Search Journal-type in search term and press enter
Social Media-Follow Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care on Facebook and Twitter

Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
   Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 
Multidisciplinary Discussion (MDD) in Interstitial Lung Disease; Some
   Reflections 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Entries in cost (3)

Monday
May132019

The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment

Several years ago, Dr. Jack had a popular, solo internal medicine practice in Phoenix. However, over a period of about 15-20 years, the profitability of Jack’s private practice dwindled and he was working 60+ hours per week to keep his head above water. This is not what he planned in his mid-50’s when he hoped to be settling into a comfortable lifestyle in anticipation of retirement. Jack eventually closed his practice and took a job as a hospital-employed physician. Jack’s story has become all too common. The majority of physicians are now hospital-employed (1).

The increase in hospital-employed physicians raises at least 2 questions: 1. How can a busy private practice not be profitable? and 2. Is it good to have most physicians hospital-employed? Like Jack, it seems most physicians seek hospital employment for financial and lifestyle reasons. But how can a primary care practice like Jack’s not be profitable when the cost of healthcare has risen so markedly?

To understand why a practice can be busy but not necessarily profitable we need to follow the money. First, reimbursement for private practice has decreased in real dollars (Figure 1) (2). 

Figure 1. Inflation and Medicare physician fee schedule (MPFS) growth in percent from 2006-2017 (2).

Private practice physician reimbursement is the only major cost center that the Centers and Medicaid Services (CMS) has singled out for asymmetrical negative annual fee schedule adjustments. The other major cost centers—hospital inpatient and outpatient, ambulatory surgical centers, and clinical laboratories—all had fee schedule adjustments that were nearly equal to and typically greater than inflation (2). Of course, private insurance companies follow CMS’ lead and so reimbursement to private practice physicians dramatically decreased (3).

In addition, increased requirements for documentation and paperwork were imposed by CMS and quickly picked up by private insurers. These required more physician time and/or the hiring of additional personnel. In addition, there were increasing annoyances and burdens placed on physicians to review and sign forms and prescriptions which already been electronically submitted. Often these annoyances were so the durable medical equipment provider, pharmacy, etc. could be reimbursed. These later burdens now take up to one-sixth of a physicians’ time, decrease office efficiency, and not surprisingly, greatly decrease physician job satisfaction (4).

The second question is whether hospital-employed physicians is a good thing for patients. Although hospitals have argued that hospital-based physicians provide better care, patient outcomes appear to be no different (5). Hospitals have engaged in a number of practices resulting in physicians being financially squeezed. The American Hospital Association (AHA) has lobbied CMS and Congress for payments that are much higher than independent physicians’ offices, assuring hospital profitability. However, under the Trump administration, CMS proposed to pay the same rate for services delivered at off-campus hospital outpatient departments and independent doctors' offices (called site neutrality) (6). This would result in about a 60% cut to the hospitals for these services (7). Not surprisingly, hospitals complained and lobbied Congress to rescind the rule (7). Later the AHA sued CMS challenging the "serious reductions to Medicare payment rates" as executive overreach (8). The case is currently pending before the courts.

Hospitals have also engaged in a number of practices to limit competition from physicians’ offices. First, several have employed a non-compete clause as a condition of obtaining staff privileges. These clauses mean that should a physician leave a hospital, the physician is unable to reestablish a practice within a specified distance of the hospital (often within a radius of 50 miles) (9). Of course, in a metropolitan area this means the physician has to leave the city, or in the case of a large hospital chain, the physician may have difficulty finding areas to practice even in the same state. Second, with the “hospitalist movement” many hospitals have seized on the opportunity to essentially self-refer. That is, the hospitals schedule follow-up appointments with primary care or other physicians employed by the hospitals.

A study documents that healthcare costs for four common procedures rose with increasing hospital physician employment (10). A 49% increase in hospital-employed physicians led to CMS paying $2.7 billion more for diagnostic cardiac catheterizations, echocardiograms, arthrocentesis and colonoscopies delivered in hospital outpatient settings than it would for treatment in independent facilities. CMS beneficiaries footed an additional $411 million.

Although many decry a fee-for-service healthcare system as being too expensive, the increase in hospital-employed physicians seems to only have increased healthcare costs. Action by CMS is needed not only for site neutrality but also a number of other areas to ensure health competition in healthcare.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Kane CK. Updated data on physician practice arrangements: For the first time, fewer physicians are owners than employees. Policy Research Perspectives. American Medical Association. 2019. Available at: https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2019-05/prp-fewer-owners-benchmark-survey-2018.pdf (accessed 5/11/19).
  2. Cherf J. Unsustainable physician reimbursement rates. AAOS Now. October, 2017. Available at: https://www.aaos.org/AAOSNow/2017/Oct/Cover/cover01/ (accessed 5/11/19).
  3. Clemens J, Gottlieb JD. In the shadow of a giant: Medicare's influence on private physician payments. J Polit Econ. 2017 Feb;125(1):1-39. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  4. Woolhandler S, Himmelstein DU. Administrative work consumes one-sixth of U.S. physicians' working hours and lowers their career satisfaction. Int J Health Serv. 2014;44(4):635-42. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Short MN, Ho V. Weighing the effects of vertical integration versus market concentration on hospital quality. Med Care Res Rev. 2019 Feb 9:1077558719828938. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Robbins RA. CMS decreases clinic visit payments to hospital-employed physicians and expands decreases in drug payments 340b cuts. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(5):136. [CrossRef]
  7. Luthi S, Dickson V. Medicare's site-neutral pay plan targeted in hospitals' lobbying. Modern Healthcare. September 25, 2018. Available at: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180925/TRANSFORMATION04/180929928/medicare-s-site-neutral-pay-plan-targeted-in-hospitals-lobbying (accessed May 11, 2019).
  8. Luthi S. Hospitals sue over site-neutral payment policy. Modern Healthcare. December 04, 2018. Available at: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20181204/NEWS/181209973/hospitals-sue-over-site-neutral-payment-policy (accessed May 11, 2019).
  9. Darves B. Restrictive covenants: A look at what’s fair, what’s legal and everything in between, Today’s Hospitalist. April 2006. Available at: https://www.todayshospitalist.com/restrictive-covenants-a-look-at-whats-fair-whats-legal-and-everything-in-between/ (accessed May 11, 2019).
  10. Kacik A. Hospital-employed physicians drain Medicare. Modern Healthcare. November 14, 2017. Available at: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20171114/NEWS/171119942/hospital-employed-physicians-drain-medicare (accessed May 11, 2019).

Cite as: Robbins RA. The implications of increasing physician hospital employment. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;18(5):141-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc025-19 PDF 

Saturday
Dec122015

CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals for Safety Incidents 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is penalizing 758 hospitals with higher rates of patient safety incidents, and more than half of those were also fined last year, as reported by Kaiser Health News (1).

Among the hospitals being financially punished are some well-known institutions, including Yale New Haven Hospital, Medstar Washington Hospital Center in DC, Grady Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Indiana University Health,  Brigham and Womens Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, University of North Carolina Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Parkland Health and Hospital, and the University of Virginia Medical Center (Complete List of Hospitals Penalized 2016). In the Southwest the list includes Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Stanford Health Care, Denver Health Medical Center and the University of New Mexico Medical Center (for list of Southwest hospitals see Appendix 1). In total, CMS estimates the penalties will cost hospitals $364 million. Look now if you must, but you might want to read the below before on how to interpret the data.

The penalties, created by the 2010 health law, are the toughest sanctions CMS has taken on hospital safety. Patient safety advocates worry the fines are not large enough to alter hospital behavior and that they only examine a small portion of the types of mistakes that take place. On the other hand, hospitals say the penalties are counterproductive and unfairly levied against places that have made progress in safety but have not caught up to most facilities. They are also bothered that the health law requires CMS to punish a quarter of hospitals each year. CMS plans to add more types of conditions in future years.

I would like to raise two additional concerns. First, is the data accurate? The data is self-reported by the hospitals and previously the accuracy of these self reports has been questioned (2). Are some hospitals being punished for accurately reporting data while others rewarded for lying? I doubt that CMS will be looking too closely since bad data would invalidate their claims that they are improving hospital safety. It seems unlikely that punishing half the Nation's hospitals will do much except encouraging more suspect data.

Second, does the data mean anything? Please do not misconstrue or twist the truth that I am advocating against patient safety. What I am advocating for is meaningful measures. Previous research has suggested that the measures chosen by CMS have no correlation or even a negative correlation with patient outcomes (3,4). In other words, doing well on a safety measure was associated with either no improvement or a negative outcome, in some cases even death. How can this be? Let me draw an analogy of hospital admissions. About 1% of the 35 million or so patients admitted to hospitals in the US die. The death rate is much lower in the population not admitted to the hospital. According to CMS' logic, if we were to reduce admissions by 5% or 1.75 million, 17,500 lives (1% of 1.75 million) would be saved. This is, of course, absurd.

Looking at hospital acquired infections which make up much of CMS' data, CMS' logic appears similar. For example, insertion of urinary catheters, large bore central lines or endotracheal intubation in sick patients is common. The downside is some will develop urinary, line or lung infections as a complication of these insertions. Many of these sick patients will die and many will have line infections. The data is usually reported by saying hospital-acquired infections have decreased saving 50,000 lives and saved $12 billion in care costs (5). However, the truth is that hospital-acquired infections are often either not the cause of death or the final event in a disease process that caused the patient to be admitted to the hospital in the first place. If 50,000 lives are saved that should be reflected in the hospital death rates or a savings on insurance premiums. Neither has been shown to my knowledge.

So look at the data if you must but look with a skeptical eye. Until CMS convincingly demonstrates that the data is accurate and that their incentives decrease in-hospital complications, mortality and costs-the data is suspect. It could be as simple that the hospitals receiving the penalties are those taking care of sicker patients. What this means is that some hospitals, perhaps the ones that need the money the most, will have 1% less CMS reimbursement, which might make care worse rather than better.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

SWJPCC

References

  1. Rau J. Medicare penalizes 758 hospitals for safety incidents, Kaiser Health News. December 10, 2015. Available at: http://khn.org/news/medicare-penalizes-758-hospitals-for-safety-incidents/ (accessed 12/11/15).
  2. Robbins RA. The Emperor has no clothes: the accuracy of hospital performance data. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;5:203-5.
  3. Robbins RA, Gerkin RD. Comparisons between Medicare mortality, morbidity, readmission and complications. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(6):278-86
  4. Lee GM, Kleinman K, Soumerai SB, et al. Effect of nonpayment for preventable infections in U.S. hospitals. N Engl J Med. 2012;367(15):1428-37. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Department of Health and Human Services. Efforts to improve patient safety result in 1.3 million fewer patient harms, 50,000 lives saved and $12 billion in health spending avoided. December 2, 2014. Available at: http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2014/12/02/efforts-improve-patient-safety-result-1-3-million-fewer-patient-harms-50000-lives-saved-and-12-billion-in-health-spending-avoided.html (accessed 12/11/15).

Cite as: Robbins RA. CMS penalizes 758 hospitals for safety incidents. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(6):269-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc153-15 PDF

Tuesday
Jun042013

Choosing Wisely-Where Is the Choice? 

A little over a year ago an editorial was posted in the Southwest Journal about the Choosing Wisely campaign from the American Board of Internal Medicine and Consumer Reports (1). You may remember that Choosing Wisely announced a list of procedures or treatments that patients should question (2). In the editorial we wondered why pulmonary organizations such as the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and the American College of Chest Physicians authored none of the recommendations and offered 10 suggestions. We also openly questioned if the recommendations were intended to improve patient care or reduce costs, and thus improve the profits of third party carriers.

We can now report that recommendations were announced at the recent ATS meeting in Philadelphia. Seven recommendations were made for critical care and seven for pulmonary disease. Five from the critical care list and five from the pulmonary list will eventually be chosen for inclusion in Choosing Wisely. The recommendations are listed below:

Critical Care

  1. Thou shalt not order diagnostic tests at regular intervals (e.g., daily) but instead order tests based on needs.
  2. Thou shalt not use parenteral nutrition in the first 7 days of an ICU admission in patients adequately nourished.
  3. Thou shalt not transfuse red blood cells in hemodynamically stable patients with a hemoglobin > 7 gm/dL.
  4. Thou shalt not sedate mechanically ventilated patients without an indication.
  5. Thou shalt not continue life support for at patients at high risk for death.
  6. Thou shalt not initiate or continue antimicrobials without an indication.
  7. Thou shalt not place or maintain an arterial or central venous catheter without an indication.

Pulmonary

  1. Thou shall not perform thoracic CT scans for follow up of pulmonary nodules more frequently than the guidelines (Fleishner Society) suggest.
  2. Thou shalt not discontinue oxygen from recently discharged patient prescribed oxygen without checking for hypoxemia.
  3. Thou shalt not routinely administer intravenous corticosteroids for exacerbations of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when the patient is able to take oral steroids.
  4. Thou shalt not do thoracic CT scan screening for patients at low risk for lung cancer.
  5. Thou shalt not do chest x-rays on asymptomatic patients routinely.
  6. Thou shalt not offer vasoactive agents for groups 2 (left heart disease) and 3 (hypoxia) pulmonary artery hypertension (PAH).
  7. Thou shalt not perform thoracic CT angiography for pulmonary embolism on patients with low probability and a negative d-dimer.

In the question and answer session after the recommendations were presented, a member of the audience noted that most of the recommendations were negative, directing physicians what not to do. We confess that we added the “Thou shalt not …” to emphasize this point but cannot overlook the fact that these recommendations look suspiciously like commandments. The negativity implicit in the ATS recommendations is consistent with the recommendations by other subspecialties listed on the Choosing Wisely website (2).  While the recommendations are reputedly about reducing the use of unnecessary or potentially dangerous testing, both worthy goals, the tone suggests there will be consequences for failure to comply.

What we find offensive is the Choosing Wisely and ultimately the ABIM foundation assertion that this is an initiative “focused on encouraging physicians, patients and other health care stakeholders to think and talk about medical tests and procedures that may be unnecessary” (2). Where is the encouragement and where is the choice in a series of DO NOT commandments?  It seems an even-handed approach of an objective statement would be much more appropriate and yet carry the same information, e.g. Chest CT scans are rarely required for screening patients at low risk for lung cancer rather than “Do not do thoracic CT scan screening for patients at low risk for lung cancer”.  It seems that rather than encouraging conversation the Choosing Wisely statement puts doctor and patient in an adversarial relationship especially if the doctor feels something is needed which is expressly stated with a “Do not”.

Rather than a laundry list of no-no’s a guiding principle might be better. The American College of Physicians (ACP) has offered, “The physician should always act in the best interests of the patient” (3). Despite objections to the profession of the author of the ACP statement, a lawyer, the overall sentiment is a good one (4). It removes the adversarial relationship the Choosing Wisely campaign encourages and places physicians where they belong-on the side of the patient.

In our view the present Choosing Wisely campaign has fundamental flaws-not because it is medically wrong but because it attempts to replace choice and good judgment with a rigid set of rules that undoubtedly will have many exceptions. Based on what we have seen so far, we suspect that Choosing Wisely is much more about saving money than improving patient care. We also predict it will be used by the unknowing or unscrupulous to further interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.  When the recommendations of an authoritarian body take the form of commandments and preempt clinical decision making, then it seems the wise choice of a wary clinician is to tacitly comply - in other words there is no choice.

Richard A. Robbins, M.D.*

Allen R. Thomas, M.D.*

References

 

  1. Robbins RA, Thomas AR. Will fewer tests improve healthcare or profits? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:111-3.
  2. http://www.choosingwisely.org/ (accessed 6/3/13).
  3. Snyder L.  American College of Physicians Ethics Manual.  Sixth Edition.  Ann Intern Med. 2012:156;1:suppl 73-101.
  4. Raschke RA. February 2012 critical care journal club. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:51-2.

*The opinions expressed in this editorial are the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the opinions of the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care or the Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado Thoracic Societies.

Reference as: Robbins RA, Thomas AR. Choosing wisely-where is the choice? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(6):272-4. PDF