family

We visited both of my paternal aunts and uncle in Virginia in the last few days. The picture is one of my aunts and my daughter.

I also took a picture of these photographs.

Joan, Malcolm, Patricia Ottaway
Patricia, Malcolm and Joan Ottaway

My father is in the center, with my two aunts, taken at different dates. The one of my father is in 1938 or 39. Aunt Pat is the same one who is with my daughter.

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.

 

My clinic and the state of medicine

January has been the busiest month in clinic since I returned to work in April of 2015 after the ten month systemic strep A hiatus. It took another ten months for my fast twitch muscles to start working again. I was working “half time” for the first ten months after I returned.

Right now, though, my receptionist and I are about maxed out. We saw 4-8 people a day in January, averaging 6.5, and with Martin Luther King’s birthday off. I see patients five days a week, try to stop by 2 pm and then do paperwork until 4 or 5. Lately I have been going in at 7 am, because I am feeling behind. Three very sick patients, one who has been sick and hospitalized nearly weekly since October, are each taking 1-2 hours a week and I can’t get to the routine paperwork. Labs, referral letters that need to go out, reading referral letters that come back and updating the med list, xrays, pathology reports….

Yes, we could hire someone to scan it all faster, but scanning it does not mean it has been read. And it is me that has to read it. One of the complex patients has five specialists and four different electronic medical records are involved. I had to call the rheumatologist, because the doc was not responding to the patient’s calls. I had sent the rheumatologist letters and updates: turned out the doc didn’t read any of them until the patient missed a visit because their car broke down. And another of the specialists said they “didn’t have the notes” from the other hospital. I wrote a letter to ALL of the specialists and said, the notes are in there because I faxed them to our hospital myself. Unfortunately scanned notes are difficult to find in the EPIC electronic medical record. Ironically both hospitals use EPIC but the two versions do not share their information. This is REALLY REALLY BAD. It is bad for patient care and bad for this specific patient. Not only that, but when one of the specialists orders something, the report doesn’t get sent to me as well as them. I tracked down labs and I tracked down an xray report and sent him back to the hospital at that visit. I do not know if the hospitalization could have been averted, but….I’ve told the patient and spouse that if ANYONE orders a test, call me. So I can track down the results.

So it looks like five clinic days a week, seeing up to eight patients a day, will take forty hours or more. This is a rural family practice clinic. I cannot see any way to see more and actually keep up with the information coming in with my patient population, half of whom are over 65. And an additional one is in hospice and another on palliative care.

A fellow doc has retired from medicine, in her 50s. She is “med-peds”: internal medicine-pediatrics, which is sort of like family practice except they don’t do obstetrics, less gynecology and less orthopedics. I hear that she is retiring because every 20 minute clinic visit generates an hour of paperwork. The hospital considers 4 days a week, 18 patients a day, full time. Ok, that is 72 patients a week, seen in four 8 hour shifts. 32 hours plus 72 hours of paperwork. One hundred and four hours. Can’t be done.

I dropped to 3.5 days in 2009 when the hospital said we had to see 18 a day. So 28 hours, 63 patients. 28 hours plus 63 hours. That is 91 hours a week. I still could not keep up with the information coming back from specialists, labs, xrays, pathology reports, medicine refill requests, requests for those evil ride on carts, spurious nonsense from insurance companies, and families calling about their loved ones. All ten fingers in holes in the dyke and 90 other holes spouting water.

Something has to give and something IS giving. Care is falling through the cracks and providers are quitting. I am not quitting, I just am not making anything anywhere near to the “average family practice salary” in the US. And we hear that burnout is now at 54% of primary care doctors. Hello, US. If we don’t go to single payer, you might have to ask your naturopath to take out your appendix. And good luck with that.

If I see 7 per day, five days a week: that is 35 patients. I do longer visits and more paperwork in the room, so call it 45 minutes of paperwork per patient. I see patients from 8:30 to 12 and 1 to 2. 4.5 hours five days = 22.5 hours plus (35 patients x 45 minutes)= 26 hours and now I am at 48.5 hours a week. And then if I have three really sick ones: more.

If we hire help, they have to be paid. Then I need to see more patients in order to generate that pay. Then there is more paperwork that I can’t keep up with. An infinite loop.

Let’s look at my clinic population verses county and state.
Clinic: 2.4% under age 18
20.7% age 19-50
28% age 50 to 64
48.9% over 65
Jefferson county (2014): 16.7% under age 19
51.5 age 19-65
31.8% over age 65
Washington state (2014): 29% under age 19
56.9% age 19-65
14.1% over age 65

We have an older county and nearly half my patients are over 65, and 77.9% of my clinic patients are over age 50.

And I should be reading all the new guidelines as they come out. The newest hypertension guidelines say that the blood pressure should be taken standing in all patients over age 60. Those guidelines are now a couple of years old. My patients tell me that I am the ONLY doctor that they have taking their blood pressure standing. The cardiologists aren’t doing it either. Just this week there are articles in the AAFP journal explaining the blood pressure guidelines. But the doctors need time to READ the articles. The guidelines themselves tend to be 400 pages of recommendations and explanations and a list of hundreds of studies reviewed since the last guidelines. And ok, there are also hundreds of guidelines. On blood pressure, who should be on aspirin, what to do for heart pump failure, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, toenail fungus.

https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/
guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Index
Ok, that is a list of 96 guidelines, which doesn’t even include the hypertension ones. The hypertension guidelines are called JNC 8, for the eighth version:
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
Here is the two page hypertension JNC 8 algorithm: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf. Memorize it and the other guidelines, ok?
And here is the Guideline Clearing House: https://www.guideline.gov/

This week another clinic suddenly closed and we have gotten walk in patients and calls. About eight so far. We are booked for new patients out to April…..

I took this photograph from the beach as the sun set, camera zoomed. Different mountains were lit up while others were in shadow as the sun went down. This is Mount Baker and friends….

Slow medicine

I am practicing slow medicine, just like the slow food movement.

It took a year to set up my clinic, because I wanted time with people more than anything. And how could I do that?

Low overhead, of course. The lower the expenses, the more time I would have with patients.

I did math and based it on medicare. I estimated what medicare would pay. I dropped obstetrics, can’t afford the malpractice and anyhow, the hospital was hostile by then. That cuts malpractice by two thirds. And I chose not to have a nurse, because people are the most expensive thing. Just me and a receptionist. And a biller once a week and a computer expert who rescues us when we kill another printer or need new and bigger computer brains for ICD 10.

My estimates were on target except that it took three times as long to build up patient numbers as I thought. Ah. Oops. I was advised to borrow twice what I thought I needed and that was good advice, because I had not counted on my sister dying or my father dying or me getting sick for a while…. but so far the clinic remains open.

Slow medicine. I schedule an hour with a new medicare patient or anyone new and complicated. People who say they aren’t complicated are lying, but we schedule 45 minutes for them. And for the really complicated, we have 45 minutes for follow ups. Most visits are 25 minutes: the only visit that is less is to take out stitches.

What does slow medicine allow? In the end it allows people to speak about things that they don’t know they need to talk about. A friend dying. Fears about a grandchild. Family fighting. The dying polar bears. The environment. This difficult election. And sometimes I think that freedom to speak about anything is the most theraputic part of the visit.

I had one woman last year who established care. Complicated. I think she was in her 70s. And the medical system had made mistakes and hurt her. Delayed diagnosis, delayed care. But she was laughing by the end of the visit. She stood in the hall and said, “This is the first time I can remember laughing in a doctor’s office. This is the first time in years that I can remember leaving with hope. And you haven’t DONE anything!”

….anything, except give time and listen.

Fraud in Medicine: Heartwood

Here in my neck of the woods, people are continuing to quit medicine. Two  managers who have worked in the clinics eaten by the hospital are leaving on the same day, after 30 years. And another woman doctor, around my age, is retiring from medicine. She is NOT medicare age.

Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic is publishing articles about how to turn older physicians into “heartwood”.

http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00469-3/fulltext

“As trees age, the older cells at the core of the trunk lose some of their ability to conduct water. The tree allows these innermost cells to retire…. This stiffened heartwood core…continues to help structurally support the tree…. Here a tree honors its elderly cells by letting them rest but still giving them something meaningful to do. We non-trees could take a lesson from that.” Spike Carlsen

Oh, wow, let’s honor the elderly. Even elderly physicians. Instead of what, killing them? Currently we dishonor them, right?

But what is the core of the issue? Skim down to “Decreased patient contact”:

“Already, many physicians are choosing to decrease their work to less than full-time, with resultant decreased patient encounters and decreased institutional revenue. Prorating compensation to match full-time equivalent worked will aid in financial balance, but the continued cost of benefits will remain. However, when that benefit expense is compared with the expense of recruiting a new physician (estimated by some to approach $250,000 per physician), the cost of supporting part-time practicing physicians becomes more attractive.”

Ok, so the core of the matter. “Decreased institutional revenue” and the employer still has to pay BENEFITS. NOTHING ABOUT THE QUALITY OF CARE FOR PATIENTS.

Again, the problem is still that you can’t really “do” a patient in twenty minutes, and that full time is really 60 or more hours a week. To be thorough, I  have to absorb the clinical picture for each patient: chief complaint, history of present illness, past medical history, allergies, family history, social history (this includes tobacco, drugs and alcohol), vital signs, review of systems and physical exam. And old records, x-rays, pathology reports, surgical reports, laboratory reports. I fought with my administration about the 18 patient a day quota. I said: ok, I have a patient every twenty minutes for 4 hours in the morning, a meeting scheduled at lunch, four hours in the afternoon. When am I supposed to call a specialist, do refills, read the lab results, look at xray results, call a patient at home to be sure they are ok? The administration replied that I should only spend 8 minutes with the patient and then I would have 12 minutes between patients to do paperwork. I replied that they’d picked the Electronic Medical Record telling us that we could do the note in the room. I could, after three years of practice. But it nearly always took me twenty-five minutes. I would hit send and our referral person had so much experience that she could have the referral approved before my patient made it to the front desk. BUT I felt like I was running as fast as I possibly could all day on a treadmill. Also, the hour lunch meetings pissed me off. I get 20 minutes with a patient and they get an hour meeting? Hell, no! I set my pager for a 20 minute alarm every time I went into a meeting and I walked out when it buzzed. I needed to REST!

After a few weeks of treadmill, I dropped a half clinic day. But of course that didn’t go into effect for another month and I was tired and ran late daily. And every 9 hour clinic day generated two hours of paperwork minimum: nights, weekends, 5 am when I would not get interrupted and could THINK. Do you really want a doctor to review your lab work when they are really tired and have worked for 11 hours or 24 hours? Might they miss something? It might have been best if I had been quiet and just cancelled two people a day, since the front desk knew I was not coming out of any room until I was done, but I argued instead.

The point is, you would like to see a doctor who listens and is thorough. You do not actually want a medical system where there all these other people who read your patient history forms and enter them in to the computer and your doctor tries to find the time to read it, like drinking from a fire hose. If we want doctors and patients to be happy, then doctors need time with patients and we need to off the insurance companies who add more and more and more complicated requirements for the most minimal care. One system, one set of rules, we’ll fight over the details, medicare for all.