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

Doctors don’t charge for phone calls

Doctors don’t charge for phone calls.

Attorneys do: they charge in fifteen minute increments.

Doctors don’t charge for phone calls: oh, but actually that is a myth. And it’s raising the cost of health care in the US because the insurance companies are using this myth to their advantage. Not only is this costing every one of us more money, but it is driving doctors out of practice. And it’s making patients bitter and angry at the doctor, when it is the insurance that should bear the blame…

Why do I say this?

A patient calls their health insurance. “I need x.”

The health insurance says, “Have your doctor’s office call for a prior authorization.” Now, we are definitely paying the health insurance to have someone say that to the patient.

The patient calls the doctor’s office and requests the prior authorization. There, a second person is being paid to get that phone call.

The doctor’s staff runs it by the doctor. The doctor says, yes, the patient needs that or no, I would like a visit to discuss this. More time that we pay for.

If the doctor says yes, the doctor’s office contacts the insurance by phone or on line to do a prior authorization. This means a different website for every one of 1300 insurance companies in the US. We are paying the doctor’s office staff to be on the phone and on the computer to fill out prior authorization forms to get permission from the insurance if your doctor agreed that you need x or that x would be helpful. We also are paying for all of those websites that the insurance companies have to slow down giving the patient care.

I don’t have an office staff to do this. I have a bare bones clinic so that I can spend more time with patients. I call the insurance myself with the patient in the room.

More than half the time the insurance company says that x is not covered under the patient’s plan.

But wait. The patient already called the insurance to ask if they could get x. And the insurance said have your doctor get prior authorization. So in the usual office, the patient is called and told that x is not covered. The patient is angry, because they think that the doctor’s office has messed up the prior authorization. The insurance does not want to tell the patient it is not covered. So our costs spiral up and up and up, because the insurance has realized that they would rather have the patient angry at the doctor’s office, not the insurance.

And we all are paying for it with our health care dollars…..

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.

Prior authorization: call for comments

The Washington State Medical Association has called for comments on prior authorization rule making for insurance companies. https://wafp.net/prior-authorization-rulemaking-oic-call-for-comment/

Here is my reply:

I have a small solo family practice clinic. My business plan was arranged to spend more time with patients. I have an office manager and no nurse, no back office.

Thus all prior authorizations are done by me, with the patient in the room. Often patients have talked to their insurance company the day before and have been told “your doctor’s office needs to call us”. More than half the time, when I call, we are told that the patient’s insurance company does not cover that service. The patient says, “But I talked to your company yesterday.” The insurance representative responds: “I only talk to physician’s offices, that is another part of the company that speaks to patients.”

This is triangulation, where in the “standard” office, the patient has called their insurance. They call the doctor’s office as instructed by the insurance. The doctor’s office requests prior authorization. The insurance says it is not covered. The doctor’s office notifies the patient, who then assumes that the doctor’s office did something wrong, not that it’s not covered.

This is unacceptable.

I have stopped telling insurance companies that I am face to face with the patient, because some representatives say “I am not allowed to talk to patients, take me off speaker phone.” I document the name of the insurance person in the chart, the length of time for the phone call and I bill for time: counseling and coordination of care. Review by coders say that this is legal.

I suggest that every WSMA physician pick one day to call a prior authorization themselves with the patient present. This would reduce the insurance company triangulation.

I think that insurance companies should be required to tell a patient if a service is not covered, and not be allowed to say, “have your doctor’s office call us” for a service that is not covered.


Feel free to send YOUR comments to the WSMA! https://www.insurance.wa.gov/secure-forms/rules-coordinator/

I like slugs better than health insurance companies.

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.

Fraud in medicine: prior authorization II

The insurance corporations and the culture of business fraud is destroying the United States economy and allopathic medicine.

I am a US physician who calls for prior authorizations myself, with the patient in the room, and bills the insurance company for the time “counseling and coordination of care” by the minute.

I called with patient X, to get authorization for a medicine, last week. We had already tried by me filling out on line forms, twice, and faxing paperwork to the insurance company. Now I was calling them. His insurance card has a separate number for “Rx”, that is, prescriptions. I call the number.

Call 1 takes me through a phone tree, puts me on hold and then hangs up on me.
Call 2 takes me through the same phone tree: enter my national provider identification number, my tax id number, the patient id number, etc. I reach a human. She asks for my number in case we are cut off. I give it to her. I also confirm my clinic address, national provider number, tax id, fax number, patient id number, date of birth, patient name. She will call back if we are cut off. We are cut off. No call back.
Call 3 takes me through the same phone tree. It hangs up on me before we reach a human.
Call 4 takes me…….we reach a human. He takes my number. He promises to call back if we are cut off. Repeat previous information. We are cut off.

No. Call. Back.

Ok. I call the insurance company main number and explain. Meanwhile I am documenting each call in my patient’s chart. The insurance company explains that the patient is in a Union and the Union has it’s own prescription program which has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY. I insist that as the patient’s insurance company, they must help. They give me the number of the Union headquarters and put me on hold to transfer me. We wait five minutes. Then we hang up.

I call the Union. I reach a person. I explain that my patient needs prior authorization and we can’t reach the Rx company and we called the insurance company. The Union person kicks it upstairs and swears someone will call me. Tomorrow.

I apologize to my patient for the continued delay. I document in the chart: billing by time one hour face to face counseling and coordination of care making SIX PHONE CALLS TO TRY TO GET PRIOR AUTHORIZATION AND UNABLE TO. I express frustration in my note. I hope the company reviews the clinic note regarding the high bill, because I would be very happy to think that the insurance company might get upset at the Rx company for costing them money.

This is fraud. This costs United States citizens $82,000.00 per provider per year to have people sitting on the phone, on the computer, trying to get prior authorization approval from the insurance companies. The contract that I sign with an insurance corporation to be a “preferred provider” basically says that the insurance company can change their policy whenever they want. There are 500 plus insurance policies. Do you think you could keep up with every policy’s changing rules? I can’t. Nor can my patients. It is in the interest of the insurance corporation to make it difficult and incomprehensible.

I am told that Donald Trump knows how to run a business. I think he does, by US corporate standards, which means that the business is dishonest. I am not in the land of the free and the brave and the independent. I am in the land of corporate dishonesty and lies and I am angry.

I like my patients and I like medicine. But I hate United States business practice: rob from the poor and the sick to enrich the rich.