P for prior authorization

The letter P and my theme is happy things. But what comes to mind are these P words: prior authorization,  pharmaceutical, payer.

Prior authorizations are NOT a happy thing. The latest twist from insurance companies, three different ones in the last week, is that they are requiring prior authorization for old inexpensive medicines. I ordered a muscle relaxant for night time only on Thursday last week for a person with a flare of back pain. Friday I was dismayed to see that the insurance company was requiring a prior authorization. I have to prioritize the order of urgency of all the work: I did not have time. I called the patient who had paid cash for it. The insurance company wins. They didn’t have to pay for a covered medicine because they made it difficult to get. They keep the patient’s money.

Prior authorizations are on the rise very rapidly. With over 800 insurance companies, each with a different website, each with multiple insurance “products”, no one can keep up with it. It is a shell game, the ball under the cup, three cups moving, but the ball is the money and it’s already palmed by the insurance companies. I predict that this will continue to get worse. We do need a single payer system for the simple reason that physicians will not be able to hire enough staff to learn and navigate 800 different websites. I do most prior authorizations on the phone in the room with the patient: the other day we spent 35 minutes on the phone only to have the insurance company say that we had called the wrong number. Call another one. Not the one on the insurance card. We could complain to the state insurance commissioner, but my patient is afraid of losing their insurance. Time’s up. The prior authorization is not obtained, and we are five minutes into the next patient’s visit. People are finding that the medicine they have taken for 20 years suddenly requires prior authorization.

And remember: prior authorization is your insurance company making rules and extra paperwork for your physician. It is advertised as a way to save money, but it costs YOU money. Back in 2009, the estimate was that physicians in the US had to spend 90,000$ per year EACH on employees to do prior authorizations by computer or phone. And YOUR insurance dollars go to the employees at the insurance company refusing medicines and dreaming up new medicines to refuse. They change the contract. Every year and during the year. The law is now that 80 cents of each dollar must go to healthcare, not profit, but those computer and phone employees are counted as healthcare. Do we really think that is healthcare?

Take CT scans. Medicare does NOT require prior authorization. But most insurance companies do. Think about that. Is age the difference? CT scans increase cancer risk over time so physicians don’t order them by reflex.

And for pharmaceuticals, insurance companies often have an on line formulary. But it is different for every insurance “product” in individual companies. A patient and I were trying to sort out a less expensive medicine on a website and we were having difficulty figuring out which insurance she had. Multiple abbreviations and color coding and we could spend the entire clinic visit just figuring it out. Is that what medicine is in the United States? You can say that someone else in the office could do it, but the more employees your physician hires, the less time the physician will spend with you, because he or she has to pay all of those people.

If there was one set of rules, one website, I would learn it. Medicare for all, single payer, when will the United States people wake up and tell congress: if you want our vote, make it so.

P

But wait, where are the happy things? I am so happy that I still am in business in my small clinic, p for patients and patience and prayer and single payer, we will have medicare for all in my lifetime. Whether I am still a practicing physician in the US at that time is uncertain. If I can’t afford my own health insurance, my clinic will close. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

 

Eeeeeee

My theme is happy things, though sometimes they are things where I am trying to find the perspective to love what is happening.

When my son was little, I had Dr. Suess’s ABCs memorized: Ear, egg, elephant, E, e, e!

My words today are everybody, embody and evening.

E for Everybody. Everybody in, nobody out! This is one of the calls for Healthcare for all, and I am still a Mad as Hell Doctor, working for single payer.

Our state representative was here a year ago and said that there is not a mandate for healthcare for all. I said, “I politely disagree. We already have a law in place that emergency rooms cannot turn anyone away. They cannot refuse to treat a person. This is a mandate for care. Unfortunately, the emergency room is the most expensive and inefficient care, unless you are about to die. The emergency room cannot do chronic care: it cannot help people stop smoking, help lower blood pressure, help people with chronic illness such as diabetes, do preventative care like pap smears and checking kidney function to stave off renal failure. We have the mandate: now we need the political will to change to a single payer system that gives good care. A patient can see me in my family practice clinic a dozen times for the cost of one emergency room visit.” S o, everybody in, nobody out. The law that insurance companies can ONLY keep 20 cents of every dollar does not comfort me: I want my dollar to go to health care for everyone and not 1/5 to profit!

Embody: what do I embody? What do you embody? Do you treat your body well? Do you thank it? What is it carrying?

I see people so fixed on success and progress and getting goals, that sometimes we don’t pay any attention to our bodies. We treat the body like a tool, like a hammer or a wrench, use and abuse it, try to make it conform to some idea of external beauty, get angry when it breaks down. Fix me back to where I was three years ago, when I could work 12 hours a day and never ever paid attention to my body. Bad food, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, gallons of caffeine, energy drinks, sugar, illegal drugs, no exercise… and then we are surprised when it breaks down? Even exercise is seen as an inconvenient and necessary job, like buying new tires for the car. When people say get me back to where I was, I ask, “Back to working the 12 hours a day that caused this damage? Do you think that is a good idea?

And I include myself in that! I have had pneumonia with sepsis symptoms twice. The second time I thought, how dumb I am! My father died and I did not take any time off. I just kept working and added executor to my jobs and cried daily. Is it any surprise that after a year of that I became ill? Now my goal is to not do medicine for more than forty hours a week and to listen to my body and to take breaks!

Evening: the sunset. I am so grateful for the day, for the night, for the light changing and the world turning, for the stars and the moon and the sun and the glorious, gorgeous, generous world.

E

This is an evening photograph from Mauna Loa last week.

Make America sick again: diabetes

The trend in diabetes treatment is clear: keep Americans sick.

The guidelines say that as soon as we diagnose type II diabetes, we should start a medicine. Usually metformin.

A recent study says that teaching patients to use a glucometer and to check home blood sugars is useless. The key word here is teach, because when I get a diabetic transferring into my clinic, the vast majority have not been taught much of anything.

What is the goal for your blood sugar? They don’t know.

What is normal fasting? What is normal after you eat? What is the difference between checking in the morning and when should you check it after a meal? What is a carbohydrate? What is basic carbohydrate counting?

I think that the real problem is that the US medical system assumes that patients are stupid and doesn’t even attempt to teach them. And patients just give up.

New patient recently, diabetes diagnosed four years ago, on metformin for two years, and has no idea what the normal ranges of fasting and postprandial (after eating) are. Has never had a glucometer.

When I have a new type II diabetic, I call them. I schedule a visit.

At the visit I draw a diagram. Normal fasting glucose is 70-100. Borderline 110 to 125. Two measurements fasting over 125 means diabetes.

After eating: normal is 70-140. Borderline 140-200. Over 200 means diabetes.

Some researchers are calling Alzheimer’s “Type IV diabetes”. The evidence is saying that a glucose over 155 causes damage: to eyes, brain, kidneys, small vessels and peripheral nerves.

Ok, so: what is the goal? To have blood sugars mostly under 155. That isn’t rocket science. People understand that.

Next I talk about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are any food that isn’t fat or protein. Carbohydrates range from simple sugars: glucose and fructose, to long chain complicated sugars. Whole fruits and vegetables have longer chain carbohydrates, are absorbed slowly, the body breaks them down slowly and the blood sugar rises more slowly. Eat green, yellow, orange vegetables. A big apple is 30 grams of carbohydrate, a small one is 15, more or less. A tablespoon of sugar is 15 grams too. A coke has 30 grams and a Starbuck’s 12 ounce mocha has 62. DO NOT DRINK SWEETENED DRINKS THEY ARE EVIL AND TOOLS OF THE DEVIL. The evidence is saying that the fake sugars cause diabetes too.

Meals: half the small plate should be green, yellow or orange vegetables. A deck of card size “white” food: grains, potatoes, pasta, whole wheat bread, a roll, whatever. A deck of card size protein. Beans and rice, yes, but not too much rice.

For most diabetics, they get 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. A meal can have up to 30 grams of carbohydrate and the snacks, 15 grams.

Next I tell them to get a glucometer. Check with their pharmacy first. The expensive part is the testing strips, so find the cheapest brand. We have a pharmacy that will give the person a glucometer and the strips for it are around 4 for a dollar. Many machines have strips that cost over a dollar each.

I set the patient up with the diabetic educator. The insurance will usually cover classes with the educator and the nutritionist but only in the first year after diagnosis. So don’t put it off.

For type II diabetes, the insurance will usually only cover once a day glucose testing. So alternate. Test 3 days fasting. Test 1-2 hours after a meal on the other days. Test after a meal that you think is “good”. Also after a meal that you think is “bad”. I have had long term diabetics come in and say gleefully “I found a dessert that I can eat!” The numbers are not always what people expect. And there are sneaky sources of carbohydrate. Coffeemate and the coffee flavorings, oooo, those are REALLY BAD.

For most of my patients, the motivated ones, they have played with the glucometer for at least a week by the time they see the diabetic educator. I have had a person whose glucose was at 350 in the glucose testing. The diabetic educator called and scolded me for not starting metformin yet. The diabetic educator called me again a week later. “The patient brought their blood sugars down!” she said. “She’s under 200 after eating now! Maybe she doesn’t need the metformin, not yet!” Ah, that is my thought. If we don’t give people information and a tool to track themselves, then why would they bother? They eat the dessert and figure that the medicine will fix it or they can always get more medicine.

Type I diabetes has to have insulin. If a type II diabetic is out of control, high sugars, for long enough, they too will need insulin. The cells in the pancreas that make insulin are killed by prolonged high blood sugars.

I went to a lunch conference, paid for by a pharmaceutical company, at the AAFP conference in September. The drug company said start people on metformin at diagnosis and if they are not in control in 3 months, start a second medicine, the drug company’s new and improved and better and beastly expensive medicine!!!

Yeah, I don’t think so. All of my patients are smart and they all can figure it out. Some get discouraged and some are already on insulin, but they are still all smart.

Fight back against the moronization of US citizens. Keep America healthy, wealthy and wise.

bust

I took this in 2011, as a Mad as Hell Doctor, traveling around California talking about single payer.

We are losing more and more physicians. Our three counties, 450,000 people, are down from 8 neurologists ten years ago, to 2. The last one standing in the county of 350,000 says that he is really tired.

Single payer, medicare for all….. because I dream of other countries, civilized countries, countries where there is one set of rules, I can take care of any person who comes to me, I know what is covered and what is not, and I actually get paid….

 

cancer pen

A patient told me about the “cancer pen” yesterday. I promptly pictured  Star Trek’s Bones holding his device over patients, but no, this has to touch tissue…aka a piece of you…and do a chemical evaluation. It is to be used during surgery.

Here: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41162994

This is neat new technology… but. I can hear my sister saying, “Uh, so what about PREVENTION?”

This is technology to remove cancer after it’s already grown. And presumably metastasized. So this is stage II, stage III, stage IV cancer.

Cancer deaths are the second biggest cause of death in the US. Around 23% of yearly deaths and that does not count the people who survive cancer. At present we do not have many screening tests for cancer: pap smears continue to evolve, and now the recommendation is an HPV test or pap smear every five years AND we have a vaccine for the high risk HPV.
We can screen for colon cancer.
Mammograms for breast cancer.
The screen for prostate cancer sucks.
We can do skin checks.
The screen for lung cancer is now a low dose CT in a certain population that is high risk, that is, smokers. The recommendations have not addressed smoking marijuana.
Recommendations in the US are here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/.

There are lots of cancers that we don’t have screens for…. yet.

Proteomics is on the horizon. Genomics is looking at the genes, but it turns out that lots of cancers and infections and other illnesses have particular protein patterns. There is TONS of research in this area. Someday we may have protein tests: put a drop of blood or urine on it and say, “Hmmm. Looks like you have a positive test, probable lung cancer.”

That in turn creates problems. Initially we may be able to diagnose a cancer but not FIND it. Also not know how to treat it. The first big study trying to set up lung cancer screening had over 600 worrisome CT scans out of 1000. How many lung cancers did they find? Nine. And half of the nine had symptoms and could be found on chest xray by the time they did repeat CTs. Think of the anxiety of the 600 people who might have cancer and “We will repeat the CT scan in four months. Don’t worry too much.” Also there were complications from biopsying the lungs, like bleeding and pneumonia….

The best bet to avoid cancer is still living in a healthy way: don’t smoke anything, avoid addictive substances, eat good food, exercise, have friends and loved ones, work for yourself and your community, do some things you love…..

 

I took the photograph of my sister in 2011. She died of breast cancer in 2012. Her blog is here: butterfly soup.

For the Daily Prompt: strut. Struts support things: airplane wings, cars, things that move. How do we as a culture support people to live healthy lives?

Update on PTSD 2017: hope!

I have just spent a week in San Antonio, Texas at the AAFP FMX: American Academy of Family Physicians Family Medicine Experience.

Whew. Long acronym.

However, I attended two programs on PTSD. One was a three hour offsite one put on by the U. of Texas Health Sciences Department of Family Medicine. The other was a one hour program about active duty military and PTSD.

The biggest message for me is HOPE. Hope for treatment, hope for diagnosis, hope for destigmatization, hope for remission. I am not sure if we should call it a “cure”. Once a diabetic, always a diabetic, even if you lose 100 pounds.

In medical school 1989-1993 I learned that PTSD existed but that was about it. There was no discussion of medicines, treatment, diagnosis or cure.

Ditto residency. I learned much more about psychiatry reading about addiction and alcoholism and Claudia Black’s books then I did in residency.

Fast forward to 2010, when I opened my own clinic. I worked as a temp doc at Madigan Army Hospital for three months.

The military was aggressively pursuing treatment and diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I worked in the walk in clinic from 6:30 to 8:00 four days a week. Every walk in had to fill out a screen for depression. They were trying to stem the suicides, the damage, the return to civilian life problems and addiction too. They were embedding a behavioral health specialist in every section of the military. I was amazed at how hard the military was working on behavioral health.

In 2010 I took the buprenorphine course, which is really a crash course in addiction medicine, at the University of Washington Med School. I took it because it was free (I had just opened a clinic) and I thought we were as a nation prescribing WAY too many damned opioids. Yes! I found my tribe!

This gave me a second DEA number, to prescribe buprenorphine for opiate overuse, but also hooked me up with the University of Washington Telemedicine. I presented about 30 opiate overuse problem patients (anonymously, there is a form) to the team via telemedicine over the next year. The team includes a pain specialist, addiction specialist, psychiatrist and physiatrist. They do a 30 minute teaching session and then discuss 1-2 cases. They often do not agree with each other. They reach consensus and fax recommendations to me. The Friday addiction one was shut down and now I present to the Wednesday chronic pain one.

But, you say, PTSD? Well, chronic pain patients and opiate overuse patients have a very high rate of comorbid psychiatric diagnoses. It’s often hard to sort out. Are they self medicating because they have been traumatized or were they addicted first and then are depressed/traumatized and anxious? And what do you treat first?

There was an ADHD program at this conference that said we should deal with the ADHD first. One of the PTSD courses said deal with the PTSD first. The thing is, you really have to address BOTH AT ONCE.

Tools? PHQ-9, GAD-7, PCLC and there is an ADHD one too. These are short screening tools. I don’t diagnose with them. I use them to help guide therapy along with the invaluable urine drug screen. Love your patients but verify. That is, the chronic pain patient and the addiction patient tell me the same thing: but one is lying. I don’t take it personally because they are lying to themselves. Also, studies have shown that many patients lie, about their hypertension medicine or whatever. If they have to choose between food and medicine…. I think food may come first.

The San Antonio program has a behavioral health person embedded in their clinic (like a diamond) and if a PTSD screen is positive, the doctor or provider can walk them over and introduce them and get them set up. This is more likely to get the person to follow up, because there is still stigma and confusion for ALL mental health diagnoses and people often won’t call the counselor or psychologist or god forbid, psychiatrist.

They have a protocol for a short term four week treatment. Four weeks? You can’t treat PTSD in four weeks! Well, sometimes you can. But if you are making no progress, the person is referred on if they will go. I have the handouts. I do not have an embedded behavioral health person. I wish I did. I am thinking of setting a trap for one or luring them in to my clinic somehow, or asking if the AAFP would have one as a door prize next year, but…. meanwhile, I may do a trial of DIY. No! you say, you are not a shrink! Well, half of family medicine is actually sneaky behavioral health and I have the advantage of being set up to have more time with patients. Time being key. Also I have seven years of work with the telemedicine and access to that psychiatrist. Invaluable.

So what is the most common cause of civilian PTSD? Motor vehicle accidents. I didn’t know that. I would have said assault/rape. But no, it’s MVAs. Assault and rape are up there though, with a much higher PTSD rate if it is someone the victim knows or thought loved them. Rates in the US general population is currently listed at 1%, but at 12% of patients in primary care clinics. What? One in ten? Yes, because they show up with all sorts of chronic physical symptoms.

Re the military, it’s about the same. BUT noncombatant is 5%. High intensity combat has a PTSD risk of 25%, which is huge. One in four. Not a happy thing. In 2004 less then half the military personnel who needed care received it. PTSD needs to be destigmatized, prevented, treated compassionately and cured.

The risk of suicidality: 20% of PTSD people per year attempt. One in five.

Men tend to have more aggressiveness, women more depression.

Back to that PCLC. A score of over 33 is positive, over 55 is severe. There is sub threshold PTSD and it does carry a suicide risk as well. In treatment, a score drop of 10 is great, 5-10 is good and under 5, augment the treatment. Remember, the PCLC is a screening tool, not a diagnosis. I often ask people to fill out the PCLC, the GAD7 and the PHQ9 to see which is highest, to help guide me with medicines or therapy. If I need a formal diagnostic label, off to psychiatry or one of my PhD psychologists or neuropsych testing. Meanwhile, I am happy to use an adjustment disorder label if I need a label. If the patient is a veteran and says he or she has PTSD, ok, will use that.

Untreated PTSD, the rate of remission is one third at a year, the average remission is 64 months.

Treated PTSD, the rate of remission is one half at a year, and the average duration is 36 months. So treatment is not perfect by any means.

Pharmacology: FDA approved medicines include paroxetine and fluoxetine, and both venlafaxine and one other SSRI help.

Benzodiazepines make it worse! Do not use them! They work at the same receptor as alcohol, remember? So alcohol makes it worse too. There is no evidence for marijuana, but marijuana increases anxiety disorders: so no, we think it’s a bad idea. Those evil sleep medicines, for “short term use” (2 weeks and 6 weeks), ambien and sonata, they are related to benzos so I would extrapolate to them, don’t use them, bad.

Prazosin helps with sleep for some people. It lowers blood pressure and helps with enlarged prostates, so the sleep thing is off label and don’t stop it suddenly or the person could get rebound hypertension (risk for stroke and heart attack). I have a Vietnam veteran who says he has not slept so well since before Vietnam.

Part of the treatment for the PTSD folks at the U. of Texas Medical Center is again, destigmatization, normalization, education, awareness and treatment tools.

Hooray for hope for PTSD and for more tools to work with to help people!

fab four

This is for the Daily Prompt: recreate. The American Academy of Family Physicians had a celebration last night at the end of the conference and included a painter who recreated this familiar faces right in front of a large audience. Then it was auctioned off to the highest bidder to fund raise for Houston hurricane victims. Bravo!