Ever wonder why your physician only spends 5-10 rushed minutes with you during your office visit? You may think it’s because there are simply too many patients vying for her time, but that’s not the real reason. The root cause is that health insurance companies are stealing time from your visit by requiring excessive documentation from your doctor. She can’t give you the time you need, because doing so would put her out of business.
In a special report on the administrative burden of healthcare, MedPage Today revealed that PCPs spend about one third of their income on documentation required by health insurers. Because they run a business with thin margins, they must increase the volume of patients they treat in order to cover the salaries of the staff required to manage this “paper weight.”
About 49% of all physicians have said that they are considering retiring or quitting medicine in the next two years (the rate is lower for specialists), largely because of increasing documentation requirements and decreasing reimbursement.
Primary care is hardest hit by costs of coding and billing requirements, since they charge relatively little for their individual services. Imagine the difference in complexity between freezing a wart versus removing an appendix. Yet the number of people required to document, code, and process the paperwork for those two procedures are similar. The reimbursement, however, can differ by thousands of dollars.
The average PCP requires 4.5 staff to manage the administrative challenges associated with practicing medicine. If you consider that the average annual income for a PCP is $149,200, then it’s easy to see why a PCP’s income barely covers staff salaries, let alone the overhead associated with office space, supplies, and computer technology.
How can family physicians survive in this hostile reimbursement environment? There are really only two choices: to work in large group practices or to cease accepting insurance. (Of course, I’m leaving out the third option: to choose a different career).
I have decided to join an insurance-free practice. Now, before you assume that this means “concierge medicine” with exorbitant membership fees – let me tell you that it’s not what you think. DocTalker Family Medicine simply charges an hourly rate for my time – and I do whatever is appropriate for the patient, whether it’s a house call, an office visit, an email, or a phone call. There is no membership fee, people can pay with their credit card, cash, check or PayPal, and once we’ve met in-person and a full history and physical is performed, much of their care can be accomplished remotely.
So what does that cost? The average patient in our practice spends $25/month on their primary care needs. Isn’t that amazing? We can charge reasonable rates because we’ve reduced office staff from 4.5 to 0.5 people/provider and we pass on the savings to patients. We answer our own phones, we see almost all patients within 24 hours, and we’re available 24/7 by phone and email. And you know what? We’re happy to do it because we find meaning in every interaction. We aren’t being crushed by a paper weight.
As healthcare reform moves forward, and new ways are sought to wring money out of a crazy and convoluted system, it might just make sense for some of us to opt out and get back to basics: a doctor or nurse available 24/7 for your primary care needs at a price you can afford. No red tape, no unnecessary office visits, no insurance company hassles.
Anderson Cooper sent a reporter to our practice to see for herself what hassle-free medicine actually looks like. I hope you enjoy the segment… and if you’re in the DC or Virginia area, please check us out for yourself!