My HIMSS planning is officially underway and I’m happy to report securing my preferred hotel for my preferred dates for the first time in several years. The shifted schedule (Monday through Friday) always throws me off when we’re in Las Vegas. The updated schedule now shows Magic Johnson as the closing keynote speaker on Friday, but I’m sure that quite a few of us will be departing before then.
Much of the agenda is similar to years past, but I did note the addition of a fee-based session for Thursday. “Rock Stars of Emerging Healthcare Technologies” is a $295 additional charge and purports to cover disruptive and innovative technologies. I’d be interested to see who is in the lineup, but I’m not eager to spend that much money.
I’ve been catching up on medical reading and continuing education. Many of our readers would be happy to know of a new report linking moderate drinking to cognitive health in old age, at least for some demographic groups. Although it found that patients who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol on a regular basis were more likely to live to age 85 without cognitive impairments or dementia, it’s hard to know the exact nature of correlation vs. causation. The study ran for 29 years and used the standardized Mini Mental Status Examination to gauge cognitive health. Adults with “moderate to heavy” alcohol intake five to seven days a week were twice as likely to stay cognitively intact than those with little alcohol intake. Wine-drinking tends to correlate with higher income and education levels that are accompanied by reduced rates of smoking and greater access to healthcare. The majority of study participants were Caucasian and from a middle-class suburb of San Diego.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking nominations for public members of its National Advisory Council. The Council advises the AHRQ Director, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and other bodies on national health services priorities. Nominees must be willing to serve a three-year term, meeting in Washington, DC three times per year. Desired qualifications include medical practice, other health professional experience, researchers, healthcare quality experts, and health economists, attorneys, or ethicists. Additional information is available in the Federal Register.
There has been a lot of chatter in the physician lounge about Anthem’s recent statements that they will not cover non-emergency conditions when patients seek care in the emergency department. Primary care physicians who have a large number of Anthem patients are starting to worry about capacity and creating plans to care for an influx of patients. Retail clinics and urgent cares are eager to accept the overage. Anthem has piloted this in several states and is in the progress of expanding it to others.
We already see plenty of patients in the urgent care setting who could be easily treated with over-the-counter remedies, so it will be interesting to see how this impacts the patient mix in states where it is a factor. In my area, a visit to the local pharmacy’s clinic runs 40 percent less than a comparable physician office visit and about a quarter of what is charged in the urgent care setting. All are significantly less than the $800-900 typically charged for a basic visit in the emergency department.
Wearing both my family medicine and urgent care hats, the missing piece is education and triage. It’s one thing to simply tell a patient that their bill won’t be covered unless it’s a true emergency, but it would be even better if the payer spent a little bit of the anticipated cost savings educating patients and providing after-hours nurse lines where patients could seek advice. Lots of people surf the Internet for information or get their advice from Dr. Google, but education is still a great value in the long run. My insurance carrier has serious limitations on emergency visits, but offers nothing in the way of other support to triage patients to the appropriate care setting. At our urgent care, we sometimes see patients who started at the retail clinic but couldn’t be treated there due to limited scope-of-practice agreements, which leads to an additional and more costly visit with us.
There has also been a fair amount of chatter around the recent JAMA research letter about Maintenance of Certification (MOC) and Board Recertification fees. Although the medical specialty boards are supposed to be non-profits, they’re taking in significant amounts of money from examinees and those required to demonstrate participation in MOC activities. According to the research, the amount of income from exam fees is out of proportion to the amount it actually costs to administer the exams.
For those of us who are board certified in multiple subspecialties, the expenses can add up. Even for those of us board certified in clinical informatics, we are required to maintain a primary specialty board certification. This seems rather unfair to the large number of clinical informaticists who no longer see patients and might be inclined to allow their primary certifications to lapse. Current policies also exclude a number of clinical informaticists who had already discontinued their primary certifications before the clinical informatics certification became a reality.
I’m due to retake my primary boards in 2019 and figure I’ll have to take them at least twice more before I retire unless something changes. I’m not looking forward to the time commitment or to studying information that has no bearing on my practice, such as obstetrics. I failed to buy a lottery ticket for this week’s Powerball, so it looks like I’ll be in the trenches for the foreseeable future.
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