patient management.  The no pay rules range from common sense to absurd, but there seems to be no one reigning in the free wheeling CMS.

“Take responsibility.”  Americans need to pony up and take responsibility for their choices, rather than shifting the responsibility elsewhere.  This will take giant social change, from throwing out the television and X-box to eating meals that don’t come in a “super size.”  Are we up for the challenge?

“Refocus the health insurance industry.”  Pector notes that physicians should be paid for what they do, with out the “gamesmanship” so common today when dealing with health insurance companies.  Additionally, she notes that insurance companies could actually (don’t faint!) assist in helping patients follow through on life style changes and medical compliance.

I think Dr. Pector is my twin sister of a different mother! Keep fighting the good fight, Dr. Pector!

As The Medical Home Turns: The Final Installment

Final Installment on As the Medical Home Turns:

Yes, students, today is the last installment in PookieMD’s dissertion on the ‘Medical Home’.  At our last session, we were midway through reviewing the “10 Simple Rules for the 21st Century Health Care System,” rules to guide the redesign of the health care system.  These guidelines were put out by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.  Why are we torturing ourselves with this tedium?  Because this may the  measuring stick by which CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) will use to reimburse our practices.  And that means, of course, insurance companies will follow suit.  Following are rules 7-10 with my pithy commentary:

 

“7. The need for transparency. The health care system should make information available to patients and their families that allows them to make informed decisions when selecting a health plan, hospital, or clinical practice, or choosing among alternative treatments. This should include information describing the system’s performance on safety, evidence-based practice and patient satisfaction.
8. Anticipation of needs. The health system should anticipate patient needs, rather than simply reacting to events.
9. Continuous decrease in waste. The health system should not waste resources or patient time.
10. Cooperation among clinicians. Clinicians and institutions should actively collaborate and communicate to ensure an appropriate exchange of information and coordination of care.”

Item 7: “The need for transparency.” To me this sounds very similar to ‘rule 4’, free flow of information.  The salient feature is that the health care ‘system’ should make information available to patients about health plans, hospitals…etc.  Who will be responsible for each aspect–are physicians to review a patent’s health plan with them, and review each hospital the patient may go to?  This is an incredibly broad assertion of what needs to happen, but with no clear plan of who exactly needs to provide this information.  Part two, which references the “system’s performance”, appears to be directly related to measuring safety (think the never/ever no pay rules, for example), and also appears that your practice will be measured on evidence based practices and patient satisfaction.  We already discussed evidence based practices, which I consider the basis of modern Western medicine. However, the patient satisfaction issue is murkier.  What exactly IS patient satisfaction?  Would I get higher scores if I didn’t collect copays, gave out lots of oxycontin and ordered any test the patient saw on TV?  Clear criteria need to be established,  e.g. are patients seen with in 15 minutes of their appointment?  Are appointments accessible on a daily basis?  I’m not buying the criteria of “Rate PookieMD on a scale of 1 to 10–where one is the worst physician you ever saw, and 10, PookieMD is better than Marcus Welby, House and Hawkeye Pierce combined.”

Item 8: “Anticipation of needs.”  Yes, indeedy, I certainly try to anticipate my patient’s needs.  More importantly I try to anticipate outcomes.  If I do x, y will happen. But, I also try to have a plan in case z happens.  I can’t anticipate a patient’s every need, but I can use the best of my knowledge and resources to try to move the patient toward health.  Anticipation of needs smacks of wand waving, rather than reality.  Anticipation of outcomes is medical science, and an attainable goal. 

Item 9: “Continuous decrease in waste.”  Sounds good to me.  I hope that includes not wasting MY time filling out endless forms and jumping through hoops to make the ‘Medical Home’ a reality.  It is interesting that the Rules state the health care system should not waste resources or patient time, but makes no mention of physician time.  I’m all for decreasing waste, and hope that much more in depth thought goes into developing the operations and processes of the ‘Medical Home’, so it is not a gigantic bureaucratic wasteland.

Item 10: ” Cooperation among clinicians.”  Please do not patronize me.  Cooperation is a kindergarden skill, and doesn’t belong on this is on the list.  The physicians I know and work with are dedicated and caring, and certainly cooperative.  We don’t always agree on management, which is HEALTHY, and we certainly can be snappy when fatigued, but I think this is rule is over kill.  Shall we form a circle and sing Cum By Yah?

So my final take on the “Medical Home” is that it is a bunch of ‘rules’ that primary care  practices are trying to do already.  (Or as close as they can get with the limited resources they have.)  What it woefully neglects is how systems should be put in place to make health care, health information technology, and a much needed emphasis on PATIENT CENTERED care a reality.

Back to the drawing board.  This time, make sure you invite the physicians in the trenches that actually do the work–the family practice physicians,  the internists and the pediatricians, to guide the guidelines.

Wave the Wand: The Medical Home Mandate

I am intrigued with the idea of the “medical home”. 

When hearing about the concept, my first thought was, isn’t this what we are trying to do already? 

My second thought was–and just how are we going to pay for all this?

Below is ” Crossing the Quality Chasm: 10 Simple Rules for the 21st Century Health Care System,” from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.  I will go through these ‘rules’, and the lengthy explanation from the PDF PCMH_Overview_Apr1{[1}pdf.  This will take a couple of posts, so don’t glaze over on me.  And yes, there is a homework assignment at the end!

“Crossing the Quality Chasm put forth “10 Simple Rules for the 21st Century Health Care System” to guide the redesign of the health care system. These rules underlie PPC (Physician Practice Connection) and describe a system different from most health care today.
1.  Care based on continuous healing relationships. Patients should receive care whenever they need it and in many forms, not just face-to-face visits.
2.  Customization based on patient needs and values. The system of care should meet the most common types of needs, but have the capability to respond to individual patient choices and preferences.
3.  The patient as the source of control. Patients should be given the necessary information and the opportunity to exercise the degree of control they choose over health care decisions that affect them.
4.  Shared knowledge and the free flow of information. Patients should have unfettered access to their own medical information and to clinical knowledge.
5.  Evidence-based decision making. Patients should receive care based on the best available scientific knowledge.
6.  Safety as a system property. Patients should be safe from injury caused by the care system.
7.  The need for transparency. The health care system should make information available to patients and their families that allows them to make informed decisions when selecting a health plan, hospital, or clinical practice, or choosing among alternative treatments. This should include information describing the system’s performance on safety, evidence-based practice and patient satisfaction.
8.  Anticipation of needs. The health system should anticipate patient needs, rather than simply reacting to events.
9.  Continuous decrease in waste. The health system should not waste resources or patient time.
10.  Cooperation among clinicians. Clinicians and institutions should actively collaborate and communicate to ensure an appropriate exchange of information and coordination of care.”

 

PookieMD’s cross examination/rebuttal on items 1-3:

“Care is based on continuous healing relationships.”  This the very basis of primary care, and always has been.  The remaining docs that are weathering this storm and staying in primary care stay in it for the relationships!  They are certainly NOT in it for the abundance of pay! 

“Patients should receive care whenever they need it…”  Wait a minute!  Who is GOING to provide this care? At what cost?  Who is going to revise the entire insurance/medicare/medicaid system to accommodate this?   You can’t just start mandating that physicians start changing their practices WITH OUT PROVIDING THE TOOLS  TO DO IT!  (Monetary and otherwise.)  Please, please, please do  not set bench marks with out putting deep thought, strong policy and appropriate funding behind it.

“Customization based on patient needs and values.”  As physicians, we try desperately to accommodate patients’ needs and values.     I doubt that ANY physician is trying to force something on a patient that is NOT consistent with the patients’ needs and values.  I think that what is neglected here is the fact that PATIENTS MUST HAVE A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IN MAINTAINING OR REGAINING HEALTH.  Many times a patent’s needs can NOT be met–it just isn’t possible with out a magic wand.  The patient must have as much stake as the treating physician in the wellness process.  Many patients do NOT recognize that their behavior contributes directly to their illness, and desire to just lay back passively and have the physician wave the magic wand.  (For an incredible case in which a patient demanded wand waving, read about a Rheumatologist who was sued and had to pay $400,000 because he didn’t provide an interpreter for a deaf patient.   Visit http://www.pointoflaw.com/archives/2008/10/doctor-held-lia.php.)

“The patient as the source of control. Patients should be given the necessary information and the opportunity to exercise the degree of control they choose over health care decisions that affect them.”  I love it when patients have an opinion.  I also know that I need the TIME to review information and decision making with patients and families.  This is woefully covered in the ‘counseling codes’, and is frustrating for both patient and physician to do in a limited time frame.

All right, enough for today.  Your homework is to read the rules, and see how they apply to YOUR practice.  Then,  think of HOW you will implement them, and what resources you will need.  I’ll go through the rest, and try to dig up some real numbers on the cost.  I’m not dumping the concept, I’m just applying the light of  reality.

Billing for Phone Calls: Acceptable Practice or Reptilian Behavior?

My trusty health insurance, for which I pay handsomely, (yes, I am self-insured) sent me an email titled, “Calls could cost you.” It states that calling your physician may cost you. I quote:

“Many times people call their doctor to ask a question, resolve a concern, or ask about a referral. Traditionally, doctors haven’t charged to answering these questions. In certain cases, that’s changed.

New rules have been established that allow doctors to charge for telephone consultations in some circumstances. To be a billable call, the patient must not have been seen by the doctor for a week before the call or within 24 hours after the call. If the doctor provides services that could have happened at a regular office visit, then the doctor can submit a claim. The doctor must let the patient know the call isn’t free and that he or she intends to bill.

If the doctor does submit a claim to Humana, we’ll treat it as if the doctor filed a claim for an office visit. So if your benefits have co-payments for an office visit, you’d owe the doctor your co-payment for an office visit. If your Humana plan has a deductible, we’ll apply the allowable claims costs to your deductible. You’ll pay the allowed charges, unless you’ve met your deductible.

These rules don’t apply to most calls people make to their doctor. But Humana wants you to know that under current national rules, doctors can bill both Humana and their patients for some telephone visits.

It’s important to know that calling your doctor could cost you in some circumstances. If you’re aware of the rules, you could save yourself some money.”

Hmmm, this is interesting. What patients should you manage over the phone? What are the legal ramifications? Ethically, what is involved in charging for phone calls?  God forbid, are we behaving like lawyers? I don’t know about you, but I always prefer to see a patient rather than prescribe over the phone. I know some patients absolutely refuse to come in, “I don’t have time,” but I am loathe to diagnose and prescribe over the phone.    (And these are the patients I think are most likely to sue-they seem to be looking for a way to work around the system.)

My take-
If a patient is ill they need to be seen.
If you are going to bill for phone calls, and it is certainly justified in some cases, be impeccable in your documentation.
Establish criteria ahead of time of what sorts of phone calls you will bill for, and what cases ABSOLUTELY must be seen in the office.
Teach your staff how to triage calls.

Following are the codes for phone calls.  (From From the January ACP Internist, copyright © 2008 by the American College of Physicians.)  If anyone is doing this, I would love to hear back as to which insurers are reimbursing, and how you determine which patients are appropriate to be managed by phone–e.g.  coumadin management? 

99441: Telephone E/M service provided by a physician to an established patient, parent, or guardian not originating from a related E/M service provided within the previous seven days nor leading to an E/M service or procedure within the next 24 hours or soonest available appointment; five to 10 minutes of medical discussion
99442: 11-20 minutes of medical discussion
99443: 21-30 minutes of medical discussion

As to liability, here are some guidelines from CRICO/RMF, the medical malpractice company for the Harvard Medical Community.  (http://www.rmf.harvard.edu/patient-safety-strategies/communication-teamwork/telephone-technology/faqs.aspx#Q31)

“Documentation of all phone calls in which medical information is discussed is extremely important. The date and time of the call, patient’s complaints, and advice given should all be recorded. The advice given should include the point at which the patient should seek medical attention. The few minutes taken to record this information will be valuable for ongoing patient care. In the event a patient challenges the quality of medical care they received by phone, or claims he or she made multiple calls and received no or inadequate advice, such documentation will prove worthwhile.”

Good luck with this!  I think that coding for phone calls has a lot of potential for good and bad, and would tread lightly.  And just to make you smile, I got an automated phone call from Humana while I was writing this, encouraging me to visit their web site, where I could get medical advice “tailored for me.”  Shoot, who needs an MD?  Just throw up a web site with generic advice and call it a day!

Another One Bites the Dust: Dr. T. Leaves Primary Care

I received a disturbing email from one of the doctors in my group, Dr T.  My group is made up of internists and family practice physicians that fill in locally through out the large city we live in.  All the physicians are board certified and have been out of residency for five years or more.  Several of them have private practices and work with ExtraMD as a local locums to augment their salaries.

Dr. T. is one of my favorites.  He is in solo practice in a lower income area.  His office is comfortable, his receptionist kind and the atmosphere is homey.    He works with ExtraMD on his days and weekends off.   Dr. T. is leaving private practice.  He has been trying to make it for 5 years now, getting by with a single receptionist and his wife doing the books.  He just can’t make it work anymore. 

But why?  He has tried mightily to serve the working class poor in his area.  He does most procedures himself, runs a tight ship and economizes where he can.  He bought his equipment second hand, takes little time off and spends nothing on frills.  While working, he developed acute cholecystitis and was hospitalized.  His first thought was to let his patients know he wouldn’t be in and his second was to call me because he had a shift scheduled.  Not one word about how he was hurting.  In addition, his wife followed up with a call just to make sure I had gotten the word.  Sheesh, how many of us care that much?

He is leaving because he can’t deal with the constant financial hardship, of fighting with insurance companies, figuring out how to make the cash go further when the payers are late, and how to break even.  He takes medicare and medicaid, because in his neck of the woods, they are some of the best payers.  He is leaving because he can’t keep up with the endless fighting over claims, and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for him.  He is leaving because he can’t afford to hire someone else to beg insurance companies for pre-authorizations.  He can’t afford the mandated EMR, can’t afford the “team” approach required for the patient centered home, and he fears he will go bankrupt trying to follow other of  the latest government mandates. He can’t keep up with ICD-10.  He doesn’t want to be a manager of a ‘physician extenders’ but wants to practice medicine and help people. Dr. T feels as if physicians have “sold out.”

He is leaving, he says because of “the realization that there is no future for the kind of medicine I practice.”

Dr. T, you will be missed.  I will miss your honesty, integrity and caring.  Your patients will miss a force for good, a comforting presence, and a kind and competent physician.  We all mourn the passing of primary care into the hands of those that DON’T care.

Score: Medical Insurance Companies/Government Regulations: 1  Patients/Physicians: 0.

Good bye, Dr. T and Godspeed.