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Should Doctors Be Allowed To Self-Refer?

Federal law generally prohibits physicians from referring their own patients to a diagnostic facility in which they have an ownership issue — a practice called “self-referral” — unless the facility is located in their own practice. This exemption exists to allow patients with access to a laboratory test, X-ray, or other imaging test at the same time and place as when patients are seeing their physician for an office visit. Less inconvenience and speeder diagnosis and treatment — what could be wrong with that?

Much, say the critics, if it leads to overutilization and higher costs and doesn’t really represent a convenience to patients. This is the gist of two studies by staff employed by the American College of Radiology, published in the December issue of Health Affairs.

One study analyzes Medicare claims data and concludes that patients aren’t really getting “one-stop-shopping” convenience when their physician refers them to an imaging facility that qualifies for the “in-office” exemption.

“Specifically, same-day imaging was the exception, other than for the most straightforward types of X-rays. Overall, less than one-fourth of imaging other than these types of X-rays was accompanied by a same-day office visit. The fraction for high-tech imaging was even lower — approximately 15 percent.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Independent Primary Care: The “Loss Leader” Of Medicine

Medicare’s sustainable growth rate, or SGR, has been the bane of doctors for years now. To encapsulate, this is the reason for Medicare’s annual threat to cut doctors’ fees by 20% or more, only to be staved off at the last minute.

Emergency physician Shadowfax has a nice take on it, explaining why it has devastated primary care:

Primary care has many fixed expenses in addition to those we bear: they pay rent, nurses and techs and secretaries, healthcare costs for their employees, equipment, scheduling software, etc etc. The fixed costs portion of a typical office practice can be much higher, consuming 60-80% of gross revenue. Worse, many of these “fixed costs” for primary care are not truly fixed, but increase annually consistent with inflation.

I wrote several years ago that primary care is the “cheap DVD” of the medical profession — a loss leader to bring people in the door for more lucrative services. Shadowfax agrees, arguing that it’s unlikely there will be any independent primary care practices in the near future:

I predict that, if nothing else changes in the overall model of physician reimbursement, within a decade there will be almost no independent primary care left in existence — they will all have been subsumed into hospital-owned or group practices to serve as “loss leaders,” existing solely to drive referrals to profit centers like surgical services and imaging facilities.

Bingo.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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