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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/14/17

December 14, 2017 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

When we think about healthcare IT systems, I think most of us probably overlook some of the quasi-healthcare vendors that patients have to deal with to handle their medical bills. A friend vented to me about his company’s choice of a new benefits administrator, which needs to use to access his flexible spending account. This is the same company his employer used in the past, but switched to another benefits administrator last year, and is now switching back to the first one.

He received a message to establish his account to be ready for 2018, but when he tried to execute on it, he received a duplicate warning and was referred to customer support. The site then generated a password reset link, which didn’t help him due to the duplicate accounts. After opening a second help ticket, he received a secure message notification in his employee email, which required him to create a secure messaging account on the benefits website, using his work email as the user name and creating a new password.

Despite having the same login as the benefits site (as well as the same look and feel) the secure messaging portion of the site is entirely independent, and the messages he had been sent were not useful. Returning to the benefits site, he tried again to have his account unlocked, and four days later, finally received a secure message that his duplicates were resolved.

Once he was able to access the benefits site, he discovered there is no linkage to the secure messages from that side either, so users have to go in and out of two different systems if they need customer support. I’m going to go out on a limb with the idea that maybe this is intentional, since money left in flexible spending accounts is forfeit if not used. If the system is difficult to navigate, there’s a chance it will prevent employees from using their benefits.


Speaking of difficult to navigate, I tried to complete my HIMSS18 registration today since the early bird discount is ending. It kept replacing the name of my company with “DX” for no apparent reason, forcing me to log in and out a couple of times. I also had trouble getting the name badge fields to correctly show my city, since I wanted it to display Big City instead of Nameless Suburb in the field. I finally gave up and will try again tomorrow. It looks like my hotel of choice is sold out, so I’m glad I made my reservations a couple of months ago.

I’ve already started building my agenda for the week, including at least one BFF Booth Crawl. Although I’m not fond of Las Vegas, I do enjoy catching up with my healthcare IT friends. For the third year HIMSS is hosting a reception for Millennials. I’m tempted to sign up just to check it out and see how the conversations differ from the other events such as the Women’s Networking reception. I’m too old to pass for a Millennial, but I bet I could pass for a hip older coworker.


It’s the time of year when holiday cheer abounds. I was surprised to receive a notice about the American Medical Association’s “Joy in Medicine” modules and the fact that the American Board of Family Medicine is going to provide Performance Improvement Credit for providers who complete them. I’ve focused most of my Maintenance of Certification and Continuing Medical Education activities on being a competent, compassionate, and culturally-sensitive physician and have completed more than enough credits for 2017. The idea that physicians need to complete coursework to learn how to find the joy in medicine again is a sad commentary on healthcare today. The course is promoted as having tools “to guide the executive leadership teams in creating a joyful practice environment and thriving workforce.”

I gave it a glance, and it does touch on physician burnout but not on the high rate of physician suicide – I guess that wouldn’t be very joyful, but it is a reality. I’ve lost two colleagues with bright futures to suicide and agree that we need to have better support structures, not only for physicians, but for all caregivers and people trying to work in our crazy healthcare system. The module advocates creating a “wellness infrastructure” with a chief wellness officer reporting directly to the CEO or equivalent to other leaders such as the COO or CMO “and is resourced accordingly.”

It goes on to say that “this leader should ensure all leadership decisions consider the potential effect on workforce wellness.” Even though it offers a calculator to estimate the true cost of physician burnout, I don’t see this playing in most of the arenas where physicians are employed. Especially in the under-20-provider practice, it’s going to be hard to create that infrastructure. I’m working with a five-doctor group now that can’t even agree on how overnight call should be distributed, so getting them to have a conversation on workforce wellness would be quite the trick.

Speaking of pipe dreams, Aetna wants to create a healthcare hub at CVS pharmacies to help patients navigate the healthcare system. Likening it to Apple’s Genius Bar, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini explained it as a cross between the Patient-Centered Medical Home model and a retail establishment where people can walk in and get help.

It’s this kind of over-simplification of patients’ true needs that gets my blood pumping. The infrastructure required to truly make this work is vast, and although CVS trots out its MinuteClinic retail clinic sites as part of the solution, it’s more complicated than it seems. My practice sees many patients who are beyond the narrow care protocols in place at MinuteClinic, and the referral of their patients to a second visit at Urgent Care actually adds to the healthcare system. Do we really think that CVS is going to triage customers away from its clinics to competitors, or are they going to try to expand into the primary care and urgent care space? Or do as they do, and see the patient first, then refer to a higher level of care? Will they send the patient to their primary care physician or offer to sell over-the-counter remedies? I’m hoping the former, but since retail profits are important, the balance might be tricky.

The simplicity of comparing healthcare to the Apple Store also masks the complexity of patients. Where Apple offers service on a set number of products, the number of “models” walking into a healthcare environment is infinite. Although basic processes can be put into place to handle subsets of patients and conditions, I hope CVS and Aetna folks truly engage with their stakeholders to create the model. First and foremost, this needs to be about doing what’s right for patients rather than shareholders. I’ll remain skeptical until I see drafts of their pilot plans. Or, if they’re looking for an anonymous physician blogger to give them advice, I’m available.

What do you think of the Aetna/CVS merger? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. No Joy in reading this one, either for patients or for providers, especially primary care. And a pox on the corporations that have played such a big role in this. . .like CVS and Aetna. I doubt that a merger of two mega players will result in overall good except for shareholders, unless the whole playing field is uprooted.

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