Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Think the Tide is Turning

It would take a lot for me to go back into outpatient medicne.  More than I think the beancounters are willing to concede.  Nonetheless, in the short time since I opted out of Primary Care, I sense a change in the national discourse.  I am hearing less and less about the problem of the uninsured, and more and more about the pending disaster of those-with-insurance-with-nowhere-to-go.  While most of the information in this article is not new to most of us, it does highlight that the crisis is growing if a major metropolitan area is starting to worry.

Rural communities have had trouble keeping doctors since before I went to medical school.  But the pool of primary care physicians has shrunk enough that larger and larger rural communities have begun to feel the pinch.  I would venture to say that the new generation of physicians wants to live near more "stuff" than previous ones.  Just look at residency programs.  

Program directors of most internal medicine, pediatric and family practice programs have known for some time that recruitment to the Midwest (even to major cities) is inherently harder than places with 320 days of sunshine, oceans or mountains.  If you're going to work 120 hours a week for less pay than a tenured grocery store cashier, you might pick the hospital in paradise versus the one in the frozen tundra.

This is why I think that the loudest cries are going to start coming from the larger cities in the nation's midsection.  I'm not seeing a lot of Locum Tenens agencies begging for help in Manhattan or San Francisco.  
It's going to be a while before there aren't physicians willing to work for the CMS pittance in exchange for a 1-bedroom rental in a cultural epicenter.  But when we've reached the day when an above average primary care physician salary can't attract anyone to a smaller city with imperfect weather, but major sports teams, an art museum, a symphony, an international airport, and premium shopping... maybe that salary isn't so above average...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

AARP Has Sold Their Soul to the Devil

One of my new-found perks of being a hospitalist is being able to enjoy daytime television not related to contracting influenza or wasting an otherwise-perfect day off.  In nearly every way, I am the antithesis of the target demographic for the commercials -- particularly the AARP Medicare Supplement Insurance ad.

Normally I zone out during healthcare-related advertisements, but the commerical was on literally every 15 minutes.  Then I noticed the fine print at the bottom.  Then I became quite irritated.

The AARP Medicare Supplement Plan is  United HealthCare in disguise.  Yes.  The insurance company which scored the lowest in a comprehensive survey of physicians.

This is the same insurance company which, after a long bloody exchange, is being dropped next year by one of the largest health centers in my area.  Why?  Because their reimbursement is laughable.  And they refuse to pony up.

Fortunately, as a hospitalist, I now get to ignore most insurance company hassles.  I don't have the energy, and am not willing to waste the time, to figure out exactly how much of a screw-job the AARP Medicare Supplement Plan is.  But I have to wonder what lurks behind their banter:

1. "I get to choose my own doctor!"

Really?  Can you find a primary care doctor?  If so, do they accept the AARP Plan?  If so, do they
give your doctor additional reimbursement to supplement Medicare's insulting breadcrumb?

2. "I don't need a referral to see a specialist."

My concerns about finding a primary doctor notwithstanding, what if your specialist wants to
order $5,000 of diagnostic evaluation? How much of that will you cover? Do you require
doctors to fill out mountains of pre-authorization paperwork? What if Medicare refuses to pay,
will you pick that up for these people?

3. "It's been endorsed by the AARP!"

Because we've never witnessed otherwise-respectable institutions sell off their souls one piece
at a time for a lil extra dough? Particularly in this economy? How do you know that someone
at the top-rung of the AARP doesn't play golf with the marketing director of UHC?

Regardless of these dubious claims, what about prescription drug coverage? I agree that physicians need 
to be more vigilant about using generics, but what about the usual suspects? Is Plavix still going to cost
these people $100 a month?

What does it say about our entitlement programs when an entire business can survive on covering
healthcare costs that Medicare refuses to?

Finally... I wonder how close a year's worth of premiums to UHC would come to a concierge medicine
retainer fee? And which one would improve the quality of our elderly's care more.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quit Whining

I ran across an article in the New York Times that addresses the issue of overworked public defenders.  

Right to Counsel is in the Bill of Rights.  Despite the fact most Americans think it is, healthcare is not.
Given the attitude most Americans take towards their "right" to healthcare, let's talk to the public defenders the way the government's entitlement programs have been talking to physicians.

These public defenders are saying that their workload is too high.  They say they cannot ethically take on any more cases and expect to do a good job with the individuals they are currently representing.  They are SUING (what else do lawyers do) to give themselves a shut-off valve.  Well, if the CMS attitude permeated this argument, I imagine it would go something like this:

Right to Counsel is guaranteed American citizens in the Bill of Rights.  When you chose law school, you should have understood your duty to society.  The pay should not matter to you, as this is a needed service that you should be gracious to provide.  Yes, budget cuts have meant you can't make as much money as you'd like, but there are plenty of public defenders who are turning the conveyor belt up a little faster and still making everything work.

Perhaps we should introduce a productivity model for you?  We can assign a relative value to the cases that you provide.  So that way if you are truly tackling harder cases that demand more of your time, you will get paid more for those services.  Fear not!  We will not arbitrarily and year-after-year whittle that payment down to, in-effect, get you to see a few extra clients a month for "free".

And if you think about doing a shitty job for any of these citizens?  We will enact a quality initiative, where you must provide, in writing, and on a form designed by semi-retired attorneys, evidence that you are doing everything you should be doing for this client.  Then you can reclaim your pay cut as a "bonus".

And don't even think about leaving your profession for greener pastures, because there are SCORES of your colleagues who will be more than willing to manage a small team of legal aides (who we will endow with broader litigation privileges) who can handle the easier cases at a fraction of the cost to us.

And if that doesn't work?  Maybe we'll just start letting lawyers from other countries take a "brush-up" certification course on American Law.  Their work ethic and selflessness regarding compensation would be quite an asset.

So we recommend that you roll your sleeves up and see more clients, or we will be forced to further restrict your compensation and, sadly, be forced to "guide" the way you practice medicine -- er, LAW.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Just Keep 'Em Another Day

So I spent almost an hour on the phone with a family member trying to explain why it was a bad idea to send his dad to a skilled facility as a full code.

You see, his dad has been so severely demented as to be in the <3rd percentile for how long he'd already survived. Not surprisingly, when a big ol' stroke hit, he completely lost his ability to swallow. Solution? PEG tube. Let's just Terri Shaivo everyone.

What I had to further explain was that spit also has to be swallowed, and that it was only a matter of time before his dad filled his lungs with drool.

I'm good at these discussions. I really am. I have much better success than the average physician in getting families to do the right thing when it comes to code status and palliative care.

But this guy wouldn't hear of it. To paraphrase him, I was one in a long line of doctors trying to pressure him into killing his mom. He actually brought up Kevorkian. For once I was glad I was having this conversation on the phone with him.

So, after I realized that my efforts to procure his dad a humane end to his mortal coil were futile, I proceeded with discharge. Which was complicated.

So, total time spent arranging discharge, in this case, was truly 1 hour and 45 minutes. Since we have prolonged services codes, I asked our hospital coder what the threshold was for being able to add more time for a really long discharge. Surely, I proposed, that if it took 3 hours to discharge someone, I wouldn't get the same crappy 1.9 RVUs for that?

The answer, Dear Reader, is yes.

So, what I really wanted to do... but did not.... was to scratch this discharge day, get my damned prolonged services codes for a daily visit, and send him out the next morning.

It feels like that would be the wrong thing to do. At the same time, I just willingly screwed the Medicare National Bank's pooch.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Customer Satisfaction

So, I know I've harped about this to multiple associates of mine for years now... but I couldn't help but have my rage stoked anew when I walked by the cafeteria, and there, in a shiny glass case with track lighting (like an exhibit of fine art) were color printouts of the graphs depicting the "improvement" in "Overall Patient Satisfaction" in our various departments.

The administration was apparantly quite proud of the bold increase from 58% to 62%.  But who else is going to be?

Any physician should look at such a display and belly-laugh over the absurdity of trying to treat a hospital like Dillard's.  Any patient should look at a number that translates into an "F" and wonder what kind of shit-can their mom has been admitted to.

I wonder.... what are the national averages for "overall patient satisfaction"?  What is a reasonable number to expect?  The surveys allow responses from 1 to satis"FIVE" (I seriously have to suppress the vomit everytime I hear that).  So if a patient had a pretty good experience, but the scent of feces wafting into their room knocked it down to a 4 out of 5, that's 80%.  (B minus).  


I honestly don't know if there is any sort of compensation/reimursement tied to this absurd metric.  What would happen it it actually became 100%?  I am fairly certain 100% patient satisfaction is synonymous with any of the following:

1. Falsification of data.
2. The return of only 2 surveys for that month.
3. Bad consumer-based medicine being practiced.

I wonder how many cumulative dollars are spent nationwide by hospitals trying to make this number look pretty?  

Press-Ganey must laugh their way to the bank every single day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How JCAHO hurts patient care.

My hospital recently had a JCAHO visit.  I realize that they could, with one sweep of the hand, ensure that my hospital would never receive another Medicare dollar, and thusly shut the place down.  But I have always found it difficult to give a rat's ass when these trolls are around.  I honestly don't care.  And maybe I should.  But I don't.

But I did make some observations about what happens in a hospital when JCAHO arrives.  The Joint Commission Pixie Dust is pumped through the ventilation system, and causes the following:

1. Administrators are actually in the hospital longer than most of the physicians.  A truly amazing effect.

2. Nurses spend even less time at the patient bedside, making sure all of their computer documentation is perfect.

3. The housekeepers shove chairs off to the sides of the hallway with ninja-like speed to ensure that "8 feet" of open corridor is free at all times.

4. CT scans take an hour longer since stretchers cannot be kept outside the patient room, waiting for the CT tech to finish his bon-b0ns and call the patient down.

5. The staff bathrooms are wallpapered with countless ridiculous "acronyms" (in all shades of neon), as if it's going to make nurses remember to go through the 8 steps of "TEAMWORK" when wiping a patient's ass, and 4 steps of "CALM" when soothing a patient threatening you bodily harm.

6.  The unit clerks turn all the patient charts face-down with obsessive-compulsion so that we feel better about patient "privacy".  (Nevermind the dry-erase board with all the patient names on it within plain view.  Or the to-be-taken-0ff order rack where a sheet of paper is sticking out of the chart and their name is visible.)  This adds an extra 5 minutes to my day looking for the damn chart.

7. My morning coffee is thrown away as a "rogue beverage" before I've even seen 2 patients each morning.

8. Everyone loses the ability to think critically, and literally loses their fucking mind.

I really wish we could quantitate the resource expenditure.  Individuals pulled from their usual jobs to perform "emergency" functions.  All the phone calls to doctors and nurses, pulling them away from patients (and, incidentally, billable activities) to make sure the DVT prophylaxis form is filled out for the patient with no legs.  How much do we SPEND to get the insulting Medicare breadcrumbs?

It just makes me realize how desperately hospitals need to learn some way... any way to function without the pittance of the government handout.  Because the care of our patient suffers every time we try to appease a bureaucrat.  Let us not even venture into how a private organization like JCAHO got such a blessedly profitable mandate to fall into their lap.

Our government doesn't realize that every time they try to fix something with a mandate, they fuck something else up.  And make healthcare more expensive, less efficient, and more dangerous for us all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reason for Consult: Old

You'd think our surgeons would get the hint. Particularly our uber-sub-sub-specialist surgeons. They bring a patient in for a routine gravy-train procedure, and on their ORDER SET... "Consult Hospitalists for Medical Management."

How can a consult be on standard order sets?

So when we find out it's from this particular group of surgeons, we have the nurses call the surgeon to make sure there really are medical issues for us to follow. Often... there are not.

Just so happens the other day this consult came during the day, and I saw the surgeon walking by.

"Do you really need us for this one?"

The response: "Yeah.... she's 75... ya know... not on any meds or anything but I think it would be a nice 0ne for ya guys... kinda frail."

Me, " ... uh... ok... I'll see what I can do."

What I really wanted to say was, "Really, asshole? Do you think Medicare is really going to pay for a consultation by me when the reason for the consult is 'frail'? I assume by 'frail' you mean 'old'. So does that mean there is an age threshold for consultation? Unless you're going to start sharing your revenues from your over-reimbursed procedures, you can manage 'old' all by yourself, big boy."

We clearly need to have a medical staff meeting. What a douche.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


On my glorious drive out to the sticks, I had an epiphany...

What if in enlisting the general public to the cause of the primary care physician, one uses billboards to pique the interest of the average American?

I sure see enough religious propoganda out there... why not pool physician resources to buy up some billboard space?

Not that it's possible to explain something as complex as the death of primary care in the modern era in a space the size of a billboard.... but give little tidbits... and of course a website. The approach I think would be most effective would be counter-pointing the stump-phrases used by our politicians to woo voters: "We're for affordable all-you-can-eat healthcare!" That one is a hard one to counter-point on a billboard... but how about something like....

"Increasing medical school class sizes is just going to make more dermatologists."

"Universal healthcare is pointless if all the doctors only want to inject botox."

"What good are 100 heart doctors when all you need is your sore throat looked at?"

We just need to start somewhere... the ad campaign could even simply be titled: "Why Can't I Find a (Regular/Family) Doctor?"

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Under a highly improbable set of circumstances, I briefly became the primary care physician for an elderly relative of a college friend. I tried to limit my exposure to the octogenarians given the breadth of my practice as a Med/Peds physician, but I was honored by the fact that friends thought highly enough of me to want me to take over her care.

Even though I loosely knew the patient from long-ago social contacts, the patient-physician relationship that budded was a comfortable one. Yes, she always tried to turn it into a social call when we truly had a few medical issues to discuss, but fortunately, she was wickedly healthy compared to her age-matched peers. She travelled. She read the paper. She exercised. It also helped that my hospital's productivity whip had not yet started to crack. I had a little time to burn with her at her Q6 month visits.

Then a tragedy hit the family far from home. This actually touched me emotionally as well -- this person was also a friend. Not surprisingly, some somatic complaints on the part of my patient began to manifest. Appropriate work-up was negative.

But almost simultaneous to the tragedy, I escaped primary care. My partner took over graciously. But the transition was not pleasant. Despite 2 visits very generous in time spent with the patient, she would call hours after her visit to complain to our office manager that the physician did not spend enough time with her. She felt rushed. She did not feel that her complaints were being addressed. This, despite the fact that my partner had a 2-page note from each of these "follow-up" visits. The office manager had to talk to her for an hour to calm the anger. The patient was "shocked" that there were "time constraints" on how long she was allowed to carry on her visits.

Obviously, grief plays into this. My departure from the office plays into this. But this is an otherwise rational woman who is pissed off that the current system doesn't allow her the time she feels she is due in her hour of need. She is in counselling, but she sees physician-patient time as a critical piece of that... a piece we're not letting her enjoy bite-by-bite over an hour.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I wish the healthcare system were such that a physician could spend more (even if not to the degree this woman wants) time providing lending an ear... having the hand-on-the-shoulder. On the other hand, our government and populace at large has made it clear they have no intention of paying for it.

I have a social ability to tell her to chill out... one that I don't with the average elderly patient. But she's not listening to me. I'm now just one of the cold mechanical voices of healthcare to her. And if this is how someone who's a hybrid social contact-patient is reacting to her primary care doctor... can you even imagine what the expectations of the average elderly patient are of their primary care provider? How can we ever win? These are the seeds of litigation.

She served to solidify my belief that for the forseeeable future, primary care is screwed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How To Save Primary Care

I was listening to talk radio today when one of the daily shows devoted a full hour to the challenges of rural medicine versus urban medicine. Their guest was a physician who had substantial experience practicing in an area of the United States far more rural than even I would ever have dared tread.

For nearly an hour I listened to him field questions about the unique challenges of being in a rural setting, the problem of access to healthcare, the need to expand medical school enrollment to fill this unmet need, and even universal healthcare. The elephant on the radio was just too great for me to bear, and so I did something fairly uncharacteristic and called in.

I made it known I was a young physician who had just recently escaped primary care (but did not elaborate -- I was time-crunched). I asked:

"Even if we doubled medical school enrollment and found a way to instantly insure 100% of Americans overnight, that doesn't solve the problem of who is going to be seeing these patients and staffing their 'medical home.' How will this ever be solved when medical students are tempted with subspecialist salaries that are 5-6 times what a primary doctor can make, often with better hours?"

Predictably, you could tell I'd struck a chord. He said that it was an excellent question, and that something that was going to have to happen would be a "very painful" reduction in subspecialist salaries. I resisted. I did not say another word. He neglected to mention CMS had attempted a modest shift in the RVU values to do just such a thing.

Sidenote: Many hospitals in our area (including mine) took cue and reduced their subspecialist salaries. But the primary care guys? Our RVU thresholds were compensatorily increased to completely negate the positive income effect that Medicare intended to happen. How they got away with it is truly beyond me. They literally pocketed the difference.

What it got me thinking about was this most recent prevention of the 10.6% cuts that nearly went through. (I'm of the mind that it would have been better for the cuts to go through, and truly watch the shit hit the fan, but oh well.) The biggest asset physicians had was the senior population. When patients stood behind physicians, the policymakers got off their asses.

It's awfully hard to convince the average American that someone making $170,000 a year deserves more (or at the very least, deserves to spend more time with less patients to make that amount of income). But that's precisely what primary care has to do. Unfortunately, I think the only way to get the general public to care about the relative-bottomfeeders in medicine is by focusing their attention to those being hand-fed olives plucked from the vine in the ivory tower.

I don't like the idea of "turning" on our overpaid proceduralist colleagues. But it has been physicians in those very fields sitting on the AMA and other policy-guiding groups who have protected their own turf at the expense of primary care. And it's time for it to stop.

Why is it for decades on end residents were allowed to work 40-hour "days" and 120-hour weeks? Because only after the public started getting wind of "medical errors" by "fatigued doctors" was pressure applied to put an end to it. If Joe Blow couldn't care less about medical errors, believe me, residents today would still be risking their lives on the post-call drive home from work.

Just because I escaped the cracks of the whips being applied to the backs of primary care doctors doesn't mean I care any less about the state of healthcare in our country. But if we truly expect anything to change, you have to get the public on your side. Just exactly how we do that... I haven't figured that one out yet.

And We Wonder Why Healthcare Costs Skyrocket...

It was one of those "Are you serious?" moments. My partners and I were required to carve out an hour and a half of our day (uncompensated, of course) to listen to a consulting firm that our hospital paid to come in to help "charge capture".

The situation we're facing is as follows:

The Medicare gods made up a term called the DRG (Diagnosis Related Group). The DRG is supposed to group diagnoses based on the severity of illness, and presumably the resources that patient will require. (Read: How much money do you get from the government to take care of this patient.) Depending on what diagnoses I document in my note, the DRG (i.e. cash-flow) changes. In premise, this sounds like a good idea. Sicker people are more expensive, right?

I truly am all for good documention. But for the purspose of conveying important information about the patient's condition and plan for their care to all parties of the healthcare team (doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc.). I am not down with the shell-game.

But as most of you realize, "documentation" became less the basis for paying for the patient's care, and more and more the reason to deny payment for the patient's care.

So when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) decided to increase payment for the higher DRGs and lower the payment for the lower DRGs, hospital's got a fire lit under their asses. They scurried like cockroaches to figure out how to keep as much of this money as possible. How did they approach it?

They started paying consultants to tell us how to document "better". We now have a small army of people in white labcoats embroidered with "Documentation Specialist" circling our charts like vultures, fighting for chart-review time. We now get "suggestions" from them about how to make the patient sound sicker than they are. "Pardon me, doctor. 'Urosepsis' doesn't pay any better than 'UTI'. Do you think it would be appropriate to document 'sepsis with UTI'?"

Me, " Uh.... sure...."

How much money are hospitals shelling out in this effort to squeeze more pennies out of Medicare? CMS's efforts to lower what they're paying out makes the entire system more expensive by driving costs up across the board to claim the breadcrumbs. Healthcare systems grow into the income. It's not a simple proposal to ask them to trim the fat, when there isn't any fat in the system (expect, perhaps, proceduralists' salaries).

The part of my little "class" I found most incredulous was CMS's own admission that they expect that documentation will get better once they make these mandates. And so to compensate for the fact that people are expected to document better and therefore capture more money? They're going to lower payments.

When is our government going to realize that the promises they have made the American people are going to become interminably more expensive year-after-year unless they start telling people "No."? Their ONLY solution has been to simply give hospitals (and therefore the doctors that employ so many of us) less money, and that this will magically make costs contract.

It's beyond absurd. CMS seems to have realized they can't simply decree that they're going to pay 10% less for services that are being used more and are more expensive. So what are they going to have to realize they need to do?

Ah yes. The evil R word. RATION. It's going to have to happen. It's not a question of if. This WILL happen. The big question is, when Medicare refuses to pay for Procedure X, will hospitals be held liable for medical outcomes of not performing said procedure?

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

Monday, August 4, 2008

$100 Down the Drain

I'd argue that I received excellent training in residency. But in retrospect, my lack of exposure to the "Medicine Consult," proved quite the deficiency.

Prior to receiving my Hospitalist Hat, the only time I ever billed a consultation was in the outpatient setting for pre-op clearance. As a clinic slave, it was an unexpected little treat. I typically got 3.02-3.77 RVUs for relatively-brainless work, compared to the 1.42 RVUs for the 40-minute octogenarian diabetic time-suck. But as an inpatient guy (in a hospitalist program without the resources to do outpatient pre-ops), a "consult" to me now typically means:

1. A surgeon who doesn't want to fill out discharge paperwork (the 75-year old with controlled hypertension who has been on a sprinkle of HCTZ for 50 years, but is in for a ureteral stent).

2. A subspecialist (still listed on the ACPs website as Board Certified in Internal Medicine) who doesn't want to be bothered with things like diabetes when there are highly billable procedures to be done.

3. Either of the above who realizes that they suck at something I can do better.

In any event, it really doesn't bother me. Because it's better for the patient. And for a small portion of my day, I get to feel special. "Of course you can't take them to surgery silly. You'll kill them."

And even though it's (for the most part) easy work, it's the work no one else wants to do even if they have the know-how. For the most part, internists have been willing to play along. After all, it pays pretty well. Consider:


Now let's say the consult is full-on legit (new-onset CHF). My notes for such a scenario would typically qualify for an H&P III or a Consult III. At our $50/RVU, that equals $189.00 or $200.00. Not an enormous difference... but here's the rub.

This Medicare Coding class I just attended has informed me of a new change for 2008 that will start being enforced at some nebulous point between January 1, 2009 and Summer 2009. It's called Transfer of Care.

To illustrate the massive screw-job CMS has crafted for us, Dear Reader, consider the following scenario.

An otherwise healthy 56 year old is admitted with chest pain to the cardiology service on January 1st. Their initial troponin was 3, which is why they were not admitted to medicine. But their random glucose is 430, creatinine is 3 and their sodium is 118. Medicine is consulted.

The hospitalist dutifully comes to save the day, orders appropriate diagnostic work-up and initiates appropriate treatment. Now, I don't know about most of you, but we typically round on these patients daily. We manage the newly-diagnosed DM, the hypernatremia, and the acute renal failure. Perhaps we will involve other consultants. But we follow them to discharge and reconcile their new medication library. The patient goes home January 7th.

A lot of people out there bill something as follows (presuming appropriate complexity of care):

1/1/08: 99255 (initial inpatient consultation)
1/2/08: 99233 (subsequent inpatient care)
1/3/08: 99233 (subsequent inpatient care)
1/4/08: 99232 (subsequent inpatient care)
1/5/08: 99233 (subsequent inpatient care)
1/6/08: 99232 (subsequent inpatient care)
1/7/08: 99232 (subsequent inpatient care) -- keep in mind, we don't do the discharge here

But this would be fraud under the new rules. Because in Medicare's mind, if you are actively managing the medical conditions which you were consulted for, this is considered a Transfer of Care. And that means the highest level of care you can bill for your first note is? Are you ready? Can you wait for it?

99233 = 2.0 RVU = $100.00 (in my world)

That's right. I almost fell out of my chair. I wouldn't have believed it had my hospital not handsomely paid this consultant service to tell me this.

So instead of billing a 99255 (for $192.00), I get $100 for my 99233. Unless I squeak in prolonged services codes (which would be hard to justify in most cases), that is all Medicare tells us it's worth to start from scratch with a broken patient and fix them.

So how do you preserve the consultation code? You have to document the following:

1. That another provider has requested an advice, opinion, recommendation, suggestion, evaluation, direction or counsel concerning the patient problem or treatment options. (Caveat: the consultant is allowed to initiate treatment during the first consult.)
2. A report with the advice must be sent by the receiving provider to the requesting provider.
3. Make it clear that you are walking away from the patient.

The premise here (and it's not entirely without merit) is that the physicians requesting your opinion should be able to handle the diabetes, the hypertension, the pre-renal azotemia, as long as we give them a small refresher course in the form of a consult. They did, after all, go to medical school as well. Some of them are even Board Certified in Internal Medicine.

So what is this going to mean? I suspect there will be more snipping between internist and subspecialists. Now, these rules also apply to the subspecialist. But really... who cares about the difference between a daily note and a consult when you're performing your interventional cardiac cath? Or endoscopy? It's but a piss in the wind for those guys. But for some internists (thankfully not our hospitalist group), it's lifeblood. And suddenly the $100 dollars you lost by reclassification of your note as a "Transfer of Care" adds up.

I suspected that Medicare would focus some sniperfire on hospitalists before long. I just didn't think it was going to happen with such alacrity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

And Off Come the Shackles...

I really have no idea if anyone will wind up reading this. Honestly, I don't care. But I've found Medical Blogs to be a catharctic experience in my darkest of days, so if a disillusioned medical student/resident/hospital-employed primary care slave finds some solace in my words... fantastic. The pain of outpatient primary care wasn't something I could find an empathetic ear for. My friends were either not physicians (a good thing, by the way) or free to explore the lucrative subspecialist/shift-work fields in medicine. They weren't stupid enough to whore themselves out to their state for "underserved primary care" work, or to be born into a family that couldn't write a check for their medical education. Bastards.

Then I fell into a hospitalist position in a town desperate enough to take my state-owned slave-chains off, and snap on a shiny new pair (owned by the hospital, of course). But I'm okay with it because, presumably, gone are my days of outpatient indentured servitude. Goodbye to the countless hours of uncompensated call. Hasta la pasta to trying to field phonecalls from the ER and floor nurses while perpetually running behind on the always-late 40 patients scheduled in clinic. I don't have to be forced to be a bad doctor anymore.

I feel like I've been escorted off the battlefield just as the Medicare airstrike is about to obliterate the remaining stockpiles of food that already malnourish American primary care. Granted, once they've completed their destruction of outpatient medicine, I think they'll focus their full efforts on my new-found refuge. At which point I'm sure our government will put Medicare/Medicaid out of its misery and replace it with something equally inadequate. But whatever.

For now, I can spend an appropriate amount of time with my patients, be relatively shielded from the mountains of bullshit paperwork from corporate/government healthcare, get paid a somewhere-close-to-respectable wage for my expertise, and still be allowed to live a chunk of my life off the pager. It only took slightly over a decade of paying my dues to get here.

I suppose I see this blog as more of a journal. Am I going to be as happy to be a hospitalist in 3 years? Or will I find other ways to be unhappy? Is it just the nature of being in healthcare? Is it just my nature? Or have I finally found a way to be happy practicing medicine for the foreseeable future? I have no idea.

I guess I'm about to find out.