Yesterday I saw a long time patient who is on Medicaid due to disability. He is a great kid that is legitimately on aid due to mental illness. He has not had the best hand of cards dealt to him, but has a loving grandmother who has raised him as her own. She pays me directly because she knows I have his back and she values the relationship I have built with him. They trust me to always do the right thing for him and their loyalty to me is very much appreciated.
So yesterday he called first thing in the AM with a complaint of 4 days of abdominal pain with no appetite and low grade fever. Now this guy is very stoic and not a complainer so I always know that something isn’t right if he is complaining. We got him right in and evaluated him. He had some point tenderness right over McBurney’s point (where your appendix is) and had a low grade fever. He needed a CAT scan to rule out an appendicitis which Meghann, my LPN, scheduled for noon at our local hospital. For those who do not understand direct care, even though I do not take payment from Medicaid, the hospital would just bill Medicaid for the CAT scan and lab work etc etc. If he did indeed have appendicitis we would get him seen by surgery and all of his care would be billed to Medicaid- essentially the taxpayers in MA.
Well it took no less than a 20 minute phone call to get this scheduled, after which Meghann is told that Medicaid will not “approve/authorize” the CT scan because I am not a “Medicaid provider.” Now some readers may think I’m the jerk for not contracting with Medicaid and your entitled to your opinion, but this patient has paid me to work for him. (Maybe after you finish reading this you will understand why I dropped out.) Now we have a patient who is sick, a doctor that is trying to treat him expeditiously based on years of training, and indirectly you the taxpayer all at the mercy of insane, bureaucratic nonsense. My only choice was to have him go to the ER and be evaluated….again….by another physician in order to get a CAT scan of his abdomen (with contrast an abdominal CT is about 600-800 per the Healthcare Bluebook). So instead of just paying this amount, as his CT was fortunately negative, your state bureaucracy decided it would be better to add on the cost of an ER evaluation and 5 hour stay as well to the taxpayers bill.
Does this make any sense to anyone? If it does than maybe you took a different economics course than I did. So there is a story of a broken system that just cost you a few extra grand because the doctor was regulated. Wonder how the system worked when the Brady Bunch was on? Did Marcia need a “Prior Authorization” from an “in-network doctor” to have her nose looked at after she got smacked in the face with a football?
Off to Kansas City to the DPC Summit today to try to fix this mess and get people the care they deserve.
This post is in response to two excellent articles in the Ideas section of The Boston Globe today by Mark Pothier and Betsy Cliff Out-of-pocket Costs Put Healthcare Out of Reach and How Health Plans With High Deductibles Became the New Normal, respectively. Even more poignant are the comments that follow the online articles which I also suggest you read. It is published on the heels of the Supreme Court voting this week to maintain the subsidies to people who enrolled in the ACA through federal exchanges rather than state-based. (I will not express my opinion on this here). The overall consensus from these comments is that people are struggling to afford out-of-pocket health care expenses and have no idea how to shop as a consumer for affordable care. And this is not their fault, as they haven’t had to be a wise consumer with the cadillac insurance plans that “covered all.” Well these plans have gone by the wayside and with the Cadillac Tax from the ACA coming to employers soon enough, they will continue to disappear.
So how do you go from being a patient to a consumer of health care as well? You get help. You get an advocate. You find a Direct Primary Care doctor whose main job is to care for you and find the most affordable, high quality care possible. I would not try to buy stocks or mutual funds on my own because I do not have the knowledge base to do so. So I put my trust in an expert to guide me through the process and invest my money wisely. How do you shop for healthcare in the state of Massachusetts where it costs the most? You pay someone directly to help you and advise you. You do not brave it alone. You find a Direct Primary Care doctor you know and trust. Direct Primary Care doctors are transparent, we are affordable, and we work solely for you rather than third party interests. We are your doctor first and your healthcare agent/broker second. So go to I Want Direct Care and place a pin down. Write to your local congressmen and congresswomen to tell them about Direct Primary Care and its benefits to you, employers, and the system as a whole. And then, even more importantly, please remember that Health Insurance does not equate to “Healthcare”, especially the affordable kind.
Have you ever been frustrated as a patient with the time it takes to see a specialist? ….The cost of seeing a specialist? Or maybe you are frustrated that your primary care doc refers out many of your medical issues without taking enough time to get to the root of them? Having worked in the insurance-based system for ten years, I can honestly tell you that many of the referrals I made were medically unnecessary. Although I hate admitting this, it is a fact. Required to see 20-25 patients a day for 15 minutes at a time (if lucky), I did not have adequate time to think and/or treat even if it was an issue that was in my scope of care. This is one major reason I switched to a Direct Primary Care practice. I wanted more time with my patients to think, to treat, and as a result decrease the number of specialty referrals I make. And when you eliminate the restrictions of third-party payment many other great opportunities open up to you- both as a patient and a physician. One of the incredible services that I offer to my patients is called RubiconMD.
RubiconMD is a company built for Direct Primary Care practices, but in my opinion it could also be used effectively by any primary care practice. They have created a network of specialists from all fields of medicine from some of the top hospitals in the nation. For a very affordable monthly fee that I pay them (with no extra cost to patients), I have access to online consults with any of these specialists. You have a rash that I can’t figure out? I can send pictures to them and get a response from a dermatologist in less than 24 hours. You have concerns about a complicated insulin regimen? I can email an endocrinologist for unbiased medical advice. All communications are secure, and all-in-all it is an amazing tool that saves time and money and facilitates much better medical care and patient satisfaction. It is one of the many great services we offer at our Direct Primary Care practice.
How does DPC help patients in the hospital? You can ask my patient quoted below or ask the Hospitalist who took care of him, but I would also like to comment on this.
There are many benefits to Hospital-based doctors (aka Hospitalists)- they are intelligent, well trained doctors and NP/PA’s and they provide 24/7 coverage if something goes wrong when you are admitted. We as primary care doctors used to practice hospital medicine as well as outpatient/office medicine, but for many reasons which is beyond the scope of this blog post, most if not all primary care doctors solely see patients in the office setting now. And there are many negatives to this which most patients who have been admitted to the hospital at some point can attest to:
As good and caring as these doctors and NP/PAs are, they don’t know the patient like we do.
Hospitalists often have a minimum of 10-12 patients on their census at a time some of whom may be very ill. That is a lot to manage.
As a result of #2 and the amount of documentation and computerized order entry that goes along with it, hospitalists have very little time to call and/or email the Primary Care Physician with updates on their patients.
This contributes to more fragmentation of care and increased costs to the system as a whole.
Lastly, which is the worst in my opinion, is scared and confused patients.
So what does DPC do to help this? :
We can actually come visit our patients periodically to check in and see how the hospital stay is going. The patient- like the one quoted below- gets to see their own doctor and be reassured that we are “in the loop.”
We have more time to communicate with the Hospitalists regarding our patients histories, medication lists, social situations etc. This allows us to work in a collaborative way to ensure the patient gets the best care possible.
I believe Hospitalists would appreciate this involvement rather than look at as us “stepping on toes.” We can provide information that the patient may not be capable of communicating or that they may not think is vital to their hospitalization.
The end result is what healthcare should be about- BETTER OVERALL PATIENT CARE.
So here is my patients quote/review: “If U haven’t yet signed up with Gold Direct Medical Services, U R surely walking in the wrong direction! I recently had a several day hospitalization and was actually visited by Dr. Jeff Gold, and was also privy to a conference between him and the hospital doctor, to say nothing of the several daily direct calls to me in my hospital room from him. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOUR DOCTOR VISITED U IN THE HOSPITAL?”
Thank you to Martha Bebinger from WBUR for interviewing me and publishing this great piece today on Gold Direct Care and how Direct Primary Care in general can work to improve the healthcare system as a whole. Also thank you to Mr. Bird who agreed to be interviewed that day while he was here. To reinforce why I feel the arguments against Direct Primary Care presented in the article today are weak at best:
1. DPC worsens the primary care shortage:
I ask these questions in response. What is the current system doing to fix it? Bogging down primary care doctors with more paperwork and more patients to see a day? “Value-base payments” that are based on how complex a physician “codes” their patient and visits rather than how complex the patient actually is as a human being?
By making primary care attractive to medical students from a professional and financial standpoint- including the ones I teach from Tufts Medical School- we can further supply this system with high quality, passionate students that want to do primary care for the right reason which is caring for patients. Most medical students graduate with around 150,000-250,000 dollars worth of debt. It is very challenging to offer them primary care as it currently is and currently pays. So lets fix that with Direct Primary Care.
2. DPC is “insurance”:
Without getting into legalities, the Affordable Care Act states in Section 1301 (a) (3) that Direct Primary Care combined with a catastrophic or high deductible insurance plan qualifies a patient as meeting the ACA standards of full “insurance”. However, having DPC alone would result in the patient paying the Obamacare fine. Therefore, it seems clear that DPC alone is not “insurance” or an “insurance-type product”. If you are interested in reading about this further please read this article by Dave Chase from Forbes. Mr. Chase is a great proponent of Direct Primary Care and very knowledgable on the topic.