American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pay More, Get Less - The Certain Future Of Healthcare

This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Health care Crisis. It appeared January 18 at Better Health.


Even with health care reform, Americans will increasingly be burdened with high deductibles, more financial responsibility, and less satisfaction with their health insurance for the foreseeable future. Why? Because the health care system is unable to transform its services in a manner that other industries have done to improve quality and service while decreasing costs. The two biggest culprits are the mentality of health care providers and the fee-for-service reimbursement system.

Doctors and patients haven't altered the way they communicate over the past hundred years. Except for the invention of the telephone, an office visit is unchanged. A doctor and patient converse as the physician scribbles notes in a paper chart. Despite the innovations of cell phones, laptop computers, and other time-saving devices, patients still get care through face-to-face contact even though banking, travel, and business collaboration can be done via the internet, webcams, and sharing of documentation. As Dr. Pauline Chen noted in a recent article, doctors are not willing to use technology to collaborate and to deliver medical care better, more quickly and efficiently. Mostly it is due to culture resistant to change. Partly it is due to lack of reimbursement. Both are unlikely to be addressed or fixed any time soon.

Yet, patients come to doctors for our medical expertise and insight in order to stay well or get better. They don't care if it is done via the web or in person. If doctors think their problems are safe to handle via technology then they are for it. If doctors feel a particular condition must be handled in the office, then they are willing to do it. After all, aren't we the ones who can make that assessment? They trust us to make the right determination. We must be willing to challenge tradition and training in the face of a rapidly evolving world.

If this country is going to make health care more affordable and more accessible, then doctors need to collaborate better. Only doctors can stop the increasing march of medical expenses.

If we as a profession are unwilling to use technology to get the information and expertise at the point of care to get people better sooner, then our country has only two options left to make health care affordable. The first is the government to force pricing down, as it is done in other countries. Based on the agenda of Medicare, the government is already squeezing costs by dictating pricing that may not be realistic. The second is to force patients to try and figure out which tests, procedures, doctors are best to help them. Research shows they don't want that responsibility and when they do have that burden they skip care. Nevertheless, employers are increasingly moving their employees to less comprehensive consumer driven health plans (CDHP) and high deductible health plans (HDHP) to save money.

It's doctors who aren't willing to do virtual visits. The public is ready and waiting. If we as a profession won't consider using the same technology we use to communicate with family and friends as well as use these very same tools to provide "second opinions" to our loved ones who value our medical expertise to our patients, then how can we say that we are committed to making health care accessible and affordable to all Americans?

While there is a small group of enthusiastic entrepreneurial doctors and leading-edge health care organizations trying to move American medicine into the 21st century, the health care system really needs Steve Jobs and Apple to transform health care. As it currently exists, the majority of doctors are either unwilling or unable to make the change.

This post originally appeared on Better Health , a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Sakina Bajowala. M.D. said...

The main reason physicians have not embraced virtual visits is not because we don't understand the technology or that we have erroneous concerns about HIPAA violations. It's because we can't get paid for it. Insurers, by and large, do not pay for telephone-based visits, and only a few will reimburse virtual web-based visits.

The time I spend when a patient is concerned that they may have sinusitis, for example, but are out of state, is essentially free care. I'm spending 5 minutes reviewing the chart, 10 minutes on the phone with the patient, another 5 putting through the script, and another 5 documenting the encounter. As far as the insurance company is concerned, this 20 minutes of my time is bundled into previous/future office-based care.

I can use the documented phone call to increase the level of service during the follow-up visit that I ask the patient to schedule to ensure that they are responding to treatment, but guess what? If the patient is feeling better, they don't come to the appointment (why pay the copay just to have me tell them that they're looking better?).

If I bill the patient directly for the service, they complain: "What is the bill for? It was just a phone call!"

No matter how you slice it, the physican is the bad guy (or gal). Until the paradigm changes, and insurers/patients accept that medicine is a livelihood as well as a calling, physicians will be reluctant to provide services without guarantee of fair reimbursement for their efforts.

January 19, 2010 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger ryanjo said...

With ACP's focus on evidence-based medical care, I would expect comments posted on this website, supporting "virtual office visits" and other such Googlized medicine initiatives, to at least provide some proof of value.

I am not surprised that "the public is ready and waiting". The same public that chooses virtual sports via big screen TV over going outdoors, and Facebook over a real face-to-face encounter? They already make such good lifestyle decisions.

January 19, 2010 at 6:30 PM  
Blogger nyana said...

This article leaves me with one question. Will the use of technology inevitably lead to outsourcing the basic functions physicians perform(e.g. primary care)? We are already outsourcing the interpretation of some tests because its faster and cheaper. Other industries that have adopted the use of technology have ultimately established their operations in other countries. I do believe that the medical field needs to embrace technological advancements. Yet at what point will society say that health care is cheap enough?

January 20, 2010 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger james gaulte said...

If fee-for-service is one of the reasons why medical care has not seen the improvement in service and quality seen in many other sectors, why is it that many/most of those areas , in fact have fee-for-service? The visible quality and service improvements occur in a competitive markets with prices. No such conditions exist in medical care today.Last time I went to Walmart I had to pay with my money, not expecting the government or my insurance to pay.

The commentary did not mention one of the major reasons for where we are in health care:paying for services with what is or is perceived to be as "someone else's money".

What innovations would Mr Jobs be credited with if he found himself in a price controlled,highly regulated environment?

January 20, 2010 at 7:57 AM  

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Auscultation
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

DrDialogue
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

FutureDocs
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

KevinMD
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

Prescriptions
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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