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