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

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Care on the continuum

My change from a traditional practice to direct-care has caused me to challenge some of the basic assumptions of the care I've given up to this point. Certainly, the nature of my documentation will radically change with my freedom from the tyranny of E/M coding requirements.

Perhaps the biggest change in my care comes courtesy of the way I get paid. The traditional way to be paid is for service rendered (either at an office visit or procedures done). This means that I am financially motivated to give the bulk of my attention to people when they are in the office. They are paying for my attention, so I try to give them their money's worth. The corollary of this is that I tend to not think about people who are not in the office to be seen. The end-result is an episodic approach to care that is entirely dependent on the patient paying for an encounter.

There is a huge problem with this approach to care: People live their lives between encounters. Life does not go on hold between office visits for my patients, and the impact of my care is not dependent on what happens in the encounter, but what happens between visits. My ability to help my patients depends on my ability to affect the continuum.

If I do a good enough sales pitch for a person taking their medications, and if I consider the life-circumstance which may affect their ability to take the medicine, then I am successful. I don't learn about the success until their next visit (usually), and I also don't learn about problems until then. People are reluctant to call with problems they are having with medications, new symptoms, or other important details, often waiting for many months to tell me things I really want to know.

Perhaps they don't want to be "one of those patients who calls all the time," perhaps they don't understand what I said, or maybe they're worried I will "force them to come in" to pay for another office visit. Regardless of the reason, I get very limited interaction with my patients in this episodic care model.

My new practice model allows for, and even encourages interaction between face-to-face encounters. I intend on spending a significant part of my day systematically reviewing records to make sure they are up-to-date, and initiating contact if need be. I will also give them resources to be able to manage their care (or their wellness) without having to pay for each encounter.

One reader (of another blog to be left unnamed) suggested that under this system he would get his "money's worth" by using my service as much as possible. For him that meant coming to see me often, but in the model of care on the continuum it would involve going to the website and updating records, sending me questions, or watching videos I've made on a particular subject. My hope is that all my patients would "get their money's worth" between visits, and that perhaps this will reduce the need for actual face-to-face encounters. In fact, that is the whole point of what I am doing.

There are some specific types of care that the view on the continuum is significantly better than the traditional episodic approach:

Pediatric/Well care. We traditionally see babies at 2 weeks of age, then at 2, 4, 6, and 9 months of age during the first year of life. After that the care becomes less frequent, to the point that many pediatricians don't see children in school-age and teenage years more than every 2 years for well care. The reality is, however, that children grow between these visits, and much of the advice given during these visits ("anticipatory guidance") is forgotten by parents.

Care on the continuum means parents have access to the information about a wide range of problems as well as having the ability to ask questions any time they want. Things like "I can't get my child to sleep in her own bed," or "Jonny is still wetting his bed" are problems parents will hold off on asking until the scheduled visit. Certainly there will still be scheduled visits for measuring, assessing development, and physical exam (not to mention that the pediatrician needs his baby fix), but these visits are enhanced by what happens between them, allowing problems to be addressed sooner.

Psychiatric problems. Much of the follow-up care of anxiety, depression, or attention deficit disorder (which are the three staples of psych in primary care) involves assessment of interim symptoms and/or problems.

Care on the continuum can happen with monthly (or more frequent) reports of how things are going, how the child is doing in school, or if there are problems with medications. Many people with these problems are reluctant to come to the office, much less talk about new problems. I hope having direct access to my care will give them an easier avenue to give me the real view of how they are doing.

Controlled drugs Prescribing and refilling controlled drugs are a huge part of my work stress, and one I wanted to address in my new practice. Traditionally I write refills of these medications and manage them with intermittent office visits.

On the continuum I can require a symptom questionnaire before refilling medications, allowing me to address increasing use as it is happening and moving people away from more addictive short-acting drugs to the more effective and safer long-acting drugs.

Chronic disease Diseases like asthma or diabetes are much better cared for on the continuum, as a regular log of blood sugars or peak flow readings can be sent to me on a regular basis.

I can see early, not waiting for the 3 months A1c, that the sugar is not coming down as expected. I can hear about early symptoms of asthma, not waiting for the patient to come in with a full-blown attack. Adjustments can be made much more frequently without the need for face-to-face care just to hear about symptoms or blood sugar readings.

I keep getting new ideas of how to handle problems differently in this new model of care, but all of them benefit from the fact that it looks at patients before problems pop up, or at least at the time of the problem instead of after a potentially dangerous delay.

The waste in our system is, as has been noted often, huge. But the assumption that episodic care is the proper model could be the most costly mistake of all. People are afraid to engage our system because of the cost, and that fear ends up costing everyone by not dealing problems until they are "bad enough." Care on the continuum seems to accomplish the main goal of my care: keeping people away from the rest of the health care system unless it's absolutely necessary.

After taking a year-long hiatus from blogging, Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, returned with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind), where this post originally appeared.

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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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