Posts Tagged ‘Cardiologists’

Some of America’s Doctors Are Going Broke

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Many of America’s physicians have an embarrassing secret — they are going broke. This quandary is claiming a wide range of casualties, including family physicians, cardiologists and oncologists.

Industry insiders are concerned about the trend.  Approximately 50 percent of all doctors operate a private practice. If a cash crunch forces the closure of an independent practice, it robs a community of a vital healthcare resource.  “A lot of independent practices are starting to see serious financial issues,” said Marc Lion, CEO of Lion & Company CPAs, LLC, which advises independent physician practices about their finances.  Doctors say that smaller insurance reimbursements, changing regulations, soaring business and drug costs take away from their practices’ profitability. Some experts counter that doctors’ lack of business sense shares the blame.

Recent steep 35 percent to 40 percent cuts in Medicare reimbursements for key cardiovascular services, such as stress tests and echocardiograms, have taken a substantial toll on revenue for cardiologists, as an example.  Federal law requires that Medicare reimbursement rates be adjusted every year based on a formula tied to the economy’s health. That law says rates need to be cut every year to keep Medicare financially sound.

Although Congress has blocked those cuts 13 times over the 10 years, most recently on December with a two-month temporary “patch,” this dilemma haunts doctors every year.

Beau Donegan, senior executive with a hospital cancer center in Newport Beach, CA, is well aware of physicians’ financial woes.  “Many are too proud to admit that they are on the verge of bankruptcy,” she said. “These physicians see no way out of the downward spiral of reimbursement, escalating costs of treating patients and insurance companies deciding when and how much they will pay them.

“This is a very timely and truthful story for doctors and hospitals in America. This is also a 911 call for U.S. healthcare security.  More importantly, when a doctor is ‘$3.2 million in debt’ or has to force 6,000 cancer patients to look for a new doctor”, as reported by CNN Money, “our healthcare system infrastructure earthquake is coming,” says Dr. Jin Zhou, president of ERISAclaim.com, a national expert on PPACA and ERISA appeals and compliance.  This 2012 CNN Money report is consistent with an AMA report on March 4, 2011 that 51 percent of doctors in Texas are going broke: “51 percent of Texas doctors dug into personal funds to keep practices afloat in 2010,” Dr. Zhou said.

Writing in Forbes, Rick Ungar counters that “While there is considerable truth to be found in the CNN Money piece, a deeper analysis is in order given the knee-jerk reaction by the many who are too quick to place the problem and the blame at the feet of the federal government.  First off, it is important to recognize that not all physicians in the healthcare system are facing financial crisis. About 50 percent of the nation’s doctors are employed, typically by hospitals, and receive a salary in exchange for their service. So far, these practitioners do not appear to be in any significant financial danger.”

The financial problems are typically experienced by a portion of the remaining 50 percent who wish to operate their own private practices and, as a result, find themselves suffering from the financial stresses faced by so many small businesses in these difficult times.  Yet, even among this 50 percent, not all private practices areas are in trouble. For example, surgeons and dermatologists seem to be doing just fine while cardiologists and oncologists, whose business models necessarily make them more susceptible to trouble, are feeling the pain.

Why oncology and cardiology?

Part of the blame does rest with changes in Medicare and Medicaid payment policies. Certainly, cardiologists and oncologists, whose practices naturally bring them into contact with more senior citizens, are the most likely to feel the pain when it comes to reduced government payments. Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took a hatchet to what is paid to cardiologists for performing important tests such as echocardiograms, stress tests and other “machine” based testing. But what you may not know is that these reductions were based on a survey conducted by the American Medical Association, at the request of the CMS, that seemed to go out of its way to omit cardiologists in private practice from the survey participants. Why? Because private practice cardiologists have, by and large, dropped out of the AMA and the AMA’s interest was in getting more money set aside for those medical practitioners in other areas of medicine who remain members.

Why Aren’t Physicians Paid For Talking To Their Patients?

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

One possible reason that more physicians do not choose family practice as their specialty could be the fact that an essential part of the job is spent talking with patients – an activity that pays less than does performing procedures.   According to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, just two percent of medical students plan a career in general internal medicine, pediatrics or ob/gyn.

Writing on the KevinMD.com website, Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam says that “Family doctors spend more time talking to patients than performing procedures, but these doctors don’t get paid much to chat.  According to Dr. Sameer Badlani, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, when physicians are paid on a fee-for-service basis, specialists have the opportunity to make four to five times as much as a family physician.  Given the increasing debt of medical students, it is no surprise that the overwhelming majority choose to specialize.  In order to increase the supply of primary-care providers and meet the anticipated demand, family physicians need to be reimbursed more for their services.  Congress is looking into legislation that includes provisions for loan forgiveness and increased Medicare/Medicaid payments to primary-care providers.  Additionally, there have been talks of expanding the National Health Service Corps, program that utilizes scholarships and loan repayment to recruit primary care professionals to work in underserved areas.”

Primary-care physicians spend more time talking to patients and helping them avoid health crises to cope with chronic and incurable diseases than they spend performing tests and procedures. These doctors ask relevant questions, about health and life circumstances, and listen carefully to their patients.  These are physicians who know their patients and the circumstances and beliefs that can make health problems worse or hamper effective treatment.  The problem is that reimbursements are dictated by Medicare and other insurers.  As a result, physicians are not compensated well for taking the time to talk to patients.  They are primarily paid for procedures – such as blood tests and surgery — and for the number of patients they see.  Most spend long hours doing paperwork and negotiating treatment options with insurers.  The payments they receive have not increased along with increases in the costs of running a modern medical practice.  To earn a reasonable income of $150,000 a year, many primary-care doctors squeeze more and more patients into the workday.  “If you have only six to eight minutes per patient, which is the average under managed care, you’re forced to concentrate on the acute problem and ignore all the rest,” said Dr. Byron M. Thomashow, medical director of the Center for Chest Diseases at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center.  In a study of more than 3,000 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 50 to 60 percent had one or more other illnesses, and 20 percent had more than 11 other conditions that required medical attention.  “There just isn’t the time to address them all,” Thomashow said.

Dr. Alan J. Stein, an infectious disease specialist in private practice in Brooklyn who treats many patients with HIV, described his practice as “heavily cognitive.  I spend a lot of time talking to patients — listening to them, examining them, interpreting tests and figuring out what’s wrong,” he said.  “I don’t do procedures in the office.  Over the last 10 or 15 years, the income of procedure-based physicians like cardiologists has increased significantly, whereas for those in primary care it has remained the same.”

Despite this, many physicians are reluctant to talk to their patients via e-mail.  Suzanne Kreuziger, a Milwaukee registered nurse, said.  “It makes sense to me to have the words laid out, to be able to re-read, to go back to it at a convenient time,  If I were able to ask my physician questions this way, it would make my own health care much easier.”  Her experience is shared by the majority of Americans: They want the convenience of e-mail for non-urgent medical issues, but fewer than 33 percent of doctors use e-mail to communicate with patients, according to surveys.

“People are able to file their taxes online, buy and sell household goods, and manage their financial accounts,” said Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  “The health care industry seems to be lagging behind other industries.”  Physicians have good reasons for avoiding e-mail exchanges with their patients.  Some are concerned that it will increase their workload.  Others worry about hackers compromising patient privacy.