Tag Archives: Primary Care

Vaccine opposers lack any evidence

This is important: Dorit Reiss on vaccine misinformation in the Point Reyes Light.  The anti-vaccine crowd is vicious, rabid and unfortunately very poorly informed. Yet they have been able to get the attention of enough media to cast doubt on the effectiveness and safety of the most important medical intervention ever devised.

When the only argument against requiring vaccines for school relies on mistaken beliefs about vaccine safety, it cannot stand. Vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. Immunization mandates make our schools safe. By shoring up California’s mandate, S.B.277 is helping to safely protect our kids and our communities.

House Bill Aims to Curb Employers Ability to Force Doctors to Leave State

I prepared this potential op-ed prior to the death of HB 2931 in the Washington legislature. Non-compete clauses (also known as restrictive covenants) in physician contracts have had a devastating effect on the primary care workforce in Vancouver, Washington and other border regions of the state.

I understand the need to protect employers from the costs of recruiting a physician who then turns around and threatens to compete from across the street (really… who does that?) On the other hand, large groups in the state have thrown their weight around and hospital systems have thrown temper tantrums. I would prefer to eliminate restrictive covenants for family physicians, but there is good evidence from numerous sectors fo the economy that putting sharp limits on the enforceability of restrictive covenants is good for the economy. The best example is Silicon Valley,  where companies treat their employees very well, manage them extraordinarily well and continue to work with the intellectual capital they attract long after it leaves to spin off new entities and foster even more innovation.

Other physicians need the support, but so do baristas, hairdressers, nail spa workers and tattoo artists, who are unfairly unlimited by the legacy companies. I have to believe it makes these companies lazy and less considerate than they would be otherwise.

There were several bills, but I addressed the one widely regarded as the most likely to cross to the senate. In the Senate there was SB 6625 sponsored by Senators Conway, Hasegawa, Keiser, Chase, which restricted non-competes to 6 months for hourly wage workers. HB 2406 was sponsored by Representatives Manweller, Sells, Stanford, Magendanz, Tarleton, Moscoso, Ormsby and S. Hunt and stipulated that non-compete clauses were null and void in the case of a listed number of low hourly wage work such as fast food and dry wall applicators. HB 2931, sponsored by Representatives Stanford and Ormsby was the most sophisticated of the three and tried to outline certain parameters for which it is inappropriate to impose a non-compete. In short, if you are not an executive, non-competes would not be enforceable beyond one year.

None of the bills proposed geographic limits as “reasonable” in a non-compete.

All I can say is “we’ll be back,” even though I am poised to become an employer of physcians and stand to benefit from the applicability of these absurd covenants. There is still this thing called “doing the right thing.” Here is my unpublished opinion piece.

 

House Bill 2931 limits how employers can impose non-compete agreements on prospective employees and will be good for all industries in the state, although it will have an unexpected beneficial effect on health of Washingtonians. The bill received a vote on the House Floor Tuesday and will now go to the Senate for consideration.

 

Non-compete agreements in health care protect hospitals and larger medical groups, ostensibly from the high cost of physician recruitment. However, once a doctor agrees to be employed by a medical group, these agreements become a not-so-subtle means of controlling the doctors. An unhappy doctor could be required to leave the city, county or state because the agreement states that he or she is not allowed to practice their profession under any circumstances within the exclusion area. Since doctors have families and children, the non-compete agreement becomes a leash which can only be broken at substantial personal cost, which many families simply are not willing to accept. In one draconian example, one employer in Southwest Washington defines the geographic exclusion area as three counties. The doctor is often left with a Hobson’s choice of staying at an unhappy job with incompetent and potentially dangerous management or leaving town. No one is left to advocate for you, the patient.

 

Non-compete agreements are outrageous and unethical in healthcare. They disrupt the doctor patient relationship and hurt our workforce. When physicians leave the state, even for a short period of time, they rarely come back. Most medical groups spend a huge amount of money recruiting, but nobody tracks losses when doctors leave. In the end, it is the patients who suffer when they lose a trusted provider. I have never seen an administrator look an elderly woman in the eye and explain how his contract forced her doctor out of town.

 

It should come as no surprise that the Washington Hospital Association is profoundly opposes HB 2931. The Washington State Medical Association debated the issue heatedly, and emerged officially neutral. At least one large group made veiled threats to leave the association if even a watered down proposal were considered. The Washington Academy of Family Physicians is the only group that supports the bill, reflecting the public health orientation of primary care sector. Oddly enough, Republicans tend to like bills like HB 2931, because they foster free markets. Democrats like them because they protect employees. This is a bipartisan issue that aims to clip “Big Corporate,” not “Big Government.”

 

In many industries, non-compete agreements are merely an over-reaching effort to own their workforce. As one misdirected lobbyist asserted at the House Labor Committee, “our people ARE our intellectual property.” One wonders how Silicon Valley has thrived, since California is a place where these covenants are nearly completely unenforceable. Perhaps economic development is constrained when tech companies are allowed to impose draconian non-compete clauses?

 

There are numerous options which would make covenants more fair to communities, patients and doctors, but none of the corporations that run the state’s health care apparatus will even discuss the matter. It is time to reclaim the natural rights of individuals to work where they please without undue interference from anonymous corporations. Now it is up to the Senate to make HB 2931 law.

 

Why Overpay for Healthcare?

I firmly believe that family medicine is rooted in communities. It is the only way the physician can develop an understanding of the local culture, industry, and lifestyle to “get it” from the patient’s perspective.

Live, work and serve in the community was a principle articulated by Ian McWhinney in his Introduction to Family Medicine in 1981. Cost shifting, that is using your revenue from paying patients to care for those who could not afford care, was a time-tested method of paying for healthcare for decades. This was a tacit understanding between paying patient and physician which exists no longer. Although it is not a direct part of the physician-patient relationship, it has always been part of the landscape and responsibility that a physician embedded in a community would be expected to live up to. It is also part of the responsibility of a community in taking care of their own.

What about people who don’t need “therapy?”

Well the longer you’ve been around, the more you realize everyone needs therapy. But for those where the posture is too much, realize that life coaches approach therapy from a really practical perspective, rather than the stereotype of a navel gazing, pipe smoking “shrink.” Also for those whose counselling needs are not very acute, we can always stand to improve ourselves, be more effective in relationships, health habits and goal achievement.

 

Objections to DPC

The taint of concierge care for the elite sticks to DPC, although it is an inherently advantageous way to provide primary care and is ideal for people who cannot afford going to the doctor or taking care of themselves.

There is so much more to the stubborn misunderstanding of the role of DPC in the health system, but this is why we have blogs and record brief videos.

What is Direct Primary Care?

This is my version of a definition, but the best legal definition of direct primary care is here:

FOR THE PRACTICE TO QUALIFY AS A DIRECT PRIMARY CARE PRACTICE THE PRACTICE MUST:

1) CHARGE A PERIODIC FEE

2) NOT BILL ANY THIRD PARTIES ON A FEE FOR SERVICE BASIS, AND

3) ANY PER VISIT CHARGE MUST BE LESS THAN THE MONTHLY EQUIVALENT OF THE PERIODIC FEE

Thank you Dr. Eskew.

Addressing Primary Care Gaps

I recently met Diane Lund-Muzikant, publisher, editor, organizer and all ’round charm for The Lund Report.

Every state should have such a publication focused on the local health system. And a fireplug to match Diane’s energy. She said I could write an editorial whenever I would like to highlight primary care issues.

Here is my first effort published September 22, 2015.

The greatest success of Obamacare, is the reduction in the number of uninsured. Most of this improvement has come in lower income groups, who disproportionately suffer the burden of illness and the most difficult social circumstances, including poor employment prospects. So it is unsurprising that Medicaid expansion accounts for over 2/3 of the newly insured, according to the Heritage Foundation. The political partisans use this as a weapon arguing that Obamacare resulted in little more than the expansion of the Medicaid entitlement. The other side feels that more has to be done to cover the remaining 10 million uninsured.

What about the social value of medical coverage to vulnerable populations, the economic benefits of health care to this group and a questioning of the cost relative to the benefits? Sometimes it is OK to spend tax money if there is value and accountability. If our nation is to spend public money on healthcare, it is incumbent on policy-makers to ensure the greatest value for the effort.

The greatest public value derived from modern medicine is derived from immunizations, maternal-child health and primary care. When the newly insured report that they do not have access, they mean primary care docs who understand their situation and listen to their concerns. Unfortunately, the healthcare system as it stands commoditizes primary care and works against the functions of primary care, especially continuity. Each time someone looks for new primary care provider, the system has failed.

Because healthcare in the US is purchased through employers, their entire family would change provider when jobs turn over. As health plans move to narrow networks, odds are increasing that their doctor will not be in the network offered by the next employer. This interferes with continuity of care over time and erodes outcomes.

The situation is worse for low income individuals and the Medicaid population. Some in this population suffer from mental health problems and are easily overwhelmed by the normal demands of life. They find it difficult to hold onto jobs for a long periods of time. Unstable insurance source from a Medicaid provider to a narrow network and back, repeatedly forcing them into new primary care relationships.

Long term relationships between doctors and their patients build trust. It is the trust built on years of knowing the person embedded within the context of family and community which improves outcomes and reduces costs. The lower the income level, the greater the vulnerability, the greater the risk of bouncing on and off Medicaid, with lapses and fluctuating access determined by deductibles and coinsurance.

Erika Bliss, the CEO of QLiance, a Direct Primary Care company in Seattle, suggested to me a few months ago an idea that could help bolster how primary care improves health system performance. Perhaps it is time to consider a primary care benefit that is portable from employer to employer and continuous with Medicaid. It is easy to carve primary care out of traditional insurance, where it should always represent the top dollar of healthcare spending. This is the idea behind the growing Direct Primary Care movement where high impact primary care is paid for on a monthly subscription basis. First, this helps maintain continuity between a doctor and their patient, a foundation stone of primary care. Second, it serves to create a sustainable business model for medical students to do what they idealistically entered medicine to accomplish and attract more smart people to primary care specialties. Third, primary care increases the efficiency of healthcare systems around the world, which seems to be the fundamental motivation behind the notion of value-based purchasing. If you want to buy value, invest in primary care not MRIs and pay as much as you reasonably can.

Reflections on Health Care Past, and Future

The Portland Business Journal recently sponsored a forum entitled Health Care of the Future, providing a glimpse into what Portland companies are doing to disrupt the healthcare system. Panelists discussed new models for healthcare, new technologies that extend the reach of physicians and financing methods. It was a hugely attended event, with a great buzz, fantastic networking opportunities and a lot of great information. But close to the end of the conference, a couple of comments were made by panelists that I found incredibly frustrating reflections of an old, broken, sick health care system that were oddly out of place.

 

First, Jared Short, the head of Cambia’s Insurance group (Regence BCBS) who recounted diagnostic failure in the primary care setting as one reason for high cost to the system. He brought up a personal experience with his son’s diagnosis of a chronic rheumatic condition that took over two years to diagnose, despite elaborate investigations. Of course we don’t know the clinical details, but that’s why it’s an unfair characterization of primary care.

 

As an intern, I was responsible for the diagnosis of a case of lupus in a man who had been searching for a cause over ten years. I was not smarter than my colleagues or professors, but rather, the unique evolution of his disease made it impossible to diagnose earlier. Doctors knew that waiting and watching was the best possible strategy and in this patient’s specific case, there was sufficient trust that the patient was content to wait rather than pursue useless investigations. This is always necessary in a market where distortions are introduced by the fact that advanced investigations are essentially subsidized by payers. If patients understood what little value they added at time, they would decline. It is frightening that the head of one of the largest and most powerful payers in the Northwest has such a distorted view of the diagnostic process and value within the system.

 

If primary care is inadequate, then we should invest in supporting primary care and attracting the smartest minds. You do not get to underinvest in a key health system function for decades and then complain that it doesn’t do its job.

 

The other inexplicable comment is one I used to hear frequently in healthcare business circles in the past. Martie Ross, a principal in a consulting firm out east, made the point that insurers needed to find mechanisms of transferring risk to health providers with new value-based payment methodologies.

 

My point is that healthcare providers are not risk bearing entities and should generally be discouraged from doing so. It is not clear which features of ACOs predict their success, but some of the most successful ones have been where the risk was transferred to the ACO, but not necessarily to the providers. Providers should be in the business of taking care of people and doing the right thing, irrespective of the cost. As far as insurers go, their business is the management of risk, not the transfer of risk. To a lifelong family physician, insurance companies transferring risk seems like cheating.

 

Moreover, the only entities large enough to absorb this kind of risk are large integrated health systems which is the birthplace of perverse incentives for high volume, excessive and sometimes unnecessary care. Small practices arguably do better at quality where large systems are better at collecting data and generating revenue.

 

The disdain for primary care and the industry’s tone-deaf dehumanization of health to “risk transfer” are part of the reason our old system is broken and we are experiencing this generational opportunity for disruption. This is the health care of the past, not the Health Care of the Future.