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.

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What if Starbucks billed like ICD-10?

Ah, yes, ICD-10 is coming!  Yes, the new coding system with 10 times more codes than the previous is slated to go live in 2011.  Much of the world now uses ICD-10 because it has more codes, as apparently, we are running out of codes.  You, my beloved provider, will be shouldering the burden of the cost to implement the system.   A few reasons why this has made my normally smiling face curdle with disgust:

 

1.  There are TEN times more codes– all codes will be 7 digits, and then, yes, oh yes! You can add a modifier.  Simple, huh? 

“We are just now beginning to learn the increased costs on physician practices associated with moving to the ICD-10 code set – and they are staggering,” said William F. Jessee, MD, FACMPE, Medical Group Management Association president and CEO.

2.   It ain’t cheap.  Implementing the new coding system is estimated to cost $83,290 for a THREE physician office.  (See http://www.aapc.com/news/index.php/2008/10/icd-10-cm-coalition-press-release/).  At an average reimbursement of $50 per patient visit, that’s an extra 555 visits per year, per physician.  If a physician works 5 days/week, 48 weeks per year, this makes an extra 2.3 patient visits PER DAY!  If patients already feel rushed during their visits, think of it now!  And you know what, there’s not a dang thing the physician can do about it!  (Well, I guess concierge medicine might look more attractive…)

 

3.   You will wait even longer to get paid.  CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services), which is the government agency behind this change, notes: “…putting in the new system could initially boost by 10% the percentage of claims insurers return to doctors because of coding errors.“   (See http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/11/11/look-out-docs-here-comes-icd-10/)

 

4.   It’s another blow to primary care.  Many primary care offices are solo practitioners, or small groups (three or less.)  These are the groups least able to shoulder the cost of another complex government regulation. 

 

5.   You won’t have time to implement it.  You will need to learn the new codes, educate your staff, update your super bills and then change over your billing software to accommodate these new codes.   Most importantly, you will need to do some major cash flow planning.  (Yup, adding in an extra 65,000 codes takes time and money!)  This will be tough to do given the time frame the CMS is proposing.  Even the insurers want more time.  (Who’d a thunk it—me agreeing with medical insurance companies!)

 

6.   Get ready to buy more computers.  If your practice wants to be efficient, you will need computers in each exam room to quickly file the charges.  This is on top of the mandate that medical practies move to an EMR.  (Who’s going to fund THAT?) (See: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2008/09/08/gvsa0908.htm).

 

7.   Beef up your documentation.  You want to get paid?  Prepare to be exacting!  The reason for a medical chart has changed—it used to be so that we could develop a working diagnosis and plan, based on history and exam to treat a patient.  You poor dinosaur! A chart is a way to get paid! 

 

8.   It will drive up the cost of health care.  The cost of soft ware, computers, training, IT support and the like will first be passed to physicians, and then eventually to patients.  There is no such thing as a free lunch!

 

9.    Patient care will suffer.  As physicians, we are ever more focused on computers, documentation, crossing Ts and dotting I’s.  Who will focus on patients when we are focused on coding?

 

10.   We will lose more primary care physicians.  Small practices, in rural/underserved areas can not afford the implementation involved in transitioning to ICD-10.  Implementing  ICD-10 will be a nail in the coffin of areas that desperately need primary care physicians the most.

 

I was thinking about opening a coffee shop.  I could code and bill for beverages as follows: a small cappuccino would be a 99212(01), a medium 99213(02), and a large a 99214(03), and jumbo would be a 99215(04).  I could add modifiers to denote skim, 2% or whole milk.  Shots of flavoring would require modifiers as well. So, a medium, skinny cappuccino with a shot of hazelnut would be a 99213(02)-7-13  (taking into account the ‘skinny’ or -7 and the hazelnut -13.)  I would of course charge you, the customer, more for my nifty billing system.   I also could bill based on how LONG it takes to make the beverage.  I don’t know why Starbucks doesn’t do this.  It seems so efficient.

Taking on the JAMA JDs

Being the socially responsible, business minded physician that I am,  (NO this is not an oxymoron!), I read with interest the commentary from  the Jama, October 15, 2008 issue (pp 1806-1808), titled, “The Professional Ethics of Billing and Collections,” by Mark A. Hall, JD and Carl E. Schneider, JD.  After I calmed myself about having to deal with anything written by lawyers, I got a little angry.

The article misses the elephant in the room.

They review “two models of professionalism” –the transactional method in which physicians get paid for the work they do.  In the relational model, “medical service is embedded in a therapeutic relationship in which physicians have personal and moral ties to patients that make maximizing profits inappropriate.”  Meaning, maybe the physician will get paid, but the ‘personal and moral’ obligations make getting paid optional.   ( I don’t see a lot of physicians maximizing profits, rather most primary care docs are trying to break even.  And, I think the very fact that we practice medicine means we have a moral and personal obligation to the patient.)

The authors then note that one third of physicians offer no discounts or free care to poor patients.  They also state a large amount of ambulatory care clinics demand payment in full from uninsured patients.  Hall and Schneider adopt a scolding tone for physicians that ask for immediate co-payments and attempt to collect on overdue bills.  The authors site the AMA’s ethical opinion that urges “compassion and discretion in hardship cases.”

Duh.  I don’t know about you, but I try to help when I can.  I try to limit testing/referrals with out compromising care, and give out free drug samples when I can.  ExtraMD worked at one rural practice where most of the patients relied on free drug samples because they couldn’t afford their medications.  As a hospitalist, I see a fair amount of the uninsured (“self insured” to use the jargon,) and have rarely heard any physician or nurse complain about caring for this population.  I know I will never get paid for a lot of the work I do.

What disturbs me about this comentary was the implication, that we as physicians must “honor the bonds of trust and care that tie patients to physicians,”  and stand by while the government bails out Wall Street Tycoons and ignores the health care needs of America.  I also take umbrage with the statement that physicians have a “monopoly” on medical practice.  I don’t have a monopoly over any patient.  They can go to any doctor that will see them.  I certainly don’t set the fees of any physician besides myself, and can not force any insurance company to pay what ever I fee I set.

So what is the elephant?  The fact that this article attempts to shift the burden of caring for the un/under/self insured  to the physician.  The fact that it ignores the first rule of business, that if revenues don’t meet expenses the doors shut.  The fact that it scolds physicians who want to get paid for the work they do. 

Perhaps, given the quotes the authors use from both 1832 and 1932, they feel getting a dozen eggs or a quart of fresh milk would be payment enough.  However, it’s pretty darn hard to pay the rent with the zucchini from someone’s garden.

Actually, next time I have a legal question, I shall contact Mr. Hall and Mr. Schneider.  I’m sure they will prorate their services or gladly accept one of my killer lasagnas if I can’t pay their fees.

Please leave all food donations, and live animals on my door step.  I am partial to homemade jam and bread, but I don’t know if my mortgage company is.  (Ah, well, it’s WaMu so it should be okay…)