fraud in medicine: navigating your failing healthcare system

Navigating health care in the United States is challenging and challenged. Currently the 800+ insurance companies, each with multiple “products”, the 500+ electronic medical records that don’t talk to each other, the increasing volume of information and the decreasing number of physicians make getting care very challenging. Here are some steps to help you navigate.

1. Get your records and keep copies.

Get the disc of any radiology studies: MRI, xray, CT scan, echocardiogram. Keep them. Hand carry to your visit with the specialist. Yes, I know your doctor said they’d be sent and I know the specialist’s office said they’d get them, but I have two friends so far this week in two days who traveled 2 hours or more to a specialist who DID NOT HAVE THE STUDIES. Do NOT give your only copy to the specialist. Demand two. Either get them on different days or just pay for the second disc.

A clinic closed in our area a year ago. It was in three counties, 3400+ patients. The physician owner was not paying the bills, including the electronic medical record. We couldn’t get records, the emr company wouldn’t release them. Gone. Thirteen people called to be new patients with me the day the clinic closed and we took five new patients a week for 6 months. You need a copy of your records.

2. In the specialist’s office or ER, do NOT give your records to the receptionist.

Hand them to the physician only. Hand them copies, you keep copies. “When will you be getting back to me?” That is, if it’s two hundred pages of complicated records, when does the physician think they can read (some) of them? The real truth is that WE CANNOT READ ALL OF THE OLD RECORDS. We don’t have time. We have to sleep. We read what we can and there are MOUNTAINS of old records that we haven’t read. I have files of old records and I pull them for visits so we can look up specific things. I have asked patients to go through and find specific things: find me the MRI report of your back.

Because what is really happening in many offices is that the information is being scanned but not read. Truly. I think this is dangerous. I had a patient who had five specialists and me. I was sending updates to his rheumatologist, with letters, asking questions and not getting a word back. Finally the patient went for the two hour trip to see the specialist, who called me: “I had not read any of your notes! I didn’t know what was happening!” I saw RED. Oh, so my letters and the ER notes and the other specialist notes that I faxed to you MYSELF about a very sick, very complicated medicine WERE NOT READ? I wanted to scream at her, but I didn’t. I just said, “We really need your help and I have been trying to keep you informed.” Through gritted teeth. Then later I kick and hit my heavy bag. And at that point the specialist was finally helpful. It still makes me furious just to think about it, so I have to work on forgiveness once again.

In my office, if a physician (me) has not read it, it has not been scanned. There will NOT be surprises in the scanned chart. The unread old records are filed alphabetically and when I have a time turner, I will have time to read them all, right? And then in a visit, the person asks if I got their mammogram report. I have to LOOK, because I sign off on about a billion different pieces of paper a day and I really don’t remember the names of all the people who had normal mammograms. I don’t try to remember that: I know who has an abnormal one, because I am worrying about them.

3. Make a record trail that you can quote.

When you call the physicians office, get the name of each person you speak to. Write it down. Have them spell it. Ask how soon you will be called back. Ask what you should do if you do not get a call back. (That being said, every physician has to prioritize the calls. It’s sickest first, not first come first served. If your call really is an emergency, then you should be in an ambulance, not calling your doctor.)Our local mental health was in such disarray, understaffed, underfunded, that my instructions to non-suicidal patients were: “Call every day, be polite, and call until they make you an appointment. Do not wait for the call back. Call daily, they just don’t have enough staff.”

If you fax them the missing notes, keep a copy of the fax proof. Call after your fax the missing records. Ask if they received them and then write down the name of the person you spoke to, date and time. I put a computer message in the chart for 99% of the phone calls I have with patients. I may miss 1% because I get interrupted or a really sick patient arrives or another phone call or whatever. Ask when the physician or his assistant will be calling you back about the records or better yet, make an appointment: “He did not have the records, so I would like an appointment as soon as possible now that he has them.” This forces your physician to look at the old records, because the patient is coming in. I do not read old records before a new patient shows up. I used to, but then people no show for a one hour new patient visit and I feel used, abused and grumpy. So I don’t touch the old records until you show up. After two one hour new patient no shows we tell the person they need to find another physician. Two strikes on the new patient visit and they are out.

4. Hospital.

If a person is really really sick, family or friends should be there. Ask questions. Who is each person who comes in the room? Do they have the clinic notes? Don’t assume they do, I am not on our hospital’s EMR because it costs 2 million dollars. The inpatient hospitalist doctors almost never call for my notes. I fax my notes anyhow and call them, but the information gap is BIG ENOUGH TO DRIVE THE MOON THROUGH. Really. I am sorry to burst the electronic medical record bubble, but we have 500ish different EMRs in the US right now and they do not talk to each other, so every patient arrives accompanied by 2 years of paper records (or more), 200 pages or more. I joke that they need a bigger doctor because the paper is too heavy for my 130 pounds. And many many times, the hospital medicine list is wrong. It is old. It’s out of date. The person is sick as hell in the emergency room and they don’t remember that their lisinopril dose was changed three weeks ago. One person in the room with the sick person and keep a notebook and write down what the physicians and nurses say, time, date. Then if they start contradicting each other, ASK.

5. In clinic

Give your doctor the whole list right away: my foot hurts, my chest is really bad when I try to run up the stairs, there’s this thing on my arm and is my cholesterol too high? Don’t discuss one thing in detail and then bring up the next. I have long visits, but I can’t do justice to that list in one visit and I have to prioritize. This requires negotiation: the chest pain has my attention. You may be focused on your foot, but the number one killer is heart, so your doctor will worry about your heart first.

If the doctor asks you to bring in all your pills, bring them all in. There are three different types of metoprolol and five strengths of each. Do you know the type and strength of every drug? I want to see your vitamin bottles because vitamin B1 can cause neuropathy from too high doses and yes, they can sell high doses. I want to see the supplements: why are you taking bovine thymus/testicle pills? By the way, if the doctor actually looks at the supplements, keep that doctor. Most don’t.

6. Be careful out there. Good luck.

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.

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….

 

primary care medicine: schedule

I see patients from 8:30 or 8:00 am until 2:00 pm.

We have people say, “You are off after 2:00.”

Well, no. Most days I work for 2-3 hours beyond the patient contact time. Sometimes I come in early and sometimes it is from 2pm to 5pm and sometimes it is the weekend or into the evening.

So what am I doing?

  1. returning phone calls
  2. doing refills. To do a refill I check when the patient was last seen and whether they are due for laboratory.
  3. reading specialist notes and updating medicine lists, diagnoses and contacting patients to get tests or follow up that the specialist has recommended
  4. reviewing lab results and sending a letter or signing to be scanned and to be available at the follow up visit or calling the patient
  5. reading emergency room notes and hospital discharge summaries and setting those patients up for follow up, updating medicine lists and adding to diagnosis lists.
  6. dealing with multiple stupid letters from insurance companies questioning the medication that I have prescribed. Mostly I mail these to patients.
  7. running my small business: long term planning, short term planning, advertising, commercial insurance
  8. 50 hours of continuing medical education yearly
  9.  Updating my medical license, medical specialty board eligibility, business license, CAQH, DEA number, Clia lab waiver, medicare’s shifting rules, medicaid’s shifting rules, tricare’s rules, and 1300 insurance company’s shifting rules and medicine rejections and prior authorizations even for a medicine a person has been on for 20 years.
  10. Worrying about small business costs as reimbursement costs drop: health insurance. Retirement. L&I. Employees. Malpractice insurance, small business insurance, the lease, staff costs.
  11.  Discussing and updating medical supplies and equipment, office supplies and equipment
  12. Updating clinic policies and paperwork per the change in laws. Have you read the Obamacare Law? Over 3000 pages. HIPAA. The DEA. Recommendations from the CDC, federal laws, state laws, internet security, patient financial and social security security.
  13. Trying to track what we collect. That is, say I bill $200.00. Since I accept insurance, the insurer will tell me what is the “allowed” amount per me contracting as a “preferred” provider. The “allowed” amount is really the contracted amount. Then the insurance company either pays it or says that the patient has a deductible. This could be $150 per year or $5000.00 per year. With medicare I then have to bill a secondary if the person has it and then anything left is billed to the patient. Oh, don’t forget copays, if they don’t pay that we have to bill it. So to get paid the complete contracted amount, aka “allowed” we may have to submit bills to two or even three insurances and the patient. We might be done two months after the patient is seen.
  14. Trying to convince recalcitrant computers and printers and equipment that indeed, it doesn’t have a virus, oh, or maybe it does, and fixing them.

My goals are to give excellent care AND to work 40 hours a week. Half of my patients are over 65 and many are complicated, with multiple chronic illnesses.  When I saw patients 4 days a week for 8 hours, with an hour hospital clinic meeting every day, I also spent at least an additional 8 hours and more trying to keep up with most of those things above. The average family practice physician makes more money than I do. But they also report working 60-70 hours a week on average. I do not think this is good for patients or doctors or doctors’ families or their spouses or children. The primary care burn out report rose from 40% to 50% of the doctors surveyed.

We need change, we need it now, and we need to be realistic about how much work is healthy.

When I was still delivering babies, women would ask if I could guarantee doing the delivery. I would explain: “We do call for up to 72 hours. If you go into labor at the end of that, you would rather have a physician who is awake and rested and has good judgement. Besides, I’m a bit grumpy after 72 hours. ” And they agreed that they really don’t want an exhausted burned out physician.

I took the photograph of Mordechai, our skeleton, today. She is genuine plastic. I wish she would do some of the paperwork, but at least she lightens things by making us laugh. She gets various wigs and outfits and sometimes comes out to show a patient a hip joint.

I am NOT attracted to paperwork. I think I am repelled. For the Daily Prompt: magnetic.

 

moon in morning

For the weekly Photo Prompt: Ohh, Shiny!

But, you say, it isn’t shiny.

No, it isn’t. Because even shiny things today are not distracting me from my grief about our country, the lack of ethical morals in our government and twitterpated tweets going out daily.

And here is the moon watching as the sun rises and light and warmth fall over the earth. The mood matches mine: quiet and still thinking of the dark and of love and of hatred and of grief.

Moon in mourning.

 

solitary tree and thought

Sunrise in Wisconsin last week.

My solitary thought this morning is about ethics. It does not matter what the other person has done, we still must be true to our ethical values. This means that a contractor can’t refuse to pay a worker. I am thinking of my own behavior but I am also thinking of the White House. I want an ethical president, a president who takes responsibility, a president who does not blame others, a president who stands up for what is right. A president who put ethical values first. Not money. Not predation. Not fake news. Not lies. Not corporations over citizens. Citizens are people. A corporation is not a person.

I want an ethical president who will not lie.