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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hospitals: Check doctor's communication skills before buying the practice

This post by Steven Wilkins, MPH, appeared at Better Health.


Hospitals today are aggressively buying physician practices in their local markets. Why? Hospitals want to solidify their referral base for inpatient and outpatient referrals as well as increase their negotiating power with insurance companies.

Over 50% of physician practices are now owned by hospitals, according to the Medical Group Management Association. As such, many one-time private practitioners are now hospital employees.

Having done physician recruitment in a prior life, I know that before buying a practice that hospitals look at a variety of things including the practice's patient volume, number of hospital referrals, estimates of patient turnover, and so on. One of the things we did not consider years ago in evaluating and buying a physician practice was the quality of the physician's patient-communication skills and supporting practices. I doubt that things have changed much since.

Hospitals today are under a lot of pressure from Medicare to address inpatient medical errors that compromise patient safety and often result in costly re-hospitalizations. As the line between doctor and hospital becomes blurred clinically and legally, hospitals need to start paying close attention to the way their doctor-employees communicate or don't communicate with patients.

Consider the problem of medication errors
Miscommunication between doctor and patient is thought to be a leading cause of such medication-related errors as patients not knowing:
--the names of all the prescribed medications they are taking
--indications for using or not using the medications
--dosage and frequency instructions

According the Institute of Medicine, approximately 500,000 drug errors or adverse drug events are reported every year in doctor's offices and other outpatient settings.

In fact, the evidence suggests that medication-related errors in ambulatory care settings may be substantially under-reported. Consider a recent study of patients prescribed a blood thinner, warfarin. Among older patients, warfarin and similar oral blood thinners account for 10% of all preventable adverse drug events. In this particular study, 50% of all patients differed from their doctor in term of understanding how they we supposed to take the medication. In other words, one-half of the study population was taking a warfarin, a medication with serious side effects, incorrectly.

These finding are consistent with another 2006 study of physician-patient communications during primary care visits in which the physician prescribed a new medication. This study found that physicians:
--did not tell the patient the name of the new medication in 26% of the cases
--did not explain the purpose of the medication to patients in 13% of cases
--did not tell patient about adverse side effects of the medication in 65% of cases
--did not describe to patients how long to take the medication in 66% of cases
--did not tell patients the number of pills to take in 45% of cases
--did not tell patients about medication dosing and timing in 42% of cases

Doctors rely on patients to accurately tell them what prescription medications and what dosages. In instances where the patient sees another doctor unfamiliar with their medication history, not knowing the name or dosage of a medication can cause serious problems. This is because "the other physician" may unknowingly prescribe a course of treatment that may have an adverse interaction with the patient's primary course of treatment.

Failure to inform patients about abnormal test results
Failure to inform a patient of an abnormal outpatient test result is another example of a serious error. The "failure to inform" rate was estimated at 7.1% in a 2009 study of 5,434 older adults in 23 primary care practices. "Failure to inform" rates for practices in the study ranged from a high of 26% to 0%. In cases like cancer where time is of the essence, any delay in treatment can have serious consequences for the patient.

Today hospitals are under pressure from regulators and payers to clean up their act with respect to inpatient quality, safety and outcomes. As hospitals employ more one-time private practitioners, the list of quality, safety and outcomes issues faced by the hospital will grow to include issues like those described here, issues previously handled by physicians in their own office.

My advice to hospitals? Know exactly what you are buying. Conduct a communications audit of the physicians in the practice before you buy. You will be glad you did.

Sources:
Schillinger, D. et al. Language, Literacy, and Communication Regarding Medication in an Anticoagulation Clinic: Are Pictures Better Than Words? Advances in Patient Safety. 2007.
Tarn, D. et al. Physician Communication When Prescribing New Medications. Patient Education and Counseling. 2008.
Casalino, A. et al. Patient-Physician Communication about Out-of-Pocket Costs. JAMA. 2003.
Casalino, L. Frequency of Failure to Inform Patients of Clinically Significant Outpatient Test Results. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009.
Preventing Medication Error. Institute of Medicine (IOM). 2006.


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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1 Comments:

Blogger PGYx said...

It seems that excellent communication can take understanding only so far when 33% of American adults surveyed disagreed that the Earth revolves around the Sun once per year and 49% of them thought that genetically engineered tomatoes contain genes but ordinary tomatoes do not.

Perhaps I seem harsh, but are we really expected to overcome such a deficiencies in baseline education and what we once considered common sense? In a 10-15 minute office visit?

Poor scientific literacy is just one concern. How can I best instruct a patient to take medication if she doesn't learn well by listening yet also has trouble reading? The system is simply not set up to provide adequate education to many folks, but it's easier to blame the physician.

Hat tip to Dr. Bearemy at http://myemergencymedicineblog.blogspot.com for blogging about Americans' loss of scientific literacy described here: http://www.postgazette.com/pg/11079/1133328-84.stm

March 24, 2011 at 2:38 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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