Sunday, March 21, 2010

Plastic Surgery 101's "Mythbusters" on the health care debate

As a physician, I have a vested interest in following the debate on reinventing the American health care system. Listening to these discussions, I find there is a distinct lack of candor about where the costs are in the system and little insight into where true potential savings are.

  • MYTH: Electronic medical records (EMR) will save money

FACT: No one can plausibly explain how any money will be saved. EMR does offer portablility of records, but does nothing to control cost in and of itself. The costs for physicans and hospitals to purchase equipment and pay ongoing subscription and IT costs will be a HUGE burden.
WINNERS: EMR vendors, IT companies, database miners and researchers
LOSERS: productivity of an office
OFF THE RECORD: Why should I be expected to subsidize a national EMR system through my office overhead when it's uncompensated and will surely be used down the road to squeeze providers?

  • MYTH: Primary Care Providers (PCP) are the sacred cow in reform and hold the key to holding costs down

FACT: The PCP workforce is under and ill-equiped to treat a mass influx of patients into the system. It will take years to retool the training infrastructure to handle the volume of patients. Massachusetts experiment in universal care for it's citizens has been crippled by an insufficent number of participating PCP MD's.
WINNERS: PCP will be getting a small increase in fees for routine office visits per the federal government at the expense of some specialists (Cardiologists, Radioloists, & GI docs mostly)
LOSERS: specialists physicians
OFF THE RECORD: Medical students will continue to avoid primary care because they percieve it tedious and they realize that nurse practictioners can do 85%+ of what they do for 50 cents on the dollar. It's also intuitive that specialists who work more and have trained 2-3x as long would be expected to earn a good deal more then PCP's.

  • MYTH: It's hard to find savings in healthcare!

FACT: There are some big savings in proceduras that could clearly be achieved with little affect on quality of care. Rigidly restricting (thru evidence based indications) the use of knee/shoulder arthroscopy and joint replacement surgery by orthopedists, upper/lower endoscopy by Gastroentreologists, coronary catheterization and stents by Cardiologists, lumbar spine surgery by Neurosurgeons, and the overuse of CT/MRI scans by all of us are the low hanging fruit in cost containment.
WINNERS: whoever's paying the bill (the feds or insurers)
LOSERS: whichever doctor's procedures are restricted and the idea (endorsed by my mother, wife, and many non-thoughtful doctors) that procedure or study "x" should be done "Just to be safe."
OFF THE RECORD: There's no way to make the numbers work without doing these kinds of restrictions. BTW I would not want to be a radiologist who expects to make big bucks in the next few years as they're about to get scalped.

One thing that makes me shake my head is the disconnect in the popular press when they talk about how individual doctor's practices are coping or planning to cope with whatever's coming. My favorite is the young PCP who is featured just out of residency boldly proclaiming things about how they're going to reinvent the doctor patient relationship by their use of technology.


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