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Why are people so angry about doctor salaries?

In a really engaging recent post, ER doc Edwin Leap (via GruntDoc) discusses why it seems that the general public is outraged at reports of the occasional specialist who makes $500,000 and yet do not flinch at the much larger salaries of football players, musicians, or media tycoons.

I posted a response to Dr. Leap’s blog post, explaining my take on why people are so angry. Let me know if you agree:

You are right that there is a lot of anger towards physicians – it is the collateral damage of the broken physician-patient relationship. When third parties (insurers) got between us, and reimbursement dwindled with drastic cuts in Medicare/Medicaid, physicians had to make up the difference in volume. When you see 30+ patients/day none of them feels as if they’ve had a valuable interaction with you. And the physician’s memory of each individual patient (and their psycho-social context) becomes dim.

When we lose the sacred, personal, physician patient relationship – we lose the best of what compassionate individualized medical care has to offer. This is why patients believe that a government sponsored system can give them the same level of care that they currently receive. I shudder at the idea of handing over medical decision making to a distant bureaucracy that only knows what’s right for a population, not for the individual. But if doctors continue to treat patients like a commodity, the patients are actually receiving nothing more than population-based care anyway. Quality care is personal, and the physician-patient relationship is a trusted bond that cannot be easily broken. We need to know our patients well so that we help them to make the best possible decisions for their personal situation. I believe that the IMP movement (see Gordon Moore’s work) – where PCPs use IT to drastically reduce overhead costs so they can afford to see fewer patients – is one of the best ways to improve healthcare quality.

As far as Emergency Medicine is concerned – we need to get the non-sick patients out of the ER and back to the PCPs. Easier said than done – but if the patients have a real relationship with their PCPs they’re less likely to substitute an ER doc inappropriately.

My 2 cents! 🙂

Patients are angry about physician salaries because they know instinctively that they are not getting the quality care that they are paying so much for… Moreover, the major cost causers (hospitals that cost shift unpaid bills to the uninsured and take large cuts for hospital administrator salaries, and for-profit insurance companies) don’t have a name and a face to the patient.  So docs take a double dose of anger on the nose, further damaging the already strained relationship.  We must go back to our roots – and support the personal doctor patient relationship that has been a pillar of American medicine.  Revolution Health can be our meeting place… the new digital medical home, supporting the old physician-patient team decision-making approach!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Young and uninsured in Manhattan

My friend forwarded an article to me from New York Magazine. It is about the fact that many of the “20-somethings” in Manhattan choose not to buy health insurance. They reason that nothing really bad is likely to happen to them, so why pay the $167-300/month in health insurance?

Here are some of the strategies that these young uninsured use to stay out of harm’s way:

  • “I carry an expired Blue Cross card in my wallet. You never know, maybe they’ll think I have insurance and I’ll get better care.”
  • Rebekah takes vitamin C and echinacea.
  • “I do yoga to stay loose. I drink a lot of water so I don’t get sick, and vitamins.”

Ironically, Echinacea is actually a cousin of rag weed, and can create a cross-reactivity that may cause cold-like symptoms (leading the user to believe that she averted a more severe cold by taking the supplement). Vitamins are unregulated, and previous studies have shown that up to 50% of bottles do not contain the actual levels of vitamins and minerals displayed on their labels. Dangerously high lead levels have been found in popular multi-vitamins as well. Of course, there was a recent bottled water scare – with a certain brand found to contain high levels of arsenic. Yoga can be harmful to those who push themselves too hard, and to my knowledge there is no convincing evidence that high levels of vitamin C can retard viral illnesses.

Why don’t the young adults buy health insurance? Here’s what one young man said:

“What’s ironic is that I would never live without my cell phone, but I won’t consider buying health insurance. It sounds ridiculous to say that out loud, but the fact is insurance is just too expensive. If it was the same price as my phone”—$150 a month sounded reasonable to him—“I’d buy it in a second.”

The article goes on to describe a nightmare case of an uninsured young man who developed appendicitis. He ended up requiring surgery, and a prolonged hospital stay due to infection. His total bill was $37,000.00. He explained to the hospital that he couldn’t afford to pay, he discovered that he made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, so he sent them a nasty letter, threatening to sue them for malpractice. The hospital reduced the charges to $1,700.00.

A year later when asked if he now carried insurance, here is what the man said:

“Oh, no, I still don’t have any insurance,” he said, rolling his eyes to indicate that, yes, he knows how it sounds. “I think about it, but it’s not like I have a consistent income right now. I think about paying $300 a month on top of my other expenses, and it’s like, God, when’s it going to end?” He paused. “But, really, it’s more than that. I was just so disillusioned with the process. I wanted nothing to do with it, you know? And maybe because, in the end, I kind of managed to get away with it, I end up thinking …” He trailed off, not finishing the thought, but the sentiment was clear: He is still young, he runs, he does yoga, he takes all the vitamins. And it’s not like you can get appendicitis twice.

***

New York hospitals alone provide $1.8 billion in uncompensated care annually.

***

Are you sympathetic to the uninsured’s plight, or do you feel annoyed by their attitude?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Do VIPs get better medical care?

People often believe that the medical treatment that VIPs get is far superior to the care received by “common folk.” While it’s true that a VIP might get a nicer hospital room, the care received might actually be inferior.

Why? Because all of the anxiety and pressure to perform all possible tests to rule out all possible problems results in higher risk to the patient. Most tests are associated with some degree of risk – catheter infections, phlebitis, dye alleries, anesthetic reactions, and so on. Though these risks may be small, they are additive.

Beyond the risk of unnecessary tests, is the risk of unnecessary medications. When a VIP complains of an issue, he may get additional medicine. Medicine has side effects, and side effects can have serious consequences. Consider the deadly side effects of pain medicine that a dear patient of mine once had.

Then there’s the pressure that physicians feel to do what the patient requests, rather than exercising their clinical judgment.

In one particular case, a young executive came to the ER complaining of abdominal pain. The physicians ran all kinds of tests and concluded that he had a common stomach virus. The man was convinced that he had appendicitis and called in a favor from his “connection” who knew the CEO of the hospital. The hospital CEO questioned the physicians taking care of the man – whether they could say with 100% certainty that this wasn’t appendicitis. They said that it was highly unlikely, but that the only way to be 100% certain would be to remove the appendix and examine it under a microscope. The CEO asked them to take the patient to the OR. Of course, the executive did not have appendicitis. He did, however, undergo an unnecessary surgery, which his insurance company paid for in full, contributing to potential increased premiums for the others in his company’s group. Did this VIP get better care? I think not.

In my next post I’ll discuss how one VIP bullied his way into the hospital without even being truly sick, causing all kinds of problems that dragged on for months!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Health insurance frustrations & awkward physician-patient interactions

This excerpt from the New Yorker (quoting a Dr. Parillo) captures physician frustration with the process of insurance reimbursements:

Doctors quickly learn that how much they make has little to do with how good they are. It largely depends on how they handle the business side of their practice. “A patient calls to schedule an appointment, and right there things can fall apart,” she said. If patients don’t have insurance, you have to see if they qualify for a state assistance program like Medicaid. If they do have insurance, you have to find out whether the insurer lists you as a valid physician. You have to make sure the insurer covers the service the patient is seeing you for and find out the stipulations that are made on that service. You have to make sure the patient has the appropriate referral number from his primary-care physician. You also have to find out if the patient has any outstanding deductibles or a co-payment to make, because patients are supposed to bring the money when they see you. “Patients find this extremely upsetting,” Parillo said. “ ‘I have insurance! Why do I have to pay for anything! I didn’t bring any money!’ Suddenly, you have to be a financial counselor. At the same time, you feel terrible telling them not to come in unless they bring cash, check, or credit card. So you see them anyway, and now you’re going to lose twenty per cent, which is more than your margin, right off the bat.”

Simplifying the process of insurance billing (and promoting more affordable plans) are important goals in healthcare. I hope that Revolution’s efforts will make things easier for physicians and patients alike. Otherwise we wind up in the unacceptable situation described in this article:

“If it’s not an emergency and you can’t pay for it, you don’t get care.”

Do you think that retail clinics will make basic healthcare more affordable and accessible to patients who are uninsured or underinsured?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

US healthcare then and now: 1907-2007

We have met the enemy and he is us.

  • Walt Kelly

From an article published in JAMA on February 16, 1907:

It is strange that the hospitals and dispensaries of this country should be so shamelessly flooded with pseudo-charity patients, having no claim whatsoever to gratuitous service. It can be explained only on two hypotheses: First, the working of that innate trait of human nature which prompts to obtain something for nothing, and, second, the lack of good business discrimination on the part of the institutions whose benefits are thus abused.

This quote is almost 100 years old to the day. Does anyone see any similarities to today’s emergency department or medical practice?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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