Substandard

What comes to mind for today’s Daily Prompt: substandard?

As a rural Family Practice Physician, what comes to mind is the United States current health care system.

There is nothing substandard about our health insurance system: it does what it is supposed to, which is earn money for owners and investors. But it is frankly terrible at delivering health care, health care is not the goal, and we spend twice as much per US citizen as the next most expensive health care system in the world. And we do not have universal health care for our citizens and we rank below 30th in health care measures.

Wake up, US citizens. Let’s buy health care with our dollars, not health insurance. Single payer, one system, low overhead, clear rules and coverage and everyone in, no one out.

 

 

 

But I don’t want to pay for the obese smoking couch potato

I wrote this in 2010 and I am posting it again. It’s TIME, Congress, time for single payer, medicare for all! Lots of Senators are all talk about repealing Obamacare. One part of that law is that your health insurance company can ONLY keep 20% of each dollar for profit. The other 80% must be spent on health care. Before that, health insurance companies kept 30% of every health dollar. So tell me, US citizens, WHY do you want to repeal that? So health insurance corporation owners can go back to keeping 30% of every premium? Call you Senator and say NO.

And by the way, Senators who want to repeal Obamacare. You could have been writing a new bill with transparency and honesty for the last seven years, but all you’ve done is say “We will repeal Obamacare.” Saying “We can do better,” is boasting: you haven’t done the work. Stop hiding behind closed doors. I am submitting this to the Daily Prompt: hidden.

From 2010:

I went on the Mad as Hell Doctor’s tour for a week. I went from Seattle to Denver with stops for town halls one to three times a day. We are talking about single payer, HR676.

One question or objection to a single payer system was: Why should my money go to pay for some obese person who drinks and smokes, doesn’t exercise and doesn’t eat right?

Three answers to start with:

1. You already pay for them.

2. Put out the fire.

3. People want to change.

First: You already pay for them. As a society, we have agreed that people who show up in an emergency room get care. Suppose we have a 53 year old man, laid off, lost his insurance, not exercising, not eating right, smokes, drinks some and he starts having chest pain. Suppose that he lives in my small town.

He calls an ambulance. They take him to our rural emergency room. Oh, yes, he is having a heart attack, so they call a helicopter to life flight him from small town hospital to a big one in Seattle. This alone costs somewhere between $7000 and $12000. Now, do you know how many clinic visits he could have had for $7000? To see me, a lowly rural specialist in Family Practice where I would have looked at his blood pressure and nagged, that is, encouraged him to stop smoking. We would have talked about alcohol and depression. And who is paying for the helicopter meanwhile? All of us. The hospital has to pass on the costs of the uninsured to the rest of the community, the government is paying us extra, with a rural hospital designation. 60% of health care dollars already flow through the government. One estimate of the money freed from administrative costs by changing to a single payer system is $500 million.

Taking care of people only when they have their big heart attack is ridiculously expensive. It is a bit like driving a car and never ever doing maintenance until suddenly it dies on the highway. No oil, tires flat, transmission shot and ran into a tree in the rain because the windshield wiper fluid had been gone for a while. I get to take care of Uncle Alfred. He is 80 and has not seen a doctor for 30 years and is now in the hospital. “But he’s been fine,” says the family. Nope. He has had high blood pressure for years, that has led to heart failure, he has moderate kidney failure, his lungs are shot from smoking, turns out he developed diabetes sometime in the last 30 years and he’s going blind. Can’t hear much either. We have a minor celebration in the ICU because he doesn’t drink, so his liver actually works. He goes home on 8 new medicines.

Secondly: Put out the fire. When someone’s house is burning down, as a society we do not say, well, she didn’t store her paint thinner right or trim her topiary enough and she has too many newspapers stacked up. We go put out the fire. Putting out the fire helps us as a society: it keeps the fire from spreading to other houses. It saves lives and is compassionate. We think firemen and women are heros and heroines. And they are.

In the past, a homeowner would have to pay for fire service and would have a sign on their home. If the house was on fire and a different company was going by, that company wouldn’t put out the fire. We have the equivalent with health insurance right now. It would be much more efficient and less costly to have a single payer. Medicare has a 3-4% overhead: it is a public fund paying private doctors and hospitals. For private insurers the administrative costs are 30% or greater. That is, 1/3 of every dollar of your premium goes to administration, not health care. The VA is a socialized system, with the hospitals owned by the government and the medical personnel paid by them.

When someone asks why they should help someone else, I also know that they haven’t been hit yet. They have not gotten rheumatoid arthritis at age 32 or had another driver run in to them and broken bones or had another unexpected surprise illness or injury that happened in spite of the fact that they don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat right and exercise. Everyone has a health challenge at sometime in their life.

Third: people want to get better. Really. In clinic I do not see anyone who doesn’t hope a little that their life could change, that they could lose weight, stop smoking. True, there are some drinkers who are in denial, but I will never forget taking the time to tell a patient why he would die of liver failure if he didn’t stop drinking. He came back 6 weeks later sober. I said, “You are sober!” (We don’t see that response very frequently.) He looked at me in surprise: “You said I’d die if I didn’t stop.” He never drank again. It made it really hard to be totally cynical about alcohol and I can’t do it. People change and there is hope for change. I feel completely blessed to support change in clinic and watch people do it. They are amazing. But they need support and they need someone to listen and they need a place to take their fears and their confusion. Primary care is, in a sense, a job of nagging. But it is also a job of celebration because people do get better.

We are already paying, in an expensive, inefficient and dysfunctional way. It saves money to put out the fire. People want to get better. Winston Churchill said, “Americans always do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” It is time to do the right thing. Single payer. The current bill is HR676. We can and we will.

Patients or profit?

We can choose single payer, medicare for all, with overhead of 3-4 percent. That means 96-97 cents out of every dollar goes to HEALTH CARE, not PROFIT.

Or we can choose PROFIT:  the current law says that the private insurance companies have to spend 80 cents of every dollar on health care. 20 cents to PROFIT.

The insurance companies’ goal is to earn money, PROFIT, not give health care.  They are posting BILLIONS in profit.

The person on the phone who says your medicine or care is not covered? I think the insurance companies say that is health care. They are paying the person to refuse your care. They send us weekly updates on what has changed in the 1300 different insurance companies and I don’t know how many insurance plans because they all have more than one. You ask me, your doctor, if something is covered and I say, “I have no idea. It was covered last month. It should be covered. I don’t know.” The insurance companies pay people to write an individual website for every insurance company: 1300 websites. Can YOU keep track of 1300 log ons and 1300 passwords? And I think the insurance companies say that the money paid to set up the website is health care. I don’t think it’s health care, do you?

I want my health care dollar to go to HEALTH CARE not PROFIT.

Stop the bill. Stop the insanity. Stop putting INSURANCE COMPANY PROFITS in front of HEALTH CARE. We the people of the United States can decide and can tell Congress what we want.

Medicare for all, one set of rules, 3-4% overhead, we are one nation, under God, indivisible.

And we do not put profit first.

Physicians for a National Health Program: http://www.pnhp.org/

Templates and the death of medicine

One of the many problems that are killing medicine in the US and especially primary care is templates.

Templates are a nightmare.

Why?

In a template, for back pain, there is a list of questions and in some there is also a list of answers. The “provider” asks the questions on the list and then checks off the answers. This is absolutely terrible brainless stupid failure of medicine. Because the most important answer that the patient gives is the one that does not fit the routine pattern of back pain or ear pain.

For example, I saw a woman for a new patient visit for back pain. Years ago. Half way through the questions about back pain I say, “How long have you been hoarse?”

She stops. She has to think about it. “Three months.”

“Continuously or does it come and go?”

Again, thought. “Continuously.”

On with the back pain. But she gets TWO referrals, one to an otolaryngologist. I ask other voice and throat questions.

When she returns she thanks me. Continuous hoarseness is worrisome for vocal cord cancer. You have to rule it out. She did not have vocal cord cancer. She did have vocal cord polyps and was going to have laser surgery.

But as a physician or “provider” you have to PAY ATTENTION. And ignoring the thing that doesn’t “fit” or isn’t relevant or isn’t on the god damned template — just don’t do it.

Another new patient. Back pain. Routine, routine, routine, one in four people get it in their lives. All the questions indicating that it’s musculoskeletal, not a disc, 99% are not discs, until:

“Sometimes my leg goes numb from the knee down.”

I stop. “How often? The whole leg?”

“Whole leg, yes.” She doesn’t know how often.

“If that happens I want to see you right away. Call.”

…because that is not a disc and it’s not musculoskeletal. And people say that but usually it can’t be confirmed on exam.

She calls. “Both legs are numb from the knee down.”

“Get in here.”

On exam she is not only numb but the muscles of her feet and ankles are weak and the reflexes don’t work right. I call neurology, anxious. “MRI from her head to her tailbone.”

She has multiple sclerosis lesions, more than one, in her brain. And a normal brain MRI from a few years before when she also had weird symptoms….

So it is NOT the template, the routine questions, that diagnose odd things in medicine. It’s the off hand comment, the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, the symptom or sign that I notice and that gets my attention.

I hate the templates when we first get an electronic medical system. It sucks. It generates unreadable generic sentences: “The patient has ear pain. The quality of the ear pain is sharp. The ear pain has gone on for 6 weeks. The level of the ear pain is high.” Etc. Ok, that patient sounds like a robot. I quickly figure out how to type into the stupid boxes and avoid the templates as much as possible. I also start offering additions to the templates. “Ok, add this to quality of ear pain: It feels like being kicked over and over with the metal pointed tip of a cowboy boot.” Also to tachycardia: “It feels like a salmon is swimming upstream in my chest.”

See patients for one thing only. That would have really helped the hoarse woman, right?  Do the template. Do 10, 15, or 20 minute visits. The best doctors are rebelling and quitting, especially in primary care, because this is killing medicine. Why see people for one thing only? MONEY. MONEY MONEY MONEY. No. I like to work in medicine and I like to dig down, pay attention, listen and watch for the little details that stick out, the puzzle pieces that don’t fit….

….because that is what real medicine is. Not template robot medicine.

Great Falls

What does this have to do with the Daily Prompt: grit? And with Great Falls, for that matter.

I took this at Great Falls, Virginia, on a hike. And even something as delicate as a butterfly wants to survive in our world.

I will be calling Congress again today, do not pass a bill to take away more health care form US citizens. Wake up, US citizens, our health care system is currently built on greed and profit. Let’s join the rest of humanity with medicare for all, single payer, instead of continuing to enrich insurance companies and healthcare corporations….

 

Health care mandate in the United States

At a health care town hall last year, our representative said that US citizens have not given Congress a mandate for health care.

I raised my hand. “I beg to differ. The mandate is already law. The law says that no person in the US can be refused care at any emergency room. We have the mandate. Unfortunately the emergency room is the most expensive and cruel and last minute care that we could possibly choose.”

Expensive: any ER visit costs more than a whole day of visits to my rural family medicine clinic.

Last minute: the emergency room doesn’t do chronic care. Their purpose is to 1. try to stop someone from dying and 2. decide if the person should be hospitalized or should follow up in clinic. They do not do prenatal care, treat high blood pressure, treat diabetes, depression, high cholesterol, alcoholism. They do not do chronic care and aren’t meant to.

Cruel: you can go to the emergency room to try to keep from dying. Say you go coughing blood. They find a lung cancer. Now, you have a choice: be treated and maybe you will survive or maybe you will die anyhow and your house will be sold to pay for the medical care. Do you choose to go home instead and die so that your family inherits the house?

The United States spends twice as much per person as the next most expensive health care system in the world and they have universal health care and we don’t. We care more for corporate profit then US citizens and visitors health. I cringe when the discussion is about health INSURANCE not health CARE.

I am a physician but I also own my own business. As a small business owner, I think that I will soon have to close. Why? I am in my 50s with a daughter. I think that within two years my HEALTH INSURANCE will cost more than I pay myself. And I will close the clinic.

We need health CARE not health INSURANCE. The Obamacare law said that health insurance companies can ONLY keep 20 cents of every health care dollar they collect, down from 22.5 cents. They have to spend 80 cents on health care. For medicare the overhead is 2-3 cents per dollar.

Medicare for all, single payer. Put 97 cents of every health care dollar to health care instead of only 80 cents. Or shall we continue down the road to small business and local government collapse and citizen health collapse?

Congress, you can’t wheel and deal your way out of this one. We want health care for our dollar not insurance.

For the Daily Prompt: wheel.

focus

For the Daily Prompt: cringe.

I took this on the ridge on top of Mount Zion yesterday. Absolutely gorgeous hike, with the rhododendrons floating among the tall trees and tons of wild flowers. Here are little wild strawberries…. we will have to come back in September.

Cringe: I cringe when I hear the discussion on the news being about health INSURANCE  and not health CARE. We need to change the focus.

We HAVE a mandate that anyone in the US can have health CARE. That is, the emergency room cannot legally turn anyone away. But the bills can bankrupt you and take your house away. Not only that, but the emergency room is the most expensive and worst way to take care of people in the world. The emergency room cannot treat cancer, cannot treat hypertension, cannot help a person with depression, cannot do the long term chronic care that I do. Per person in the US we pay twice as much as the next most expensive country and they have universal care. What is the matter with the citizens of the US? We care more for corporations protecting their profits than we do for our citizens health. And I think this will bring our country down….. we will collapse.

I am a physician but I also run my own clinic. I am a small business owner. And I really expect that health INSURANCE will force my clinic to close.

Call Congress. Say we want health CARE not health INSURANCE.

 

bye bye doctors

stop this healthcare bill… until there is transparency… or this will get worse.

 

I am grieving, watching doctors leave.

I have been in my rural county, 27,000 people, for 17 years.

Doctors are leaving. Wake up, United States.

The trend when I got here was that we had 14 primary care doctors and 5 midlevels. For years, we lost one primary care doctor a year. I would grieve and it would mean more work, every year. We would get a new doctor, but often there would be a gap… I made up a game to help cope with grieving. I call it “Local Doctor Survivor”. I would bet on the next doctor to leave and also on their trajectory. One of three: nice doctor, angry doctor, doctor labeled nuts. Burn out.

But…in 2015 it jumped. Suddenly we had 3 primary care doctors and two midlevels leave. Uh-uh. One was a husband and wife, doctor and nurse practitioner. One switched to being a hospitalist. Another left. And another midlevel. By then, we still had 14 primary care doctors, but the number of midlevels, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants had risen to 12. Ok, 12 plus 14 is 26. One fifth left. That is a bad trend.

In 2016 another physicians assistant retired. One of the best. I stopped counting who was leaving. Until another doctor announced they were leaving in February 2017. One of the best. That doctor said that a 20 minute visit generates 1 hour of paperwork. If one works “full time” the quota of patients is 18 per day, 72 in the four day week, and that is 32 hours four days a week of 20 minute visits. Generating 72 additional hours paperwork. That is 104 hours a week. Unsustainable.

The 2016 salary information is out for primary care. The “median” family practice physician in the US makes $168,000. Ok. But every doctor given as an example works 60-70 hours a week. Maybe that salary is not as good as you think. Because they are quitting.

Our neurologist retired, in about 2010. I was bummed. The county north of us has 75,000 people. They had two neurologists. Both left in the last two years. The county south of us has 350,000 people. They had five neurologists. Two have left, including my current favorite. For the first time in 17 years I have a neurology referral refused: and not one, but two. Send them to the big city, says one. The other just says no.

I call ENT and he bemoans that now they are down to three in the county. Another left. Three there, one on the county north of me, great, we have 4 for 450,000 people.

I get a letter from one of the two neurosurgeons in Seattle that I like best. In 2016. He is leaving to go do medical administration in another country.

Our three counties are down three dermatologists. One sent a letter. “I am quitting on October 1, 2016, unless ICD-10 is cancelled.” ICD-10 is the new manual of diagnostic codes. It was not cancelled so that dermatologist quit. We have to code every diagnosis. ICD-9 had 14,000 codes. ICD-10 has 48,000. I am memorizing the new ones. I10 is hypertension. E11.65 is type II diabetes in poor control. I used to be able to write a prescription for diabetic supplies, lancets and glucose strips. Now I have to include the ICD-10 code on the prescription and often the pharmacy cites medicare and demands that I fax proof that I have seen the patient and that the patient does indeed need the prescription. I frankly have better use for my brain than memorizing the ICD-10 codes, but whatever.

Another clinic closed in the county north of us and our county. Then the main clinic closed in the county south of us. Within two weeks. 3500 patients needing primary care providers and refills and we can’t get old records because the rumor mill says it was a “hostile takeover”. That is, the person who owned the clinics quit paying the bills, so the electronic medical company won’t release the records. Great.

I have been absorbing about one new patient per day worked since March, but I am getting tired and will have to back off.

Meanwhile, our county hospital has been hiring specialists. Gynecology, new orthopedists, dermatology. Great, right? But currently most specialists won’t take a new patient without the patient having a primary care doctor. Why? Well, one of the new trends is that the specialist says the patient needs something but that I should order it. Yep. Had one of those yesterday. The specialist says I should order it. It’s a veteran. So I get to fill out the VA authorization paperwork with the ICD-10 codes and the CPT code for the study, fax that to the VA, call the patient and remind him to call triwest, because if the patient doesn’t call then triwest throws the authorization paperwork out. And the specialist makes more than 5 times the amount I do. Maybe I should retrain. I am a specialist: family practice, three year residency, board certified, board eligible. But….. I have little value in the United States.

We are seeing Veterans in spite of the extra paperwork. Triwest is sending us 5 from Whidby Island. They have to take a ferry to see me. Because no one on Whidby is taking veterans. My receptionist complains to triwest about all the doctors leaving the Olympic Peninsula.

“No,” says the triwest person. “Not just the Olympic Peninsula. The whole west coast of the US.”

 

http://www.aafp.org/news/government-medicine/20170620senatespeakout.html