hypertension: The 2017 Clinical Guidelines

A visual guide to the new hypertension guidelines: https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/hypertension/69399
In writing: http://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2017/11/09/11/41/2017-guideline-for-high-blood-pressure-in-adults
I don’t watch television news, so I always hear about these things from patients first. “What do you think of the new hypertension guidelines?”

“Haven’t heard about them yet, so I don’t know.” Seems pretty embarrassing really, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be alerted as a doctor before it hits the news?

First of all, these guidelines are NOT JNC 9.

What is JNC 9, you ask?

One of the messy complications of medicine for people in the US and in the world, is that there is not ONE set of guidelines. There are multiple sets of guidelines. Take mammograms, for example. The US Preventative Task Force* said that the evidence in their review could not differentiate between yearly and every other year mammograms. They said you could do it every other year. The American Cancer Society and the Susan Koman Foundation yapped and had different guidelines, do it yearly. So as a physician I have to not only pay attention to the guidelines but know who is putting them out. The radiologists wanted yearly mammograms too, surprise, surprise.

And do you think some of it is driven by money? Well, it’s the US.

JNC 8 is the Eighth Joint National Committee and put out guidelines in 2014. Their job is to review all of the big hypertension studies since JNC 7 and put out new guidelines. JNC 8 took over a year, was multidisciplinary, and the final document was 400+ pages.

They said that if a patient was over 60, their blood pressure should be taken standing up, and the goal was under 150/90. Under 60, sitting, goal under 140/90. Normal is 120/70 and below.

Then there are pages and pages of recommendations about which medicines to use and in special circumstances, that is: diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, etc, etc.

The cardiologists promptly started yelling about how JNC 8 is wrong and they put out a huge study saying that people have less heart attacks if their blood pressure is 125/80 or below.

But… the heart is not the only organ in the body. My patients are 77% over age 50 and 48% over 65. Once a person hits 80, their blood pressure may drop when they stand up. Most do. And low blood pressure, well, it’s bad for the over 80 crowd to get poor blood flow to the brain or to the kidneys or to faint and break things. That is why JNC 8 is multidisciplinary: because we need geriatrics and psychiatry and ortho and family medicine to be part of the guidelines.

So these NEW and IMPROVED guidelines. Well, who is putting them out? American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and a bunch of other mostly heart related organizations. And they are comparing it to JNC 7, not JNC 8. JNC 8 is being ignored. This document is a mere 192 pages, with the “short” version being 112 pages.

It says that blood pressure 130/80 to 140/90 is stage I hypertension, not prehypertension, and that we should treat it with lifestyle changes. Drugs are still to be recommended at anything over 140/90, though honestly, I start with lifestyle there too. Over 180/120 is now “hypertensive crisis”, consult your doctor immediately. 140-180/90-120 is stage II hypertension.

How will this change my practice? I am still thinking about the new guidelines and who has skin in the game. The AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice) put out a link to the guidelines and then a cautious comment to the effect of “We are studying how we should respond to this.”

Before this came out, I would tell people the JNC 8 goals. I do stand the people over 60 up, most of the time. I also tell people that the cardiologists want their blood pressure lower. And then that the cardiologists mostly ignore hypertension and cholesterol guidelines anyhow. If I follow the guidelines and then the patient sees a cardiologist, the cardiologist usually changes something. Guidelines be damned.

It comes down partly to a patient’s goal. I have people come in and say, “I don’t want to die of dementia!!” I see that as an opening. “What DO you want to die from?” People have different ideals. Some say, “I don’t want to die!” but then many do think about it. Sometimes this changes their ideas about what they want treated and what they don’t want treated.

Not everyone’s blood pressure drops in their 80s. Some people develop hypertension in their 90s. I tell them. They say, “I’m not taking a drug!”

I reply, “Let’s talk about strokes.”

They usually are not afraid of sudden death, but they don’t want the disability of a stroke. Many choose medicine after all.

One of the issues with guidelines is complexity. I could spend 20 minutes with a patient just talking about hypertension guidelines and choices of drugs and side effects and why they should be on an ace inhibitor or ARB if they have diabetes…. and there are guidelines for EVERYTHING. Sometimes conferences feel like all the specialists yelling: only half of diabetics are controlled, only one third of hypertensives are controlled, family doctors aren’t screening for urinary incontinence enough, osteoporosis, lung cancer, stop smoking! And then what my patient really needs is to talk about their adult child, in jail for addiction, and how frightened they are about overdose and the grandchild and the future…..

JNC-8 flowchart: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf
JNC-8: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
*lots of guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/

Fraud in medicine: why “help” won’t help

This article:  Doctors wasting over two thirds of their time doing paperwork showed up on Facebook yesterday.

The problem is that “hiring people to help with paperwork” will not help.

Why? We’ve already done that and it’s a huge mess.

For example: I was referred to an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist at one of the Seattle Mecca hospitals. I had to travel two hours and then in the waiting room I was given a four page patient history to fill out. I filled it out. I had been referred by a Neurologist, who sent a letter and note. After I filled out the forms, HIPAA and “you will pay if your stupid insurance won’t” and address and consent to be treated and yada yada…. I waited.

At last I was shown to a very luxurious room. There a medical assistant asked me many of the same questions that I’d filled out on the form and which were already in the letter and note from the neurologist. She typed these into the EMR- electronic medical record. Then she left. And I waited.

At last the distinguished otolaryngologist entered the room. He said, “I see that you are here for chronic sinus infections.”

“No.” I said. “I am not.”

Silence.

“I see that you did not read anything I filled out and I am a physician and I drove two hours to see you.”

Silence. “Um.” he said. “Uh, why are you here?”

“Strep A sepsis twice and we want to know if my tonsils should be removed.”

Right. So… all that paper you fill out before the physician saw you? Yeah, like, my impression is that physicians don’t read it until after you leave. And maybe mostly don’t EVER read it.

I plan to find out the next time I have to see a specialist. I will write “you don’t read this anyhow, so I am not filling this shit out” on page 2 and see if the specialist notices. Bet you money they don’t. Though when they yell at their staff for not entering my medication allergies or the review of systems, they might notice.

So… I am a primary care physician. What do I do?

A new patient has one form: name, address, insurance information, hipaa and “you pay if your insurance doesn’t”.

I do the health history myself in the room entering it in the first visit, which takes 45 minutes to an hour. WHOA! INEFFICIENT! Nope. Actually it is brutally efficient. For four reasons:

One — I enter it myself and ask the questions myself and I am really fast at it.

Two — now I know the person, because I went over all of it: complaint, history of present illness, past medical history, social history, allergies, review of systems, and I ask people to bring all their pills including supplements to the first visit and I enter them too. And I look at the bottles. I don’t like vitamins with 6667% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of any vitamin, lots of vitamins now have herbs in them too and I would not recommend taking cow thymus, labeled as bovine thymus.

Three — Now I don’t have to spend time reading forms filled out in the waiting room or a history entered by someone else, because I don’t have time to do that anyhow. I did it all in the visit. I will still have to read old records and any labs or xray results or consult notes or pathology reports and hey, where do you think the waiting room paperwork falls in that priority list? Yeah, like never.

Four — I hand people a copy of the note as they leave and ask them to read it and to bring corrections if I got it wrong. They go from thinking that I am a drone staring at the laptop to saying, “Hey, she typed nearly everything I said (and she has three spelling errors).”

Because the truth is that medicine is really complicated now and it just doesn’t help to have more people “do the paperwork”. I have to read the notes and labs and reports myself, because I am the physician.

There are three things that WOULD help:

1. One set of rules. Hello, the insurance companies, all 500ish of them send us postcards and emails every week saying “Hey, we’ve changed what we cover, meaning we cover less and we have new improved and more complicated prior authorization rules! Go to our website to read all about it.” Guess how often I have time to do that. NEVER NEVER NEVER. I read medicare’s rules. So medicare for all, single payer is partly to have ONE SET OF RULES. I can memorize miles of rules, but not if they are changing in 500 companies every week. Shell game. Also, prior authorization means “your insurance company is making your doctor fill out paperwork in hopes that they can delay or refuse the care your doctor thinks is best for you.”

2. One electronic medical record. Right now there are about 500 of them too and none of them talk to each other so we are all “paperless”. Ha. It’s worse than ever, because we get 100 pages or 200 or 300 of printed out electronic medical record for every single new patient. I need two more big file cabinets for my “paperless” office. Hong Kong did it in 9 months. What, are we wimps? Make a decision.

3. Standardization of lab and xray and home health and physical therapy and nursing home and rehab and hospital order forms. Because every stupid lab form is different: not only arranged differently but also the lab panels are different, the requirements for what that lab wants to fill the order is different and the results are arranged differently on the page. Hello. Stupid, right? Any efficiency expert would laugh.

And that’s how we could really help doctors help patients.

Dear Mr. Donald Trump

Two weeks ago I sent this letter to Mr. Trump and all of the presidential candidates. To date I have gotten a form letter from Mrs. Hilary Clinton.

Dear Mr. Donald Trump and all Presidential candidates:

Mr. Trump, I am a rural family practice physician, a woman, who owns and runs my own medical clinic. I take care of patients from age zero to 104. Currently my oldest is 98. I take medicare and most insurances, but not medicaid.

I am running into legal immorality across the board from health insurance corporations that are maximizing profits at the expense of my health care dollar, our taxes and my patients. I would like your advice.

For example, the Veterans Hospital contacted me in May of 2015 and asked me to accept Veterans Choice patients, veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA Hospital. I accepted. I have 6 veteran patients, who are very complicated. To date I have not been paid for one visit. Now, before you say this is the fault of our government, it isn’t. It is the private for profit government contractor Triwest who is not paying me. They have my notes and we have followed their instructions on how to submit bills. Would you advise me to drop these patients?

For example, my father died in 2014. I called the oxygen company to pick up 6 tanks of oxygen. Then I found 8 more. I gently inquired why he had 14 tanks. The company said that his medical orders said that he should wear it continuously, so they delivered it. “Medicare paid for it.” they said. Ah. Well, I kept the other 8 tanks, because it is my and my father’s oxygen in those tanks: the company can have the tanks back when they are empty.

For example, the head of the sleep apnea supply company came to see me. He said, “You are getting in the way of your patients getting needed equipment.” I said, “Really? How?” “You only allowed a refill of one of the 8 necessary pieces of CPAP tubing instead of signing off on the whole group so we can fill as needed.” “Ah.” I said, “Actually my patients are tired of you mailing them 8 pieces of plastic that are filling up their closets and they don’t want extra plastic crap.” He mails it at the interval allowed by medicare, never mind whether the patient wants or needs it.

For example, I called a patient’s insurance to get a prior authorization last week for a limited sinus CT. They no longer do prior authorizations. They will decide whether to cover the CT scan once they read my notes. I asked if there was ANY way to see if it would be approved. They offered to let me send a letter to a PO Box in Wisconsin. My patient was sick, Mr. Trump. What do you suggest the patient and I do?

This is all legal. But it is not moral. So, Mr. Trump, where do you stand? Is our country’s highest value free enterprise and profit at any cost, no matter how many of our seniors are legally ripped off? Or do we have morals that health care and our elderly are important and need to be protected from legal but predatory businesses.

Please let me know, Mr. Trump. I would rather stick with my small clinic in the United States. At this point I would be financially and emotionally better off working as a temporary doctor internationally. I am sure that there is immorality internationally, but I will be less ashamed when it is not MY country.

Thank you.

 

Fraud in medicine: prior authorization III

I see a patient who has had prolonged sinus symptoms AND her right upper molar has been irritated for weeks, but then Saturday it started hurting. She saw her dentist. The dentist did x-rays and said it’s her sinus. “But my tooth hurts too.”

On exam, her gum is bright red above the tooth, but not swollen as it can be with an abscess. No fever. No bright red spot over the maxillary sinus.

I call our independent radiology service and ask for a limited sinus CAT scan. She is off on Mondays only, it is Monday, she is out of town next Monday. Can they do it today? Yes, but she needs a prior authorization.

I call her insurance, after looking up the CPT code for sinus CT on google. As usual I have to enter numbers before I talk to a human:
patient insurance id number
my tax id number
my national provider index number
and others until I get a human.
Then I have to give the numbers AGAIN because the insurance company deliberately makes it inefficient, even though I have entered them into the phone it doesn’t transfer to the representative and you know that it COULD.
I give my name
patient’s name
patient’s date of birth
clinic address
clinic phone
clinic fax number
tax id
national provider index number
and finally explain: we need a prior authorization for a limited sinus CT and she has five ICD 10 symptom codes.
“She doesn’t need a prior authorization.” says the rep.
“What?” I say, “So it’s covered.”
“We don’t guarantee coverage, but we don’t give prior authorization.”
“What do you mean, you don’t guarantee coverage. I am calling to check.”
“We review the chart afterwards and THEN decide if it’s covered.”
“No. That isn’t good enough. I want to speak to someone who will check the codes and tell us if it will be covered.”
“I will have to transfer you to the (patient something).”
“Fine. Transfer our information please too.”
We go on hold. Time passes.
We are back to a recording:

TALKING TO A REPRESENTATIVE DOES NOT GUARANTEE COVERAGE OF A TEST. PRESS ONE IF YOU ACCEPT THIS.

No two. No other options are offered. I press one.
I talk to the new representative. “I have five diagnosis codes and want to know if the sinus CT will be covered. She is off and they can do it today. She is only off on Mondays.”
“We don’t do prior authorizations.”
“Isn’t there ANY WAY we can find out?”
“You can mail a letter to a PO box and we will review it and let you know.”
I am ….. hard to describe…. my head hurts.
“Would you like the PO box address?”
“How long does that take? Yes we want it. Don’t they have a fax?”
We get the fax number too. I hang up and look helplessly at my patient. “I think it will be covered. I would recommend we do it.”
“Ok.” She says. Her face and tooth hurt.

I call the independent radiology center and set it up for 2 pm.

They call back in the afternoon. She has a sinus infection and the tooth is bad too, they don’t quite look connected. I call the Ear Nose and Throat specialist who wants her on three weeks of augmentin if she tolerates it and then to see her. I thank him and get it rolling.

But….. ok, so the insurance companies contract with me and the patient say that they can change the benefits any time they want. They “notify” me with postcards with online links. Like I have time to read and remember the changes for …. 50 different plans? There are over 500 in the US.

When are we going to stop letting insurance companies take our money and refuse care and refuse to pay the physician and the radiologist? Medicare for all, one set of rules, I COULD LEARN THEM. I can memorize huge amounts of data: I am already busily memorizing the ICD10 diagnosis codes. There are only 48,000.

And I don’t know yet if her insurance will pay for the sinus CT…..

The picture is from Lake Matinenda in Ontario: no computers at our cabin, no outlets, phones mostly don’t work…. heaven.

I will fight no more

I am tired of fighting
I am tired of fighting for justice
I am tired of fighting discrimination
I am tired of fighting for health care for all

I am tired of fighting insurance companies
I am tired of fighting medicare’s contractee
I am tired of fighting for prior authorization
I am tired

I will fight no more forever

I heal
I am a healer
I am trying to heal patients
I am trying to help patients heal

I am a healer
I help heal cancer
I help heal heart disease
I help heal PTSD
I help

heal cancer
heal heart disease
heal PTSD
heal addiction

I am a healer

heal the insurance company
heal the medicare contractor
heal the pharmaceutical company
heal

heal anxiety
heal depression
heal addiction

I will fight no more forever

I heal

The legs in the photograph don’t look delicate, do they? They are strong and beautiful and powerful. I took this at the National Junior Synchronized Swimming Competition in 2009. Those girls on the edge of being women are strong, they are a team, they work and play together. They have the skills and the strength to lift their bodies out of the water that far using their arms… think about the practice and strength needed to do that. We all want to heal and create fun and play and beauty. Let’s work as a team.

also on everything2.com

fraud in medicine: prior authorization I

Prior authorization is where, in the insane United States medical system, the doctor orders a test or medicine. The insurance requires “prior authorization”, that is, the doctor or their office have to call or go on line to fill out forms to get the prior authorization. Otherwise the test or therapy or medicine or even surgery will not be covered by the insurance and the patient eats the bill. Over 60% of bankruptcies in the US are now over medical bills*.

In most doctors’ offices, the prior authorization is done in the back rooms. Employees are on the computer or on the phone trying to obtain the permission, the code number, the magic words that will help the patient. This is a HUGE business and a scam as well. Physicians for a National Health Care Program estimated in 2011 that it costs at least $82,975 PER PHYSICIAN PER YEAR to have a person calling.* Now, there is a person on the other end receiving that call or going over the forms. That person is paid with your insurance premium. Is that health care? It seems more like a barrier to health care. Let’s look at an example.

I do my prior authorizations in the room with the patient. I only have a front desk person, no back room people, and anyhow, if I do it face to face with the patient, I can charge the insurance company for the call. It is face to face counseling and coordination of care. I don’t get paid well for this, but it’s worth it for the patient education.

Yesterday I called for a patient. The insurance company first has a recording that tells me it is recording this conversation. I am too, in the chart note. Then it reminds me I could do all this on line. Well, that is sort of true. I could, but every insurance company has a different website, they all require logins and passwords and it would take me hours to learn them all. Nope, not doing that. After the message it says: “Please enter the physicians NPI number.” I do. Then it leads me through choices: confirm the patient is insured, check the status of a prior authorization, appeal a prior authorization, initiate a prior authorization. That one.
At 3 minutes 50 seconds, I get a human. We are on speaker phone.
“This is Rex. You are calling for prior authorization?”
“Yes. This is Dr. Lizard. Mr. X is in the room.”
“Please spell the doctor’s name.” They are not used to doctors calling.
“Please give the NPI number.” (ok, we typed that in. But every time you are transferred, you have to give all of the information again. I am not kidding.)
“Please give your clinic address. Please give your clinic phone number. Please give your clinic tax ID number. Please give your clinic fax number.”
I do.
“Please give the patient id number. Please give the patient name. Please give the patient date of birth.”
Ok.
My patient is looking amazed. This is how insurance companies treat the doctors who call them? Yep.
“What medicine are you authorizing?”
“A compounded testosterone.”
“Please list the ingredients.”
Crap. didn’t think of that. “Ok, we want to authorize an fda approved one.”
That is entered. “What are the instructions for the patient?”
“What is the dose or strength?”
“What is the diagnosis?”
“He has a condition from birth with no testosterone.”
I have to spell the condition for Rex.
“What is the ICD 10 code?”
I give that.
“Have you measured a testosterone level?”
“Yes. It’s zero. His body doesn’t make testosterone. Since birth.”
My patient is rolling his eyes.
“The form will be sent for review and you should get a fax within 24-72 hours regarding the authorization. Here is a number for tracking.”
“Thank you, we are recording this phone call as face to face counseling and coordination of care in the chart.”
Phone call is 13 minutes and 50 seconds. That is a fast one, actually. Most are 25-30 minutes and I fought for an hour once when a patient’s prescription coverage was cancelled.

I wish that every doctor in the country would do one prior authorization on the phone once a week with the patient in the room. The doctors’ heads would blow off. They might finally see what the current system is doing and how the insurance companies throw more and more and more barriers up to refuse people care.

And how is it a scam? One way is that the patient calls the insurance. The insurance has people who only talk to patients. That person says, “Have your doctors office call for a prior authorization.” The patient calls the doctor’s office. The doctors office calls the insurance, but they are talking to a different branch of the insurance company. That branch tells the doctors office “We don’t cover that.” The doctors office calls the patient, who then thinks that the doctor’s office has screwed up the prior authorization.

How do I know that? With the person in the room, the insurance tells me “No.” I have had patients say, “Your company told me yesterday that all I needed was for the doctor to call!” The insurance person replied, “I only talk to doctors. It is another part of the company that talks to patients.” I have also had an insurance person say “Take me off speaker phone, I am only allowed to talk to physician’s offices, not to patients.” Riiiiiight. I took him off but put him right back on. My patients are outraged and furious: at the insurance, not me. The insurance companies are doing brilliant business plan triangulation and I hope whoever thought it up and whoever allows it as a business plan roasts in hell. No, instead I hope that they wake up and realize how many people they are hurting and I hope that they turn and work to heal a broken sick system.
*http://www.pnhp.org/new_bankruptcy_study/Bankruptcy-2009.pdf
http://www.pnhp.org/sites/default/files/docs/Bankruptcy_Fact_Sheet.pdf
**http://www.pnhp.org/news/2011/august/us-doctors-administrative-costs-4-times-higher-than-in-canada
http://www.pnhp.org/news/2014/august/adventures-in-prior-authorization

I took the photograph at Lake Matinenda in August 2015. It is of a storm. A storm is here in medicine: people versus the corporations who prey on us. We need to heal the system and heal the fear and greed.

Fraud in medicine: medicare application

Medicare quit paying my clinic at the end of July, on the 31st.

I was still half time in clinic, we were interviewing a new receptionist as my receptionist of five years wanted to retire by August first. We got some sort of notification from medicare, but their letters are very cryptic.

My new receptionist was needing orientation and help and I was really tired after July. I redid the medicare application and sent it in. We continued to see medicare patients and turn in the bills.

Our medicare contractor is noridian. They sent us a cryptic letter saying that something was wrong with the application. This was, mind you, a renewal. I had been seeing medicare patients for five years in my clinic.

I call them. I am given a name and a number to identify the call. I have two Ptan numbers, one for me as a physician and a second for the clinic. The first call said that my personal Ptan application was correct but the clinic one wasn’t.

I did it again and mailed it. Second day air. He said that our payments should be released in 10-14 days.

Ten days. Nothing. Fourteen. Nothing. I am pulling from savings to run the clinic. I call a second time. Again I am given a name and a number. She said I had to CALL to get paid once the application was received. I said the first guy didn’t say that. She said another 10-14 days.

We wait. After ten days I call. A third number and person. Once again I have a cryptic email. I ask about the PTan number on the email, which is not my clinic’s Ptan number. Oh, says the man, that is what is wrong with your application. He says to do form (numbernumbernumber B) not form (numbernumbernumber A). And it will be 10-14 days after they receive it.

I do it AGAIN. I do notice that all of the old copies of the form in our file have the PTan numbers wrong. Weird. They have been paying me for five years.

Ten days. I call a fourth time. She says that it will be 30 days not 10 to 14 until medicare lets me know if my application is correct. Or they might pay me after 10-14 days. They aren’t, so I argue that something must still be wrong. What is it? She can’t tell me. I want a supervisor. She says that I can talk to a supervisor in 10-14 days. We figure out that the Ptan number on the application is correct. I say, “I am writing my congresswoman.” and hang up.

So I do. I find my Senator’s email and I write to her. I have been a rural family practice doctor for 25 years and I saw a 98 year old yesterday and a 91 year old today and I LIKE my elderly patients, but I have HAD it with medicare, at least with the contractor noridian that is running medicare for my state. I list the phone call dates and names and identifying numbers and I say FIX IT because otherwise I am for the first time in 25 years seriously considering quitting medicare.

Two days later noridian sends an email saying they are releasing my payments.

The next day we get a direct deposit for $9000.00. That is a START.

One week later we get a call from noridian explaining what is wrong with our application. Not just one thing. Noridian doesn’t seem to have a copy of our business license from five years ago. We have to put the personal Ptan on page xgyb-14. They want details about the nursing home. Do I do home visits?

The noridian person explains that our application has actually been wrong for five years, but now they are getting audited so they have to get everything cleaned up.

So THEY have KNOWN it was wrong for five years, but held my payments since July, while they try to get their act together and tell me what the hell is wrong with it?

I want to be paid INTEREST for all the time I have spent on the phone and redoing the cryptic application.

And many thanks to my congresswoman, for keeping my clinic open.

I took the picture at the Kinetic Sculpture Festival here in September. The outfits make more sense than dealing with noridian, that’s for sure….

first posted on everything2.com on 11/30/15