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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/16/17

November 16, 2017 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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Not healthcare IT, but providers will probably have to document conversations on this in the EHR. The US Environmental Protection Agency has approved the release of so-called “weaponized” mosquitoes in parts of the US. They’re officially classified as a “biopesticide” and their creator, MosquitoMate, will be licensed to sell them for five years. The lab-grown male mosquitoes are infected with a bacteria; females mating with them will produce eggs that don’t hatch. The goal is to reduce the spread of diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and Zika. The modified mosquitos don’t bite and will be on sale to municipalities and individuals. The US isn’t the leader here, with lab-grown mosquitoes already in use in China and Brazil.

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I struggle with articles that overly-simplify the challenges we face in healthcare and this one on HealthcareDIVE is a prime example. Trumpeting the headline of, “The healthcare of tomorrow will move away from hospitals,” it tries to boil down discussion from the US News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow conference into a few sound bites. First, it states that “locating services in a patient’s home or somewhere close by and easily accessible is more convenient for patients, but also produces more comprehensive and effective care.” This is a gross oversimplification and doesn’t take into account that some of the most convenient sites of care (retail clinics) are also the least comprehensive, as they are sometimes staffed by mid-level providers with limited scope of practice. I see dozens of patients each month who are referred to urgent care because their conditions are out of scope of the retail clinic, resulting in two visits and two charges for the patient.

This also doesn’t take into effect the proven concept that for some situations, regional or specialty centers provide better outcomes than local or community facilities. Complex procedures like cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, high-risk pregnancy, and other similar conditions fall into this bucket. This isn’t supported by their sound bite of, “If you have to go to the hospital, we have failed you.”

As a patient / consumer who has recently faced difficult decisions in this area, it’s not a simple choice. Should I keep going to the local physician-owned imaging center for my mammograms, where they are high quality but lower cost, or move to the hospital because it has a high-risk surveillance protocol and better track record for finding early breast cancer through combined mammography and MRI, but with a higher cost and a higher hassle-factor? I honestly went back and forth on this decision for a couple of months before I decided to go with the hospital option. Should the day come where something is found, however, I’ll be ditching that hospital’s cancer care team for the one at the academic medical center, which has an equivalent track record for finding cancer, but better outcomes in treatment. If these decisions are difficult for a physician, they’re doubly challenging for the average patient.

I agree with the statements that telemedicine needs to become more commonplace – and that means being reimbursed in the same way that we reimburse for face-to-face visits. Whether we’re living in a fee-for-service world or one of value-based care, somehow the physician, mid-level provider, or other caregiver’s time needs to be paid for. I agree that consumers are going to drive many healthcare shifts over the next few years – I look at the growth of my own practice (from five locations to 15+ in a little over two years) as an example that patients are voting with their feet and their co-pays for convenience along with the more full-service experience that we offer. Essentially, we function as a cross between a primary care office and an ED and provide all the services in between plus pharmacy for a fraction of the cost of the ED. We’re not cheaper than primary care and don’t quarterback a patient’s comprehensive care, but if you need to be rehydrated during your gastroenteritis, we’re the hip place to be.

Patients are willing to pay the larger urgent care co-pay in order to not have to wait to get in to see a primary physician (assuming they have a primary physician, which many do not due to the relative primary physician shortage in our area). It’s telling that most of our new staff physicians are former PCPs who have found the urgent care lifestyle more conducive to their humanity as compared to being a primary care doc. We’ve been accused of poaching primary care physicians and making the PCP shortage worse, but this is market economics at work. The idea that a physician is “called” to work long hours for low pay as a PCP has become antiquated as providers vote with their wallets and their free time to work 160 hours a month for the same pay as they were previously working 200 or 240 hours, with less stress.

When you look at it, urgent care provides a similar case mix to what many of us trained for during family medicine residency: acute care, chronic care, and procedures, the latter of which is missing in many primary care practices now that physicians are asked to do more high-level work and less of the procedural work that we found enjoyable regardless of the fact that it could be done by mid-level providers. Of course, we don’t have the continuity of care that originally sought as PCPs, but we have more continuity with our families and our personal lives. The playing field has changed as third-party forces have transformed healthcare from a calling to a job.

I do appreciate the comments from Jason Spangler, MD, MPH, a quality and medical policy director at Amgen. He calls for the industry to “pay and incentivize patients toward high-value care and disincentivize them against low-value care.” Modifying patient behavior is extremely challenging, as anyone who has ever tried to convince a patient to change their lifestyle vs. just taking a pill once a day for high blood pressure knows. I’m sure there was a broader and richer discussion at the conference, but the coverage provided is problematic. Those who try to boil these complexities down to sound bites aren’t doing much to help the situation.

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My condolences to the family, friends, and close colleagues of Uwe Reinhardt, healthcare economist and Princeton University professor. He was a master at dissecting the US healthcare system and showing how it defies logic. I once had the chance to meet him as we were assigned to share a car to the airport following a conference where we spoke on separate healthcare panels. He could easily have used the time to check email or catch up on phone calls, but instead he wanted to learn more about me and my thoughts on the US healthcare system from the primary care and CMIO trenches. He was kind, thoughtful, and a good listener, which are qualities we don’t always see among some of the loudest voices in healthcare. If you’re not familiar with his writings, they’re definitely worth a read.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Professor Reinhardt deserves the requiem shout out if nothing else but for his most oft quoted paper title, “It’s the Prices, Stupid” .







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