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The Musical Chairs Of Medical Speciality

The consolidation of physician specialty practices into larger corporate healthcare systems in urban areas is creating a new challenge for today’s doctors when the music stops: There might not be a chair available.

There are simply many fewer hospital systems in large urban areas than there are specialy practices, so the number of specialist positions a large healthcare system is willing to absorb might be limited. As doctors and hospital systems coalesce into as-yet-to-be-clearly-defined “accountable care organizations,” the cost of too many specialists in an organization is being carefully weighed. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Light Shed On The Corruption Of The RUC

Interesting [recent] front-page article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC). From the WSJ:

Three times a year, 29 doctors gather around a table in a hotel meeting room. Their job is an unusual one: divvying up billions of Medicare dollars.

The group, convened by the American Medical Association, has no official government standing. Members are mostly selected by medical-specialty trade groups. Anyone who attends its meetings must sign a confidentiality agreement. [...]

The RUC, as it is known, has stoked a debate over whether doctors have too much control over the flow of taxpayer dollars in the $500 billion Medicare program. Its critics fault the committee for contributing to a system that spends too much money on sophisticated procedures, while shorting the type of nuts-and-bolts primary care that could keep patients healthier from the start — and save money.

I’m glad to see the RUC getting some much-needed scrutiny, and skeptical scrutiny at that. But they miss the point with the “fox watching the henhouse” angle, or at least they paint with too broad a brush. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Physician Referrals: Be Daring And Ask For A “Special Order”

As a specialist, one of the saddest truisms about practicing medicine in the private world has always been how little one’s clinical skills determines referrals. Unfortunately, as our present healthcare climate pushes “providers” to consolidate along the lines of major hospital networks this injustice will only worsen.

A decade or so ago when I started private practice it was obvious that referrals came to me because of my association with an established group. This association was essential, as one could have been the next Michael Jordan of electrophysiology, but referrals would still have gone along historic lines, to the favored group. It would have taken a Herculean effort, over years, to encroach upon such long-established referral patterns, etched over the bonds of rituals like Wednesday afternoon golf matches and dinner clubs.

Thus, few specialists start independently. You join an established group, do good work, form relationships and eventually, your quality becomes known. As it should be: Do good work and doctors will trust you with their patients. But yet, even the highest caliber specialists may fall prey to the easily accessible, affable (but unknown and untested) “new guy.” For enhancing referrals, availability and affability trump [actual] skills at least 90 percent of the time. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

A Family Doctor’s “Footnotes”

Regular readers have heard me rant about the fragmentation of medical care in this country. Each body part not only has its own medical specialist, but in some cases its own allied health profession. Such is the case with the feet.

Doctors of podiatric medicine have to complete a four-year course of study after college, followed by a three-year podiatry residency. At the end of all that, I grant, they are expert in the care and management of complex disorders and conditions of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. I refer to them regularly, especially for stubborn ingrown toenails. (I did indeed learn how to remove offending portions of nail bed, but over the years I’ve gotten away from it.) They fail, though, when they try to extend their reach beyond their grasp, which is the case of the podiatrist above the knees. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Medical Students, Specialty Practice, And More Money

With medical students graduating, on average, with almost $160,000 of debt, it’s a major reason why they’re choosing more lucrative specialty practice, which can offer salaries multiple times more than those of primary care fields.

In this clip from The Vanishing Oath, medical economist Amitabh Chandra, Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, discusses that influence, which contributes to a drastic decline of primary care residency slots being filled by American medical graduates.

Of course, it’s not only money. Primary care practice has a litany of obstacles that can contribute to rapid physician burnout, compounded by the fact that good primary care role models are largely absent from academic settings.

But there’s no denying that the salary disparity is an influential factor, and for many students, often a deciding one.

A video excerpt from The Vanishing Oath, a film directed by Ryan Flesher, M.D.:

*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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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

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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