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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*

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*

The “Expensive, Overused” ER

I’m always fascinated by the complaints that the emergency department is so overused and expensive. I admit that it is used a lot, and that care can seem expensive. But I want to make it clear that the reasons are myriad.

Whenever we in the specialty say that we feel that patients abuse our services, someone in academia reminds us that only a small number of those patients do not actually have serious illnesses. Whether or not that’s true, one of the reasons we are overused is due to none other than other physicians.

I’ve been paying attention lately to the way physician referral patterns happen. I suspect it’s the same in other facilities. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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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