Articles Posted in Medical Practice Management

pickpocket-300x200If department stores, car mechanics, or restaurants billed their customers in the same way that hospitals and doctors do, prosecutors might have their hands full. That’s because what patients now accept in sheepish fashion as simple “errors” or misstatements or curious charges on their medical bills more correctly ought to be called something else: fraud.

That’s the reluctant but tough view now taken by Elisabeth Rosenthal, an editor, journalist, and onetime practicing doctor.

She has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times, her former employer, in which she recounted how she long has reported on health care costs and economics, including in her much-praised book, “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.” She said she has listened to too many patient complaints, as well as experienced problems of her own, to keep allowing establishment medicine to deem its relentless chiseling, oops, a little mistake.

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

blawhospitalcostgrafic-300x174Tthe Trump Administration deserves credit for doing something right on hospital prices — but with what likely will be ineffective results.

The president and Alex Azar, the head of the sprawling Health and Human Services agency, have rolled out delayed new federal rules that will order hospitals, starting in 2021, to make public the discounted prices they negotiate with insurance companies and require insurers to allow patients to get advance estimates of their out-of-pocket costs before they see a doctor or go to the hospital.

Trump explained why, as reported by the New York Times, saying: “For decades, hospitals, insurance companies, lobbyists and special interests have hidden prices from consumers, so they could drive up costs for you, and you had no idea what was happening. You’d get bills that were unbelievable, and you’d have no idea why.”

ambcenterleapfrograting-300x109They may be more appealing and convenient because they’re located in the neighborhood with better hours and more parking. They also may be less costly because they lack the high overheard of big hospitals. But those booming same-day surgery centers have patient safety issues of their own.

Their doctors and nurses may not be as well-trained as patients might find at big hospitals or academic medical centers, with 1 in 3 centers not having staff who were all board-certified, according to the Leapfrog Group, a consortium of big companies and other major health care users focused on patient concerns.

Leapfrog has issued — to its considerable credit — its first safety and quality study of the facilities, also finding that, “not all ambulatory surgery centers and hospital outpatient departments provide surgery consent materials before the day of surgery. Just 14% of ambulatory surgery centers provided the information one to three days before the surgery, while just 20.7% of hospital outpatient departments do so,” Modern Healthcare, an industry news source, reported.

cashrain-300x225Politicians almost by reflex decry the skyrocketing cost of U.S. health care by blaming much of it on waste, fraud, abuse. They, alas, really may be on to something, newly published research shows.

Health care experts, including a medical leader of health insurer Humana, “combed through 54 studies and reports published since 2012 that estimated the waste or savings from changes in practice and policy,” leading them to some jaw-dropping calculations about how well spent is the $3.5 trillion or so that Americans drop on health care, the New York Times reported.

Answer: Really badly. The researchers, in their published work, estimated that 20%-25% of American health care spending is wasteful. That turns into giant sums, fast, as the newspaper reported, including:

uvahealthlogo-300x108Is a public pillorying the only way to stop big hospitals from pursuing patients for medical debt with the zeal of demons from the underworld?

The University of Virginia Health System — an enterprise that racked up an $87 million operating profit on revenue of $1.7 billion in the fiscal year ending in June and that holds stocks, bonds and other investments worth about $1 billion — has become the latest institution to get a journalistic blaming and shaming for extreme debt collection practices that would make proud Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.

The independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service and the Washington Post deserve credit for their investigation into UVA avariciousness. As KHN reported of the state operation:

bruinlogo-300x225USC, Ohio State, Michigan State, and now, UCLA: How can big universities, with all the supposedly smart folks who head them, be so blind and deaf to student complaints that school personnel may be sexually abusing them? And why do academics keep getting caught up in situations where they appear to or may be covering up wrongdoing against the young?

Officials at the University of California Los Angeles find themselves apologizing profusely for failing to disclose that they knew of accusations of inappropriate conduct by a gynecologist on the school’s staff while treating patients in university facilities, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Women say that Dr. James Mason Heaps wrongly touched their private parts, and UCLA learned of the accusations in 2017, putting the longtime staff gynecologist on leave in 2018. The school, however, did not disclose why Heaps was gone — until criminal charges were filed against him in recent days and he pleaded not guilty to them in court.

surgery-300x120Recognizing that seniors face different health challenges than younger folks could help doctors and hospitals better safeguard older patients who undergo complex and demanding surgery.

Paying heightened attention to age’s changes also can be beneficial to older adults in protecting themselves from damaging falls and getting retirees to keep moving to stay fitter — without getting hung up on a mistaken exercise measure.

A specialty group within the American College of Surgeons may be on a beneficial course in recommending new geriatric guidelines for older patients, a rising number of whom undergo extensive procedures that once were considered risky for those of an advanced age, the New York Times reported. This is a significant issue in surgical practice, the newspaper reported:

Praise be: Churches nationwide are leaping in with their congregations’ blessing and financial support, putting up small sums to buy up and wipe out one of the huge shames of the American health care system: patients’ medical debt.

The faithful work with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, N.Y., that provides the know-how to many kinds of donors to help eliminate bills that can crush patients and their loved ones for a lifetime, the Kaiser Health News service reported. Roxie Hammill wrote how this all works in modern medicine:

wheelinghospital-300x111As hospitals boost their size and power to push their profits even higher, they’re also raising alarms with federal regulators over their too cozy relationships with doctors who are pulling down big pay from them now as part of their staffs.

Uncle Sam long has sought to ensure that the billions of tax dollars that get spent in the health care system don’t become medical spoils, riches that get passed around a select few through kick-back and self-referral schemes. These are barred by regulation, notably in Medicare- and Medicaid-funded care, and by the “Stark law.”

Jordan Rau of the Kaiser Health News service reported that a hospital in Wheeling, W. Va., has gotten regulators attention by lavishing pay and perks on specialists in its employ, including $1.2 million a year for a pain specialist and $770,000 annually and 12 weeks’ vacation for a cardiothoracic surgeon. The money is far higher than what such experts command in the area and it’s more surprising because the treatment areas these high-paid doctors work in are big financial losers for Wheeling Hospital.

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