It occurred to me, as it might have to scores of others in the legion of medical care that there is something very disturbing going on. Now before we get ourselves in bunches, let me say, this only affects the physicians in very meaningful ways. (There, I’ve lost the majority of the readers). For those still hanging on, lets look at what is exactly going on.
Remember the Electronic Medical Records (heretofore mentioned as EMR or EHR interchangeably)? I’m sure you do. But here is the rub, When the powers that be, all comfortably seated in deep cushioned chairs on marbled floors designed the concept, they failed to understand the basic patient-physician interaction. After all their paradigm was based on the ICD and IPT coding mechanics buried within a sea of paper data within the vaults of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (heretofore called CMS). The digits when subjected to the rigors of algorithms would displace all worries. So using their best or only information, they (the powers to be) deduced that if all information could be inputted by the physicians directly into the digital format, why, then the CMS could make meaningful decisions, such as appropriate payments for services rendered. Rampant in that thought process like dust scattering from an ailing fantasy was the concept of cost-containment. After all the cost of healthcare was going up and usurping 18% of the Gross Domestic Product. “That could not be!” they cried. So the EMR “Meaningful Use” was invented. Some coddled the green fantasy as well, “Less paper invoice use would save the trees!” Nothing better than that, sliced bread, apple pie and gaia-hood all packaged in one.
The carrot placed upon the dying breed of physicians who really cared for their patients was, “If you implement an EMR in your medical practice, CMS would give you “X” amount of dollars. Doctors felt, “Hey why not. I get to digitize my medical records and have them available 24/7 to me for decision making.” A win-win concept they thought. “Everything on my little smartphone or tablet.” Not so fast, you graphene-loving-silicone-dependent gadget lovers, not so fast.
Along came an enterprising agency with the best ceramic wafers, bestowed as “the EMR provider” by the CMS, whose CEO had paid a significant amount of money in election campaigns, and won nearly half if not more of the software/hardware installations across the global field of healthcare in the United States. But the software was proprietary and therefore not easily, if at all interactive, with other software vendors vying for the same multi-billion-dollar pie (not in the sky). The doctor’s records could not interface with the hospital medical records nor with other physician’s and lo and behold silos developed within the software empires where dollars were raining down by the bushels. from millions into billions overnight, just like the tech-boom of 1999.
Physicians, oh yes lets not forget those “middlemen” as some called them, were stuck with thousands of out of pocket dollars in purchasing, implementing, training employees and themselves, losing hundreds if not thousands of hours that should have rightly been spent in caring for their patients. The reward after expensing a large supposedly reimbursable “X” amount from CMS they were shocked to realize that of they paid $30,000.00 for a system and $10,000 for implementation, the reimbursement was around $16,000.00 - $18,000.00. But, hey the Return on Investment would be the speedy reimbursement from CMS that would take a bite out of the Medical Revenue Cycle, and that, the physicians thought was worth the loss they were incurring. The only caveat was if you were tied to medicare for reimbursement for services rendered and you did not dive into the EMR business you would face a cut in payments also.
Not so fast Watson, CMS decided to implement the ICD-10 coding system and told physicians to take a loan for keeping themselves afloat during the governmental transition and delayed payments. Oh okay, but everything would be alright afterwards. No worries!
The stick followed the carrot in lock-step. And as we all know accepting money from a governmental agency is filled with a stack of papers that have to be signed, boxes to be checked, “Ts” crossed and “Is” dotted. The next hammer was a Medicare (CMS) Audit of all the physicians who had claimed the EMR bonuses. If the use was not “Meaningful” in the auditor’s opinion then doctor would have to return the bonus back to CMS. Oh and by the way, the auditors were outside agencies empowered to go and find out those that had not complied and these auditors for their efforts were to receive 20-30% of the returned bonus bounty. This might sound sarcastic, but the incentive for the auditors makes them slightly porous to the wild idea of “dinging” the doctors (agency theory) to improve their own bottom line (hey that’s human nature - don’t blame me, I’s just pointing it out to you).
Meanwhile studies started tumbling down the express corridor that “EMR Meaningful Use” had not improved medical care for the patient at all. In fact patients began complaining (as if anyone was listening to them in the bureaucratic stronghold of CMS) that the doctor spent more time looking at the computer screen then at them. The doctors ambushed with costs, audits, denials of service, patient dissatisfaction, became disillusioned and depressed (over 54% if not more). They were told that their expertise was subpar to the algorithm based on some wide eyed, bushy-tailed 18-year old software engineer and may not based on decades of experiential reference. Oh no, the codes told the story and treatment had to be based on the codes or the rain of sparking embers from CMS would engulf the physicians into a spectacular conflagration. Care would be based on Costs from now on and more and more Societies and expert physician bodies mirrored the meme of this rapidly unfolding paradigm.
The story goes on…
The fingers keep pointing at the patient - physician interaction and at the physicians. In one breath Healthcare costs ($3 TRILLION) are tied to care delivered by the physician to his or her patient. No where is mentioned the 800lb businessman/woman gorilla that loves to ransack the honey-ladened spread under the tent.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few bad (apples) physicians and other providers in the healthcare field that give a bad name to us all. But they are few and can be weeded out easily without destroying the best medical care in the world.
The answer… cometh soon.