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Latest Posts

The Virtue Of Unnecessary Care

I case you didn’t hear the news, the American healthcare system is in financial crisis. One of the biggest culprits indicted in this crises is “unnecessary care,” with estimates ranging from $500 to $650 billion (total spending estimate is $2.6 trillion) going toward things labeled “unnecessary.” Personally I think this is an underestimate, as it doesn’t take into account the some big-ticket items:

  • Brand name drugs given when generics would do.
  • Antibiotics given for viral infections (and the additional cost due to reactions and resistance).
  • Unproven costly care considered “standard of care” (PSA testing, robotic surgery, coronary stents).
  • The unnecessarily high price of drugs.

One of the main reasons I am an advocate of EMR is to measure and analyze care, eliminating that which is wasteful, futile, or even harmful. The biggest burden on our system is not the fact that we have a hyper-complex payment system that hides the true cost of care. The biggest burden is the wasteful care that this system agrees to pay for. In fact, I suspect that the main reason our system has become hyper-complex and covert in its spending is to hide this waste from prying eyes.

It sounds easy: Just eliminate costly unnecessary care and save the system. While you are at it, why not bring world peace, eliminate poverty, and make a detergent that cleans, softens, and deodorizes all at once? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

How Preauthorization Impacts Care

The American Medical Association (AMA) had a press release [recently] announcing findings from their survey on the impact of insurance company preauthorization policies.

Surprisingly, they discovered that these policies use physician time and delay treatment. It’s funny, because preauthorization policies were designed to save money. And I imagine they do, for the insurer, but they cost money for everyone else. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Why Privatizing Medicare Is Highly Explosive

In response to my recent post where I averred that the cigarette companies were treated as scapegoats, I have had several cyber and actual conversations about personal responsibility. I believe that folks should realize the consequences and the benefits of freely-made decisions.

While we want American society to be compassionate, we do not want to punish success and reward failure. Our goal is to do all that we can to maximize everyone’s success. We should be ready to assist those who need and deserve our private and governmental assistance, but personal effort and responsibility are necessary elements of these interventions.

In our gastrroenterology practice, when we see patients who are in financial difficulty, my physician partners and staff will do all that we can to help them. While it is not our policy to do colonoscopies for free, we will make whatever adjustments that are necessary to make sure that the patient receives necessary medical care. However, when patients who owe us money hang up on our calls, or express their view of medical entitlement with foul language, then we forward these accounts to a collection agency.

There is also a self-interest angle to supporting assistance for those in need: One day we may need a boost ourselves. Recall the concept of privatizing social security, a sound proposal that was vilified and snuffed out during George W. Bush’s presidency. Antagonism against this modest proposal was seasoned with a large measure of arrogance, a splash of hubris and a dash of paternalism. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Getting Quality And Profit Out Of Medicine

Looking for a great story about the state of hospital care in America? Look no further. The Health Care Blog has a great article by hospitalist Dr. Robert Wachter that sums it up nicely. It’s about money. Thats how hospitals get paid. That’s how everyone gets paid. It will always be about money. We don’t pay doctors, nurses, or administrators with smiley faces and candy canes. We pay them with cold hard cash. For example:

One of the physicians, an invasive cardiologist, stopped me in my tracks. “Actually, our hospital already provides a tremendous amount of support and feedback,” he said. “When I perform a catheterization or angioplasty, a hospital staff member watches the entire procedure, she sometimes suggests mid-course corrections, and as soon as I’m done she provides me detailed feedback on whether I met all the best practice standards.”

“Wow,” I said. “Your hospital is really taking quality seriously!”

“Oh,” he replied, mischievous smile on his face, “she’s not from the quality department. She’s from the billing department.”

The question should not be how do you get profit out of medicine. The question should be how do you get quality into profit. We need profit. The last thing you want in this country is universal VA health care. Trust me on that. Americans would never stand for it. But how do you get both? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

How Medicare Pays For Inpatient Care

Have you ever wondered how hospitals get paid by MedicareThe New York Times has an excellent and simple explanation of this highly complicated process. It’s simple really.

First the hospital labor component is adjusted for geographic location and then added to the capital depreciation expenditures adjusted for geographic location and then a medical severity adjusted diagnosis related group multiplier is added (MS-DRG).

Once this adjusted payment rate is calculated, the hospital is given a bonus to cover the costs incurred if they are a teaching hospital, through the indirect medical education payment. Added to that is the disproportionate share payment for hospitals that see a lot of uninsured or Medicaid patients (strange that Medicare subsidizes Medicaid, isn’t it?) If you have a patient that is extremely sick or spends mulitple extra days in the hospital, they may get an extra outlier payment. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

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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