Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year?

Perhaps that is a bit too much to want.
I'll settle for anything north of a bad year. So here is wishing everyone a neutral year on up.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What would my father say?

Potential 27% cuts in Medicare

Country headed off a fiscal cliff

Doctors begging to work for hospitals

Hospitals going under

Do I worry?

I only worry about what I can control.

A lesson I learned from my dad

Miss you Padre

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Lesson From My Father

My dad grew up on the poor side of middle class. My dad and I, during a recent father-son trip to Miami, had hours upon hours to talk and I learned some things about his childhood I never knew.  Bob told me that his dad Morris was stressed all the time.  If you knew my dad well, you knew that he loathed stress and did what ever it took to avoid it or to minimize it.  In any case, Morris, my dad said, worked way too hard for way too little and for someone else, rather than for himself.  When Morris had the chance to strike out on his own, he was too afraid to do it and the opportunity—really the opportunity of a lifetime-- slipped away.  My dad as an adult always felt that Morris had made a life-altering mistake and even in the capacity of a 10 year old at the time, he knew his dad had messed up big time.  Bob learned from Morris’s mistakes and made sure to pass the lesson along to me.  

My dad—ever the giver of kind acts--was himself the recipient of kindness at key junctions in his life.  When he was 17 and a freshman at Ohio State University, his friend Eddie Stein gave my dad tuition money.  After college, an influential dentist took a liking to my dad and helped my dad get into dental school, where he ultimately met my mom.   He told us the stories over and over again and reminded us that an individual person’s kindness and actions can have a profound and a lasting positive impact on another’s life.  My dad gave to homeless people, made phone calls on behalf of mere acquaintances, and did his part to help others achieve their goals because he felt such a need to repay the kindness that he had received.  In an era of me, me, me, this was an extraordinary virtue.  

Robert S Schoor RIP.  You are missed.

The IU (your son)

Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Ways to Take a Vacation as a Solo-Practice Physician

A guest post from Software Advice

5 Ways to Take a Vacation as a Solo-Practice Physician
By Sarah A. Parker, Software Advice

There are many challenges that come with being a health care professional. However, there are a number of difficulties that come with running your own practice as a solo practice doctor: namely, managing a healthy work/life balance. For many physicians, the idea of a vacation is hard to imagine. Who will see patients? Who will manage the office?

But taking a vacation while operating your own practice can be done. Here are five ways to ensure that you are able to take a much-needed vacation without incident.

1. Walk Before You Run
If you’re starting a new solo practice, it will take a few years before you have enough breathing room to schedule a big trip. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take a few days off here and there to keep your sanity (and health) in check. Start small by giving yourself Friday off every other week. Long weekends ensure an extra day of rest and don’t include the risk of losing patients.

2. Call in Reinforcements
You can call in a covering physician to see your patients the whole time you’re out. Or you can use them only in case of an emergency. The point is to leave the office without screening calls the entire vacation. Choose the option that works best for your particular practice, your patients and your personality.

3. Have Boundaries with Patients
If you don’t establish boundaries early on with your patients, you will never be able to fully escape the office. This rule varies depending on your medical speciality, as well as your personality. But be sure to inform your patients ahead of time that you will be out of the office and unavailable. People may have emergencies but you are of value to no one if you don’t allow yourself time away.

4. Plan for the Financial Impact
This can be a tough one but if you plan accordingly, the impact can be minimal. Because solo practice doctors only receive income when a patient is treated, these physicians should ensure that they can handle the financial burden of paying staff and continual practice expenses while on vacation. If you’re not able to foot the bill and take a longer trip at the same time, try taking a few longer weekends without spending much to establish savings necessary to take a longer trip.

5. Unplug Yourself
In 2012, it’s hard to disconnect yourself from the world in any profession. With patients relying on you for their health, this added stress makes it especially difficult for a physician to unplug. However, it’s important to consider your own health, as it will have a direct impact on your ability to help your patients. While on vacation, you should also establish how you can be reached and what responsibilities you will have while out of the office. Set guidelines for both your staff and patients, and emphasize that you should only be contacted in case of an absolute emergency

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Storm Related Lessons

Super-storm Sandy hit the NY metro region 2 weeks ago.   For only a few has life returned to normal.  The area has been very hard hit.  Entire neighborhoods have been decimated by flood.  Other large swaths of residential areas remain without any functioning power grid.  To make matters worse, gas shortages add stress to an already stressed out community.  So what can we learn from this horrible event from the perspective of a small business or medical practice?

Lesson 1: You are only as strong as your community.

A practice's vitality is dependent on the vitality of its community.  You may have the best back-up and disaster recovery plans, but if your community gets destroyed so will your ability to remain viable. This is not to suggest you don't need to focus on data back-up and recovery, redundancy for communications, and proper insurance coverage.  You must have these things, but even with them, your practice is at risk when the community in which it serves is at risk.  I-witness accounts abound that detail businesses that survived intact physically only to lose their customer base.  I have been told of destroyed pediatric and dental practices.  My friend, a chiropractor, has seen a 90% drop in volume to his office.

Tough times indeed.

Lesson 2:  Prepare for both the downturn and the eventual recovery.

Gas shortages remain, though with odd-even rationing things seem to be improving.  Personally I have had an serious increase in cancelations from patients claiming they don't have enough gas to get here.  I, myself, have curtailed my own driving for the very same reason.  Multiply that by thousands if not millions of people and you get a major economic hit.  For many, there may be no recovery.  So what I learned is to always be able to expand hours to accommodate demand that ultimately will come.  When all the doom and gloom dissipates, I expect a major upswing in patients and I plan to fully accommodate them with evening, early morning, & weekend hours, including sundays if need be.

Lesson 3: Geographically spread out your operations so a natural disaster does not affect everything at once.

Internet connections and VOIP remain down for millions.  Those with cable internet have been affected most, since cable lines tend to follow the power lines and got tangled up in fallen trees and branches.  At my home, I have not yet had cable internet restored.  I do have internet in my office and this returned as soon as the power.  However, most of the tenants in my building were not so lucky.  Cable internet was not restored for another day or so.  Fiber optic lines, which run underground, were never affected.  Since I have both cable and fiber optic (redundancy), I was operational as soon as power was restored.  Had the building had a back-up generator, I would have remained operational throughout the storm.  Of course, how many people need to see a urologist during a 100-year storm?  You'd be surprised.  Even during the height of the storm, I got phone calls.  Since my answering service was based on other part of the country, they were unaffected and continued to serve the practice.

Lesson 4:  Insurance matters 

Never skimp on insurance coverage.  In the wake of this storm, one can see the importance of having a broad range of insurance products.  Go through the scenario of what just happened, not just to you but to the region, and see if you are adequately protected.  Do you have flood insurance?  How about data loss insurance?  Business interruption insurance?  Fire?  Office liability insurance?  Talk to your professional.

All in all the storm and its aftermath has shown to me that I live in a very good community.  People have really come together to help each other.  People who can give aid have done so.  A local restaurant let patrons eat even if they did not have cash.  He was serving his people and knew he would get paid eventually.

Good luck everyone.

The IU.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Staying Solo: Best Practices

Many doctors are throwing in the towel and seeking the perceived safety of an employed position.  The rest of us independent stalwarts continue to fight on in the struggle to remain independent, profitable, and happy.  How do we do it.
  1. Electronic claims submission
  2. Electronic payment posting
  3. Realtime eligibility verification
  4. Bidirectional laboratory interfacing
  5. Integrated EMR/PM system, ie and EHR
  6. Point of care bill collecting
  7. Aggressive collection practices
  8. Answer phones 24/7
  9. Easy and convenient scheduling
  10. Total commitment to patient well being and outcomes

Good luck and enjoy the ride.

The IU

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My E.H.R. Experience: A 15-year Journey

I have been using an E.H.R. off and on since the mid-1990s.  At that time, I was using the VA Medical Center’s system, VISTA.  Few current commercially available systems today can compare to what VISTA had in functionality back in 1999.  It was truly a fantastic system and it became for me the gold standard by which all other systems would be compared.

From July 2001 to April 2006 I went back in time, leaving the electronic world for the world of paper charts and DOS based billing systems.   I think this experience—living in both the paper and electronic worlds--taught me that medical offices run best in a digital environment.   Medical practice is too data-rich and high volume data is best managed in a digital format.  It is just that simple. 

In 2006, I left the paper world and returned to the digital one.  When I opened my own practice, I wanted to be electronic from day one.  The only problem was that I could not afford systems.  In addition, like many members of this IPA, I did not see the value in paying up to $40,000 for software.  That just seemed crazy to me, and in a way it still does.  So I built my own homegrown EMR system

I can tell you that my homegrown system was terrific and better than any paper system I ever used.  I used templates and macros and electronic faxing.  I set up in-bound lab interfaces so I never had to scan labs into my system.  I could retrieve patient charts in microseconds, rather than the days it would take to locate a chart in my old practices that were still on paper.  And I could access my charts from home or away.  The cost was the best part: a couple hundred bucks.  All software was commercially available, off the shelf, and general use.   So why the hell did I change? 

By 2008, my practice had outgrown the capacity of my system.  What worked with a volume of 35 patients per week no longer worked at 65 patients per week.   I grew tired of tinkering with my homegrown system.  Not only was I the developer, I was the IT support specialist, trainer, network engineer, and troubleshooter all wrapped into one.  I really just wanted to be a doctor and to be able to focus on patient care and growing the practice.   Plus I was swimming in post-it notes and drowning in pharmacy related issues.  To add to the stress, 2007 saw the advent of the RAC era.  At a moments notice, I could receive via mail an audit request letter for coding and compliance and potentially be liable for tens of thousands of dollars.  My system was just not equipped for any of that.   Finally, I had an EMR system and a separate billing system and they could not “speak” with one another.  So it was difficult if not impossible for me to do the type of practice analytics I needed to do to grow my practice.  I needed professional solution and I was finally willing to pay for it.

In 2009 I went live on my EHR and have never looked back.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Facebook Advertising Experience

My Experience with Facebook Advertising

There used to be a bakery on Armitage Ave in Chicago that gave at free samples of bread.  The bread was amazing.  The bakery was in a great location and had tons of foot traffic.  The store was mobbed from opening to closing.   Ultimately the bakery closed.  Why?  I don’t know specifically but I suspect that people came to the store for the free bread but then never went on to buy a loaf.   In web parlance, the store got tons of clicks but few sales: few conversions. 

This is somewhat like my experience as a Facebook advertiser. 

II used to advertise on Facebook and may again someday but as for now, at least for what I do, I see their advertising model as flawed.  All in all, I spent a couple grand in total.  That was spread out over a number of campaigns beginning in 2010 and most recently in early 2012.   Website analytics indicated that Facebook was the number one referral source to my websites, and   I tried both pay-per click and pay-per impression and both were effective in driving traffic to my sites.   In fact, Facebook was more effective than Google in driving traffic to the site.  So sounds good, right?   Facebook would claim success and blame any failures on my website.  Perhaps they are right perhaps not. 

Let’s go a bit deeper.    Business owners care about sales.  While traffic may lead to sales, traffic in and of itself, does not help.  While both Google and Facebook will drive traffic to your website, in in effect you business, Facebook sends lurkers and window shoppers while Google sends determined customers.  My websites are fine, as evidenced by conversions of traffic to actually physical patients coming into the office.    

Big difference.      

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Guest Post: The Future of Obamacare if Romney’s Elected

Guest Post:

Title: 5 Tips for Physicians Preparing for the ACA

As election day approaches, the future of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is a hot topic among politicians, healthcare professionals and politicians alike. However, the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election is unlikely to have an impact on the ACA.

David Fried, contributor to Software Advice, argues a victory by either Obama or Romney means the ACA, in the most part, is here to stay. To help physicians he provides 5 ways to effectively prepare for the impact of the ACA.

1. Decide How to Address Medicare and Medicaid
The decision to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients becomes even more difficult, as the ability to offset costs becomes increasingly difficult for physicians. With almost a quarter trillion dollars in Medicare and Medicare Advantage payments expected, physicians should begin to act now rather than later and addressing how to accept new patients.

2. Consider Relocating to a Rural Area
Ever wanted to relocate away from the big city? Now might be the time. The ACA rewards physicians that serve patients in what it calls “underserved areas” in the form of loan repayments and doctor scholarships. This is a great option for young doctors considering where to establish a new practice, as well.

3. Prepare for Bundled Payments
Soon, government payers will be transition to the “bundled payments” system, rather than paying physicians, labs and hospitals directly. This means that to receive payments for a patient, you may have to work with the hospital billing staff, rather than Medicare directly. Another consideration is to look into Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs. These groups of physicians coordinate group-care to bring down the cost of care for patients, for which the physicians receive half of the savings.

4. Take a Firm Stance on Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
If physicians are interested in receiving Medicare reimbursements and don’t yet have an EHR, they’ll need to move quickly. The ACA increases the requirements for patient reporting necessary to be compensated seeing government payers. Alternatively, physicians can decide to deny seeing these patients.

5. Extend Office and Practice Capabilities
The ACA will impact the number of patients that physicians will see in three ways. First, the ACA will extend coverage to 32 million additional Americans. Second, it requires insurance companies to cover more preventive care procedures. Third, it specifically prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage of pre-existing conditions. Thus, physicians could prepare to see more patients. One way they can do this is by extending hours. Another is by adding additional physicians to the practice’s staff.

Research for this post was conducted by David Fried and Software Advice.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

EMR: A problem Solver

A re-post:  See below.

If someone came to you with a solution to 3 out of the 5 biggest problems you face, you would probably take it--or at least listen to their proposal, right?

Imagine if someone said to you, "you know that persistent problem you have with your filing system, I found the perfect solution and you'll never have to deal with that again."  I don't know, I'd be all ears.

Every doctor has problems.  Filing and retrieving, lab tracking, order tracking, prescription refills, handwriting issues, messaging handling; these just name a few.   I certainly had my issues.  Many of them are now past tense issues.

Prescription issues:  99% solved.  On rare occasion I forget to initial a narcotic script or my rx printer malfunctions.

Message handling:  100% solved.

Handwriting issues: bye bye!

Filing/retrieving:  see ya.

Lab tracking: Bye bye.

I still have problems, but just not these problems.

A good thing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Independent or Employed?

That is the question most doctors who have remained independent grapple with today. In today's environment only about 20% of US doctors are independent but that number is expected to drop even further. The reasons are financial and managerial: not enough of the former and too much of the latter. As a result, hospital employment is becoming an attractive option for many. But is it?
Hospitals face many of the huge economic burdens. Even though they get reimbursed at higher rates, they have enormous administrative costs. Even as hospital systems merge to increase market share, so do their costs. All this in a shrinking patient base that has pit health system against health system. Now some systems want to not just be the provider of health services, they aim to be the payers as well. This is an interesting turn of events. As provider your goal is to maximize payments but as payer it is to minimize payments. Who will be squeezed in such a model? Let's see?
The administrators? No way. They control the switch.
The nurses? Yes. They will need to work more for the same and less.
The doctors? Bingo.
Once you sign with a hospital, your practice is no longer yours. It is then only a matter of time before you get administratored, ie f@cked!
Hold out. Just hold out.
The IU
The last remaining independent urologist in my area.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Why are doctor's late?

This post is in answer to a recent KevinMD post on doctors and wait times. Here are the reasons why I can run behind, in no particular order:

1: seemingly simple patient condition turns out to be complex.
2: patient arrives late
3: the 2:30 patient arrives at 2:50. The 3:00 patient arrives at 2:45. The 2:45 patient arrives on time.
4: Patient needs more time on initial intake forms
5: Medical emergency I have to deal with
6: Hospital doctor on the phone. Needs me now!
7: Elderly patient needs more time
8: Unexpected diagnosis needs discussion
9: Patient complaint about copay.
10: "Oh yeh doc, and I also have ED".
11: patient calls for 3rd time, needs me on the phone now.
12: pharmacist on phone. Needs to speak to me now.

Note that what is not present in the list is my lack of respect for patients' time, my own time, or anyone else's time. Nor do you find any profit maximization motive.

So why do doctors run late? Because doctoring is complicated. So before you take the doctor to small claims court or trash him on Angie's List, cut him some slack.

And one more thing: If you need extra time or special care from me, you'll get it, even if it makes me fall even more behind.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Video Informed Consent

Using nothing but a webcam, some good lighting, and a script, you--the doctor--can video an informed consent discussion for any number of procedures you perform and show it to a patient when appropriate.  This way the patients get the information they need to make a decision, that information is complete, but you as the doctor get to save your valuable time.

Win, win.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The procedure video do's and don'ts

With extremely low production costs, almost anyone can make and distribute a video for both educational and promotional reasons.  While a very powerful tool, the video can also cause more harm to your practice them help it.  Here is what to avoid:

  • don't be too graphic.
  • don't be too long
  • don't show too much blood
  • don't show injections or needles
  • don't show incisions
  • don't show a sloppy work station
Do the following:
  • edit
  • use good sound quality
  • use voice over
  • use captions
  • use transitions
  • good lighting
  • ask a lay person to review it
How to make it:
  • iPhone
  • iMovie
  • iTunes
  • iPhoto
i dun now.