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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

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

Blue Shield of California Announces Help for Independent Doctors-A
   Warning
Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
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 

 

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.

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Entries in Department of Veterans Affairs (11)

Monday
Sep032018

A Labor Day Warning

Today is Labor Day, a public holiday honoring the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. Though this holiday dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, the concept of organized labor is under increasing attack. While many of the physician and nurse readers may think that “labor” does not apply to them, after all they are professionals, management would likely disagree.

In Arizona v. Maricopa County Medical Society in 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that when physicians negotiate collectively with insurers about fees, and as a consequence do not compete with one another, such negotiations represent a horizontal agreement among competitors to fix prices (1). This was based on the concept of physicians being independent from hospitals or healthcare systems. However, more physicians are now hospital employed which has been in no small part due to cuts in physician compensation by Medicare with the insurers rapidly following. This increase in physician employment has been associated with increased billings leading to increased profits and decreased physician compensation (2,3).

The Nation’s largest healthcare system is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The pace of VA hiring has not kept pace with the growth of patients leading to prolonged wait times first reported in Phoenix (4). Two recent decisions will likely affect physician hiring and retention at the VA. First, President Trump announced cancellation of the the planned salary increase for civilian employees (5). Second, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, cancelled collective bargaining rights when it comes to professional conduct and patient care by VA providers (6). In the private sector, hospital employed physicians seem to becoming increasingly discontented because of 1. Having to deal with a lot of rules; 2. Having to deal with a large bureaucracy. 3. Not having a staff under their control; and 4. Having little control over compensation models (7).

All in all, this does not bode well for physicians or patients. The data suggest that the Medicare has helped destroy independently employed physicians while over compensating hospital employed physicians whose fees are collected by the hospital (7). This trend will likely continue until Medicare realizes that the existence of the independent practitioner keeps healthcare costs down. By financially squeezing the independent practitioner Medicare’s actions lead to decreased competition and increased healthcare costs.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Halper HR. Arizona v. Maricopa County: a stern antitrust warning to healthcare providers. Healthc Financ Manage. 1982 Oct;36(10):38-42. [PubMed]
  2. Lowes R. Hospital-employed physicians cost Medicare more, study says. Medscape. November 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/888772#vp_1 (accessed 9/3/18).
  3. Kane L. Medscape physician compensation report 2018. Medscape. April 11, 2018. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2018-compensation-overview-6009667#12 (accessed 9/3/18).
  4. Davidson J. VA doctor shortage fueled by management issues, poor pay The Washington Post. July 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/07/16/va-doctor-shortage-fueled-by-management-issues-poor-pay/?utm_term=.070275d06e2a  (accessed 9/3/18).
  5. Liptak K. Trump cancels pay raises for federal employees. CNN. August 31, 2018. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/30/politics/trump-cancels-federal-employee-pay-raises/index.html (accessed 9/3/18).
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA secretary clarifies collective bargaining authority for patient care. August 29, 2018. Available at: https://www.managedhealthcareconnect.com/content/va-secretary-clarifies-collective-bargaining-authority-patient-care?hmpid=cmlja3JvYmJpbnNAY294Lm5ldA== (accessed 9/3/18).
  7. Mertz GJ. Physicians employed by hospitals. Medscape. January 01, 2018. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/891120#vp_1 (accessed 9/3/18).
  8. Lowes R. Hospital-employed physicians cost medicare more, study says. Medscape. November 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/888772 (accessed 9/3/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. A labor day warning. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(3):95-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc106-18 PDF 

Friday
Jun082018

The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?

Yesterday on D-Day, the 74th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, President Trump signed the VA Mission Act. The law directs the VA to combine a number of existing private-care programs, including the so-called Choice program, which was created in 2014 after veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA (1). During the signing Trump touted the new law saying “there has never been anything like this in the history of the VA” and saying that veterans “can go right outside [the VA] to a private doctor”-but can they? Although the bill authorizes private care, it appropriates no money to pay for it. Although a bipartisan plan to fund the expansion is proposed in the House, the White House has been lobbying Republicans to vote the plan down (2). Instead Trump has been asking Congress to pay for veteran’s programs by cutting spending elsewhere (2).

We in Arizona are very familiar with what is likely ahead if the VA Mission Act goes unfunded. One example is Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS). After enduring years of funding cuts after the 2007 recession, many CPS employees left and the caseloads of those remaining became unmanageable. In 2013 a scandal erupted when it was uncovered that over 6000 cases of child abuse or neglect were not investigated (3). Many legislators who were responsible for the funding cuts blamed poor management and eventually CPS was reformed as a separate agency.

Arizona schools may be going to the same direction as CPS. After reducing funding to the point that Arizona schools spend less per pupil that any state in the nation, Governor Doug Ducey and many of the Arizona legislators favor charter/private schools (4). However, tax dollars are funneled away from public schools by the expansion of the charter/private school voucher system (4).

The VA may also be getting this “funding to fail” treatment with the VA Mission Act. If confirmed, Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee, Robert Wilkie, would lead the effort to implement the VA Mission Care Act (2). With no funding Wilkie will undoubtedly need to take money from other VA programs leading to their failure. Down the road, he can expect criticism for the failed programs and be fired by a tweet as did the previous Secretary for Veterans Affairs (5).

Un- or under-funded mandates have become a favorite of politicians who take credit for voting for something good but avoid the blame of voting to pay for it. However, at the moment the economy seems sufficiently strong that Congress enacted a $1.5 trillion tax cut and can fund an expensive border wall. The VA Mission Act can provide the healthcare the VA has been unable to perform but only if accompanied by the $50 billion funding it requires to be successful.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Slack D. Trump signs VA law to provide veterans more private health care choices. USA TODAY. June 6, 2018. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/06/06/trump-signs-law-expanding-vets-healthcare-choices/673906002/ (accessed 6/7/18)
  2. Werner E, Rein L. Trump signs veterans health bill as White House works against bipartisan plan to fund it. Washington Post. June 6, 2018. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-veterans-health-bill-20180606-story.html (accessed 6/7/18)
  3. Santos F. Thousands of ignored child abuse allegations plague Arizona welfare agency. NY Times. December 10, 2013. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/thousands-of-ignored-abuse-allegations-plague-arizona-welfare-agency.html (accessed 6/7/18)
  4. Alan Singer. How charter schools buy political support. Huffington Post. August 10, 2017. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-charter-schools-buy-political-support_us_598c3149e4b08a4c247f287d (accessed 6/7/18).
  5. Robbins RA. What does Shulkin's firing mean for the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):172-3. [CrossRef]

Cite as: Robbins RA. The VA mission act: Funding to fail? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(6):334-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc074-18 PDF 

Monday
Apr302018

Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 

This past week the phrase “kiss up, kick down” was used to describe Ronny Jackson, then a nominee for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1). Wikipedia defines the phrase as “a neologism used to describe the situation where middle level employees in an organization are polite and flattering to superiors but abusive to subordinates” (2). Like most, I do not know Jackson and have no knowledge of the truth. However, the behavior attributed to Dr. Jackson is pervasive and harmful in medicine.

Kiss up, kick down is part of a blame culture. McLendon and Weinberg, see the flow of blame in an organization as one of the most important indicators of organization robustness and integrity (3). They argue that blame flowing upwards in a hierarchy proves that management can take responsibility for their orders and supply the resources required to do a job. However, blame flowing downwards, from management to staff, or laterally between professionals, indicate organizational failure. In a blame culture, problem-solving is replaced by blame-avoidance. Weinberg emphasizes that blame coming from the top generates "fear, malaise, errors, accidents, and passive-aggressive responses from the bottom", with those at the bottom feeling powerless and lacking emotional safety (4).

Calum Paton, Professor of Health Policy at Keele University, describes kiss up kick down as a prevalent feature of the UK National Health Service culture. He raised this point when giving evidence at the public inquiry into concerns of poor care and high mortality at Stafford Hospital in England (5). According to Paton, credit was centralized and blame devolved or transferred to a lower level. "Kiss up kick down means that your middle level people will kiss-up, they will please their masters, political or otherwise, and they will kick down to blame somebody else when things go wrong."

The VA scheduling scandal is a similar American example where management failed to provide the number of providers necessary to care for the patients. When caught, management attempted to blame the physicians (6). This is hardly surprising given that the physicians are often leaderless without anyone to speak for them. Too often physician leaders are not chosen from the best and brightest to protect the best interests of the patient and staff. Rather they are selected because they are the most compliant with management (kiss up).

Physicians near the top of a hierarchy are usually administrators peripherally involved in patient care. They may not always act with the best interests of the patient and staff but with what is best for their bosses and themselves as both the Stafford and VA examples illustrate. As such, they can be expected to “roll over on anyone” (kick down), a phrase used to describe Dr. Jackson (1). Furthermore, their practice skills may be weak or outdated making them particularly dangerous to the organization.

Physicians who put patient needs first often find themselves at odds with what is best for management. It may be time to reconsider how physician leaders are chosen. The medical staff is probably in the best position to judge which physicians are the best physician leaders rather than the obsequious leaders often chosen by management (7). If the medical staff chosen physician leader can work with management, the organization will have a dyad leadership. If not, then the physician leaders with the support of the staff can oppose those policies deemed harmful to patients or the organization.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Blake A. The lengthy list of allegations against Ronny Jackson, annotated. The Washington Post. April 25, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/04/25/the-list-of-allegations-against-ronny-jackson-annotated/?utm_term=.9ee75ad66c9b (accessed 4/28/18).
  2. Kiss up kick down. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_up_kick_down (accessed 4/28/18).
  3. McLendon J, Weinberg GM. Beyond blaming. Aye Conference Article Library. 1996. Available at: http://www.humansystemsinaction.com/beyondblaming/ (accessed 4/28/18).
  4. Gerald M. Weinberg: Beyond Blaming, March 5, 2006, AYE Conference. Available at: http://www.ayeconference.com/beyondblaming/ (accessed 4/28/18).
  5. Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry Transcript - day 103. June 21, 2011. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20150407092403/http://www.midstaffspublicinquiry.com/sites/default/files/transcripts/Tuesday_21_June_2011_-_transcript.pdf (accessed 4/28/18).
  6. Robbins RA. Don't fire Sharon Helman-at least not yet. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(5):275-7. [CrossRef]
  7. Robbins RA. Beware the obsequious physician executive (OPIE) but embrace dyad leadership. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):151-3. [CrossRef]

Cite as: Robbins RA. Kiss up, kick down in medicine. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(4):230-1. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc060-18 PDF 

Saturday
Mar312018

What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 

David Shulkin MD, Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA), was finally fired by President Donald Trump ending long speculation (1). Trump nominated his personal physician, Ronny Jackson MD, to fill Shulkin’s post. The day after his firing, Shulkin criticized his firing in a NY Times op-ed claiming pro-privatization factions within the Trump administration led to his ouster (2). “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Dr. Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

Former Secretary Shulkin’s tenure at the VA has had several controversies. First, as undersecretary of Veterans Healthcare and later as secretary money appropriated to the VA to obtain private care under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Acts of 2014 and the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 appears to have been largely squandered on administrative salaries and expenses rather than hiring healthcare providers to shorten VA wait times (3). Second, Shulkin took a trip with his wife to Europe eventually ending up at Wimbledon to watch tennis (4). The purpose of his trip was ostensibly to attend a London Summit with senior officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to discuss topical issues related to veterans. Although the summit occurred over 2 1/2 days, Shulkin and his wife traveled for 11 days at the taxpayer expense including a side trip to Denmark.

“The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war,” Dr. Shulkin wrote (2). “Working with community providers to adequately ensure that veterans’ needs are met is a good practice. But privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system is a terrible idea.” Going on Shulkin states that, “Unfortunately, the department [VA] has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans … These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run VA care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.”

However, the VA for many years has engaged in a relentless expansion of administration at the expense of healthcare. In the absence of sufficient oversight, Shulkin and VA Central Office did little to curb this trend (3).

Assuming he is confirmed, what will Ronny Jackson, Shulkin’s replacement, do? It seems likely that he will do exactly what Shulkin alleges and Trump apparently wants, i.e., privatize VA healthcare. Whether Jackson will be able to bend the large VA bureaucracy towards privatization is another matter given his lack of healthcare administrative experience. Shulkin may also be right that privatization may only reward select people and companies with profits rather than improving veterans’ care. Regardless, healthcare is more expensive than not delivering healthcare, so the price will probably rise. Time will tell, but something needs to be done. To paraphrase former VA undersecretary Ken Kizer, it is time for another “Prescription for Change” at the VA. 

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Rein L, Rucker P, Wax-Thibodeaux E, Dawsey J.  Trump taps his doctor to replace Shulkin at VA, choosing personal chemistry over traditional qualifications. Washington Post. March 29, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-ousts-veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-in-administrations-latest-shake-up/2018/03/28/3c1da57e-2794-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html?utm_term=.7bcfe44b4ff6 (accessed 3-30-18).
  2. Shulkin DA. Privatizing the V.A. will hurt veterans. NY Times. March 28, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/opinion/shulkin-veterans-affairs-privatization.html (accessed 3-30-18).
  3. US Government Accountability Office. Better data and evaluation could help improve physician staffing, recruitment, and retention strategies. GAO-18-124. October 19, 2017. https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-124 (accessed 3-30-18).
  4. VA Office of Inspector General. Administrative investigation: VA secretary and delegation travel to Europe. Report No. 17-05909-106. February 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-17-05909-106.pdf (accessed 3-30-18).

*Dr. Robbins has received compensation for providing healthcare to veterans under the VA Choice Act.

Cite as: Robbins RA. What does Shulkin's firing mean for the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):172-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc052-18 PDF 

Friday
Dec082017

Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently reported that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not report most physicians whose clinical care was found to be, or suspected of being, substandard to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) or to state licensing boards (1). The GAO examined 5 VAMCs and found required reviews of 148 providers’ clinical care after concerns were raised from October 2013 through March 2017. Of the 148, 5 were subjected to adverse privileging actions and 4 resigned or retired while under review but before adverse actions were taken. Only 1 of these 9 was reported to the NPDB and none was reported to his or her state medical board.

In response to GAO's report and in testimony to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, VA officials said the agency was taking three steps to improve reporting of providers who don't meet required standards:

  1. Reporting more clinical occupations to the NPDB;
  2. Improving the timeliness of reporting;
  3. Enhancing oversight to ensure that no settlement agreements waive the VA's ability to report to NPDB and state licensing boards (2).

What is lacking in the report is determination if substandard actually occurred and how it was determined. The VA has 3 ways of identifying substandard care (1).

  1. Tort claims (the VA equivalent of a medical malpractice lawsuit);
  2. Complaints or incident reports;
  3. Peer review.

Each has major problems of accuracy and fairness at the VA.

The majority of US physicians have been sued (3). The minority of suits are associated with malpractice and malpractice has no apparent association with the outcome of the litigation (4). Over 90% of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court (5). A common misconception is that settling a case before trial means a large financial settlement. However, 90% of the 90% or 82% of all claims, close with no payment (5). However, the VA uses US District Attorney to defend malpractice claims (6). In many instances, the US District Attorney’s office settles the case without determining if there is malpractice. The VA then submits the offending physician(s) name to the NPDB or state boards whether malpractice has been shown or not.

Complaints or incident reports are common in many hospitals, and many, if not most, have little merit (7). However, the weight given to a complaint should be viewed differently depending on the source. When colleagues raise concern about a physician’s care this is more credible than a patient complaining about not receiving their narcotics to a patient advocate. In the GAO report it is unclear if this was a source the of possible substandard care.

Lastly, there is peer review. There are several problems with this process in the VA. The VA selects the “peers”. In many instances the reviewers are un- or under-qualified to review the case (6). Furthermore, the selected reviewers may be conflicted clouding a balanced and fair determination if the physician’s care met the standard of care. There are multiple instances of this at the VA, of which a couple have been cited in the SWJPCC (6).

No surprisingly, a bureaucracy in the federal government has suggested a bureaucratic solution to a nonexistent problem. The goal should not be for more bureaucratic reporting, but a system for determining if a physician’s care has met the standard of care. The VA has shown it is incapable of making this determination fairly and accurately. What is needed is an outside review separated from VA influence and politics. If malpractice is still questioned after an initial VA review, the medical schools or private practioners could provide a source of physician peer review. The case could be presented to a panel of non-VA physician peers chosen in an equitable ratio by the VA and the accused practitioner. In the absence of a more equitable review process, the VA will only succeed in driving away the quality practitioners the veterans need.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. General Accounting Office. VA health care: improved policies and oversight needed for reviewing and reporting providers for quality and safety concerns. Report to the chairman, committee on veterans’ affairs, House of Representatives. GAO-18-63 (Washington, D.C.: November, 2017). Available at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/688378.pdf (accessed 12/6/17).
  2. Terry K. VA medical centers fail to report substandard doctors, GAO says. Medscape. December 5, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/889600?nlid=119420_4502&src=wnl_dne_171206_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1501593&faf=1 (accessed 12/6/17).
  3. Matray M. Medscape malpractice report 2017 finds the majority of physicians sued. Medical Liability Monitor. November 15, 2017. Available at: http://medicalliabilitymonitor.com/news/2017/11/medscape-malpractice-report-2017-finds-the-majority-of-physicians-sued/ (accessed 12/6/17).
  4. Brennan TA, Sox CM, Burstin HR. Relation between negligent adverse events and the outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation. N Engl J Med. 1996 Dec 26;335(26):1963-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Chesanow N. Malpractice: when to settle a suit and when to fight. Medscape. September 25, 2013. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811323_3 (accessed 12/6/17).
  6. Pham JC, Girard T, Pronovost PJ. What to do with healthcare incident reporting systems. J Public Health Res. 2013 Dec 1;2(3):e27. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  7. Robbins RA. Profiles in medical courage: Thomas Kummet and the courage to fight bureaucracy. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(1):29-35.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Equitable peer review and the national practitioner data bank. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(6):271-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc152-17 PDF