5

Five Reasons Online Review Sites for Doctors Stink

Written by Suzanne Berman MD

The Internet provides plenty of opportunities for consumers to rate the quality of professional services they receive. A quick search can help you find recommended plumbers in your area, or suggest that you steer away from a certain roofing contractor.

Similarly, there are lots of online physician rating websites that offer the same service to consumers: check and see which doctors in your area are recommended by other patients.

I’ve watched the mushrooming of these “rate-the-doctor” websites with interest. While they provide an opportunity for patients to provide feedback to doctors and other patients, some elements could use improvement.

1 – They’re anonymous

Who is writing the reviews? While most come from true patients, there’s nothing to limit one single patient from sending 8 reviews about the same experience. For that matter, who’s to say good reviews aren’t from the doctor, trying to boost her image?

Physicians who are also small business owners (like me) from time to time terminate poor-performing employees. After a firing, does a spike in negative reviews of our practice reflect coincidence, or an ex-employee trying to retaliate anonymously– especially if the review contains “insider information” that our average patient wouldn’t be aware of?

2 – It’s not clear the patient is really a patient

When I read travel reviews online, I’m struck by how many reviews come from people who admit in their review that they didn’t actually stay at the hotel or eat at the restaurant. The review will read something like “I wanted to stay at this hotel because I’ve read so much about it, but when I clicked on the Reservations tab, I was shocked at the room rates. I couldn’t believe this hotel would charge so much for so little.

“They will never get my business!”

While the consumer is giving feedback to the hotel (“I think the market won’t sustain your prices”), this one-star comment hardly addresses what most travelers want feedback on (cleanliness of the rooms, friendliness of the staff, quality of the restaurant), since anyone can look up the prices for rooms.

Similarly, anonymous patient reviews don’t distinguish between a patient who came once, a long-term patient, and a prospective patient who has never been seen.

The latter’s comments are usually about a perceived access barrier to care, like: “I was new to town and needed a pediatrician. My son had terrible ear pain so I called to see if anyone could phone him in some antibiotics before the weekend. They were so rude and refused to help me out. I will never go there.”

Since I never had an opportunity to meet the family myself, never established a physician/patient relationship, and certainly never had an opportunity to explain, I don’t really consider this a review from a patient – but it’s in there with the rest of them.

3 – There’s no way to respond.

Some consumer rating websites, like Trip Advisor, allow the hotel or restaurant to respond or comment to a particular review. Many doctor rating websites don’t have a similar feature.

I don’t have an opportunity to apologize, or set the record straight, or offer to make my patient’s bad experience right. The patient can vent, surely, but I’d rather to try to reconcile the relationship.

4 – Patient privacy is protected.

Even if I can figure out who wrote a particular negative review, I can’t respond specifically in public with patient-specific information. Let’s say a mother posts a comment that I misdiagnosed her child’s ear infection: “even though Dr. Berman said Caleb’s ears looked great — later, when I took him to the ER, they said his ear was terrible.”

I review the child’s record: indeed, I examined the child in my office, who had clear ears. The child indeed went to the ER for worsening ear pain — five days later.

To me, this doesn’t speak to misdiagnosis as much as it does a common medical problem of kids: good ears sometimes go bad. I’d like to post something to clarify this online – to take the opportunity to educate families that ear exams can change over a period of days – but I can’t.

Simply, if I post any public health information about Caleb on the Internet, I’ve violated patient privacy laws (HIPAA). I can try to contact Caleb’s mother privately to make this same point, but she may or may not see fit to alter her online statement.

5 – Even the “neutral” information can be wrong.

“Rate-the-doctor” websites usually contain some basic demographic information, like the physician’s address, board certification status, age, gender, and so on. This information is often out-of-date, if not completely erroneous.

I’m amused to sometimes find that, according to some websites, I’m not board certified or that I practice at an address I haven’t worked at in seven years. Again, there’s often no mechanism for me, as the actual physician, to contact the site administrator to ask that my information be corrected.

So patients who come to these websites to get information about physicians may read bad information even before they look at the reviews.

Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.

Our office periodically reviews our online reviews. A while ago we found one from a dissatisfied patient, rating us 2 stars out of 5, and concluding, “If there’s another place to take your kids, you should probably take them there, and not to this office.” The review was dated about 9 months prior to our discovering it.

The mother had left enough personally-identifiable information in the review for us to figure out who had posted it. Interestingly, in the 9 months since she felt dissatisfied with us, she was continuing to bring her son to us, and in fact had had a newborn daughter, whom she was bringing to our office for care.

We were puzzled that, if she were that displeased with our office, she hadn’t followed her own advice and transferred care to another practice. The next time she was in the office, we gently asked her about her review.

At first she looked blank; she’d completely forgotten she’d posted it! Finally she said, “Oh – that. Yes, I was dissatisfied with your office a couple of times, but since then I’ve kept coming, and now I’m much happier to be a patient here.”

We’re happy that she’s now more comfortable with us. Unfortunately, her review is still on the Internet, forever, and possibly no longer able to be amended.

Doctors are starting to fight back, and it’s not pretty.

While patients have the right to post opinions on the Internet, doctors who feel an opinion crosses the line have sued for defamation, slander and lost income. Doctors who respond in this way have drawn a lot of media attention – and many of them have a sudden increase in negative reviews posted.

This suggests that many of the newer respondents perhaps aren’t patients at all, but rather many readers are angry that a doctor would try to sue a patient for expressing her opinion. As far as a doctor trying to enhance her online reputation, it doesn’t seem to be a very effective method.

So what’s better?

Our office collects anonymous periodic surveys of our patients to learn how we’re doing and how we can improve. We ask patients to rate us on timeliness, friendliness, professionalism, and so on while they’re in the office as part of a visit.

This assures us that the reviews are being completed by actual patients, and that they’re being completed at the time of the visit, while impressions are still fresh.

Because we design the survey, we can make it specific as needed to help us identify problem areas: for example, rather than asking if “staff” are rude or friendly, we can ask for separate feedback on receptionists, nurses, doctors, billing staff, etc.

We’ve started sharing the results of our surveys with our patients, and we’re going to post future results on our practice website as well.

While our patients are free to comment about their experiences on rate-the-doctor websites, we believe posting results of our surveys will provide an equivalent service, and will be a more complete representation of our patients’ impressions of our practice.

Suzanne Berman is a practicing general pediatrician in rural Tennessee.

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1

Paying for your restaurant bill and your doctor’s bill is not that different

Written by Brandon Betancourt

I got a call from a mom recently. She wanted to know why she was being charged for both a preventive wellness visit and an office visit on the same date of service.

For those that don’t know, most visits to a pediatrician’s office are either considered an office visit, which generally include visits where the patient is sick, and wellness visits – which are those visits where the doc does a more comprehensive head to toe assessment of the child otherwise know as a physical.

This particular patient came in for a wellness visit, but the doctor also documented and addressed a heart condition that the patient has. The heart condition assessment triggered an office visit in addition to a yearly physical. In other words, our office submitted a claim to the patient’s insurance stating that both an office visit and a physical occurred during the encounter.

Mom wanted to know why the two charges since she was under the impression that checking a patient’s heart should be part of the physical.

I understood where the mom was coming from. Medical billing is very complicated and in many instances doesn’t make any sense. Not because the doctor or her office makes it complicated, but because the insurance companies designed it that way.

Here is how I explained it to her.

When you go to a restaurant, and order a dish, generally the meal will come with side foods. So, let’s say one is ordering a pasta primavera. The expectation is that in addition to the pasta, the dish is going to come with vegetables, which are included in the price of the dish.

Let’s say one decides to add chicken to the pasta primavera and the server says, “sure, but that will be extra.”  Meaning, she will have to charge extra for the added chicken. When asked what you’ll like to drink, 9 out of 10 times, beverages will also be extra. And so will appetizers.

Healthcare is like an a la carte restaurant where some things are included in the price of the visit, but others are not.

But here is where it get a little complicated. Unlike the the restaurant, patients don’t pay for their bills directly to the doctor; insurance companies pay the doctor. And insurance companies, in an effort to provide more shareholder value, prefer to pay for the least amount of claims possible because the less they have to pay, the more money they make.

Thus, they require physicians to document everything that happened during the visit so they can determine how much they have to pay based on the policy purchased by the patient. In other words, they won’t take the doctor’s word for it. They want to see and review everything that was discussed during the visit  with the patient so they can decide what should and should not get paid.

During this particular patient visit, I explained to the parent, in addition to the wellness visit, the doctor also assessed the child’s medical condition, which required the doctor to prescribe medication, order x-rays and a consult with a specialist.

Just like the appetizers and the added chicken is billed as “extra” at a restaurant, the assessment on the child’s condition was extra work for the doctor that is not included with the wellness visit payment.

And in her documentation, the doctor described to the the insurance company that the patient had required an “appetizer” and “chicken,” thus they should pay her more.

Essentially, the doctor was simply documenting the visit with everything she did in order to demonstrate to the insurance company what was done. And the heart condition assessment documented by the doctor triggered an office visit.

The parent appreciated the analogy and said that it was perfectly reasonable explanation. I was happy. I was able to communicate without insurance jargon and was understood. In my world, this is considered a good day.

Brandon is a practice administrator, speaker and blogger. He blogs regularly at PediatricInc.com

1

Why does my child need to have a physical exam every year?

Written by Jesse Hackell MD

This is a question I am asked several times each year, especially during the annual rush to get overdue physical exams done in the weeks before the start of the school year. A large part of pediatric practice is, indeed, devoted to regular physical exams (and well child exams in the early years.)

What is it, exactly, that makes them such a necessary part of pediatric medical care?

School Requirements

One obvious answer is that these exams are required by one authority or another. Schools require physicals at certain grade levels, as defined by each state’s education law. Participation in school sports, in most states, also requires an examination and health history review, at least every twelve months (if not more often.) Summer camps, employment and working papers and other extra-curricular programs may also demand a physical exam for participation. The value of these exams is clear: If you want to participate, you must have an exam.

 In Search of Abnormalities

Outside of these mandated exams, however, why do we do annual exams when we most often do not find any physical abnormality? Abnormalities are, fortunately, rare in the pediatric population. But hernias, tumors, heart disease, abnormal growth patterns suggesting inflammatory bowel disease or endocrine abnormalities—they all do occur in pediatrics, and I have found all of them, more than once, during my career. Sure, these things would eventually manifest themselves, and prompt a visit for evaluation, but with regular examinations, they can often be found earlier, before they have had a chance to cause significant distress or dysfunction.

Healthy Eating Habits

Poor eating habits are all too common in children today. Obesity rates continue to rise, and while this may not cause an immediate health problem, difficulties are ahead for the child who does not bring his or her obesity under control. The opposite problem is also increasingly common: Eating disorders manifest themselves in adolescence, sometimes as early as nine or ten years of age, with anorexia and bulimia. These, too, can have life-long effects on the health of a child, and often the manifestations will be apparent on a regular annual exam well before severe wasting and weight loss which would otherwise bring a child to medical attention. Both obesity and eating disorders are very difficult to treat, but early diagnosis and intervention may make this treatment process easier.

Invisible Diseases

These are conditions which can have a very significant effect on a child’s well-being, yet not be manifested in a way which calls the parents’ attention to them. Depression, anxiety, peer relationship problems and ADHD may be having a major impact on a child’s life, and yet not be obvious to those closest to that child. These problems may be picked up simply by observing a child’s demeanor, or during the confidential discussion that we like to have with our patients as soon as they are ready and comfortable to do so. Even though we will not violate a child’s confidence, we can often help to provide a way for a child to discuss troubling issues with his or her parents, and enable the child to see that there are adults available to help him or her through any difficult times.

Behaviors

Finally, the annual exam gives the pediatrician a chance to address behaviors in the adolescent which may pose significant risks to health or well-being. Sexual behavior and substance abuse problems are questions we try to address with our patients. We hope to be able to provide guidance as the adolescent navigates through the minefields which are a normal part of growing up.

Pediatricians Know Your Child

One of the best things about pediatrics is the opportunity that we pediatricians have to know your child on a long-term basis, from infancy through young adulthood, and to watch that child grow and progress through many stages of life. Besides the enjoyment that many of us derive from this type of relationship, we also have the chance to monitor this growth and development, and be aware of any difficulties which may be occurring along the way. The annual physical exam gives us a chance to touch base with your child, and observe and monitor for any potentially harmful deviations from the normal developmental path. It gives us a chance as well to reassure both the child and the parent when things are going well, and suggest intervention when they are not.

My colleague Dr. Richard Lander has discussed why your child would be better served by seeking medical care in your pediatrician’s office rather than in a retail-based clinic. While many of these clinics may even claim to do “physical examinations,” and may seem to be very convenient in order to get that physical for the school sports team, these clinics do not have your child’s history at hand, may not have his or her immunization record available in order to provide any needed immunizations, and do not have the long history that many of us have with our patients. While they may be able to check off the proper box to qualify your child to play a sport, that clearance is only a small part of the value of the annual physical exam, as provided at your child’s medical home, your pediatrician’s office.

Dr. Hackell is a founding member of Pomona Pediatrics PC, a division of Children’s and Women’s Physicians of Westchester. He practices in the lower Hudson River Valley just north of New York City.

29

What I Wish Parents Knew About Medical Billing

Written by Brandon Betancourt

One of the things that I do a lot here at our practice is talk to parents about their health insurance coverage. The conversation is usually about why they have a balance on their child’s account.

Health insurance is very complicated. At our practice, we deal with health insurance all the time and even for us, it gets to be very complicated sometimes.

Today, I had a conversation with a patient’s parent regarding medical billing issues. After explaining some in-and-outs about why we do certain things, the parent mentioned she had no idea things were the way they were and now understands why doctors’ offices have to do what they have to do.

She also mentioned that we should do something to spread the word. She said, “I think it is important for other parents to know this. Otherwise, how are things going to get better?”

I thought her idea to spread the word was very good. Therefore, I decided to summarize our conversation in an effort to help other parents understand, at the very least, a portion of medical health insurance.

Coding — a lot of what doctors do

At a restaurant, generally you’ll get an itemized check that shows all the things you’ve ordered. Doctors do the same thing, but they do it in the medical chart.

Virtually every doctor who accepts health insurance uses codes (called CPT codes) that are assigned to every task they and their staff performs. Everything from a simple blood draw, to immunizations, to the ear check, to specimen handling — all these things are “coded” separately.

Why do docs do it this way?

These codes are used by the patient’s health insurance company to determine the payment amount that the doctor will receive for his or her services. In other words, the health insurance company (the one actually paying for the services) wants to see what was done during a patient’s appointment. Hence, everything the doctor and the staff does has a code.

For example, if you are coming in for a child’s well visit, the pediatrician will submit a “claim” to the insurance company using the following codes:

  • Established Well Visit – 99392
  • Developmental Testing – 96110
  • Hemoglobin – 85018
  • Finger/heel/ear stick – 36416
  • Lead Testing -83655
  • Hearing Screen – 92587

If the child gets immunizations, those have codes too.

  • DTAP-IPV – 90696
  • Flu – 90660

Vaccine administration also uses a distinct set of codes. To further complicate things, some vaccines have a single administration code used with them, and others have multiple administration codes for a single vaccine.

  • Admin – 90460
  • Admin – 90461
Oh, by the way…

Let’s say while you are in the examining room, you ask the doctor, “Ya know doc, little Lisa here has been pulling on her ear lately… she may have an ear infection. Can you check that for me really quick?”

This question requires the doc to perform an entirely different assessment than the well visit the child was getting.

The doctor, in order to show the insurance company that she did a completely different assessment, codes the ear pain diagnosis and adds a 99213 – which is an evaluation and management code that documents in the chart and on the claim to the insurance company that the doctor also checked the patient’s ear.

But we feel like we are being squeezed for every penny

Parents often think when they are looking at the bill that the doctor is nickel-and-diming parents, when in reality, it is the insurance company that requires the doc to show their work in this matter.

The health insurance company doesn’t accept the doctor telling them, “I did a well visit — pay me our agreed-upon fee.” They want to know all the things the doctor did during a patient’s visit so they can decide how much they ought to pay the doctor for his/her services.

Since most patients (or in the pediatrician’s case, parents) don’t pay the doctors directly, but rather the health insurance company, they want to know what took place during the visit so they know how much they ought to pay the doctor.

It is the same as going to the restaurant and getting billed for all the side and extra orders. Although the main meal is accompanied by other things, like french fries or a salad, refills, side orders, substitutions and additions to the order are billed as extra.

Health care services are a la carte as well. 

Why then do patients have balances if insurance ought to have paid?

The insurance policy that a patient has chosen may not pay for all the services the doctor performed. So when the doc’s billing staff submits a claim for a visit, the health insurance company often comes back and says, “We are not responsible for these codes/services; these are the member’s responsibility per the member’s health insurance policy. ”

For example, the health insurance company may say, the policy your patient chose pays for a vision screen, but not for a hearing screen. Or they may say, we cover the well visit code, but not the ear ache code at the same time as the wellness visit.

Doctors get stuck with the bill

The doctor, already having performed services, now has to go to the patient and say, “Hey, remember that school physical I performed and you asked me about little Lisa’s earache? Well, your insurance says that the policy you have doesn’t cover the earache part, so I’d like to be paid for the work I perform in assessing your child’s earache.”

Of course, doctors don’t actually say that, but when a parent gets a bill for the earache, that is in essence what the doc is trying to say to the parent. And if one looks carefully at the  explanation of benefits (that document that the insurance company sends after they process a patient’s claim) one will notice they give an explanation as to why they are not going to pay the doctor for the service.

Funny how things work

Here is an interesting, but crazy fact. In many cases, had the doctor deferred the earache question and told the mom to make another appointment to address that issue during another appointment, the health insurance company would have most likely paid for the office visit.

However, had the doctor done that, the patient would have most likely gotten upset at the doctor.

By treating the earache question during the wellness visit, the doctor runs the risk of not being paid despite doing the work. On the other hand, not addressing the ear ache, the doc runs the risk of upsetting the parent, who will probably think the doc is trying to squeeze another $30 copayment, which is clearly not the case.

Cutting cost — not always a good idea

One of the major problems with this is that patients don’t understand what they are financially responsible for. Or, it’s often the case where patients don’t understand what type of health insurance they’ve purchased.

Just like with anything else, you get what you pay for. But patients overlook this issue when purchasing health insurance. They usually look at the monthly premiums and choose the lowest one. But by doing that, they are often reducing the amount of coverage, which means patients will get stuck with larger portions of their medical bills.

Growing trend to save cost

The health insurance company, in an effort to keep their premiums low, have shifted the cost to customers and their doctors. While in the past health insurance companies may have covered 100%, now they are reducing the monthly premiums but only covering 70% of one’s medical expense. Hence allthe high deductible plans out there.

Why wasn’t I told they insurance doesn’t cover?

In our practice – which is a small three-provider practice – we see on average 60 to 75 patients daily.

Add to that there are virtually thousands and thousands of different health plans. In fact, we have patients whose parents work for the same company, but because they are at different pay grades, have different insurance plans.

The answer is, we don’t have enough manpower or time to sit on the phone verifying every single patient’s healthcare coverage. I know of practices that do, and God bless them. But as a practice we believe it is the patient’s responsibility to find out what is covered and what is not covered. The more time we spend on the phone with a patient’s insurance company, the less time we are able to spend providing health care for our patients.

Moreover…

As a practice, we consider that treating patients based on what the insurance covers and what it doesn’t, instead of treating by what the patient actually needs, is an unethical way to practice medicine.

Although most doctors that I know will take into consideration health insurance stipulations, they will not compromise a child’s health as a result of health insurance restriction and cheap health insurance coverage plans.

I hope this post will give all that read it some insight and perspective on medical billing. If you have a question, or don’t understand why doctors’ office do medical billing, feel free to leave a comment and we will try to address it.

Oh, and thanks for reading…

Brandon Betancourt is a practice administrator for Salud Pediatrics. You can follow him on Twitter  @pediatricinc

3

The Right Level of Care for the Right Illness

By Jesse Hackell, MD

The phone call came in through the answering service around 7:00 pm. “She’s four years old, Dr. Hackell, and she has a fever of 102 since this afternoon. Should I rush her to the emergency room?” Aside from the fact that I was still in the office, seeing patients until 8 that evening, as we do routinely in our office, I began thinking about the difference between an emergency, an urgent matter, a worrisome problem and an ordinary medical illness or question.

This is not a trivial distinction to make when one considers the reasons that parents seek health care for their children, and it has a great impact as well on the burden that society faces in providing, and paying for, health care.

An Emergency

An emergency is a condition where there is an immediate threat to one’s life or limb, a situation where, in the absence of prompt medical attention, there is a risk of serious, permanent or even fatal injury resulting. Examples are many, and could include a heart attack, head trauma with loss of consciousness or skull damage, prolonged seizures or asthma with respiratory distress.

An Urgent Matter

An urgent matter is not so easily defined, but might be considered a medical condition which is not life-threatening but which requires medical care to avert progression to a more serious condition which could become life-threatening. One might think of pneumonia, less severe asthma attacks, hives, persistent vomiting, and other similar examples. A worrisome problem is something which is clearly an illness, which may be causing discomfort, and which could, in theory, represent the onset of a more serious matter, but which at the moment is clearly not affecting a patient’s ability to breathe or otherwise function and interact with others. This category might include fevers, coughs, pain in the extremities, pain on urination, headaches and so on.

Ordinary Medical Issues

And finally at the bottom of the list are the ordinary medical issues, best exemplified by the itchy rash of poison ivy, pinkeye, allergies and cold symptoms.

Why does this distinction matter?

It is inarguable that conditions should be treated at the facility best able to care for the patient in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Care in emergency rooms is many times more expensive than the same care delivered in a physician’s office, and in cases other than true emergencies, as defined previously, equally effective.

Consider the child with abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite and vomiting.

When that child is seen in a pediatrician’s office, especially the child’s “medical home” where she is known to the doctor and staff, she will be seen and carefully examined, maybe have a urine sample and blood count done, and observed for the signs that her illness might represent a true emergency such as appendicitis, in which case she would be admitted to the hospital for either more testing or for surgery.

But more likely, the results of the evaluation will be normal or non-specific, and she will be felt to have a stomach virus or cramps, and be sent home with appropriate management instructions and an admonition to return or call if more worrisome symptoms develop.

Contrast that with the same child taken to the ER.

The hospital charges for ER use are high, as are those of the ER physician. In most ERs, the child is more likely to have a battery of blood tests done, as well as an expensive CT scan of the abdomen—again, seeking to determine the presence or absence of appendicitis. Even if the child turns out, in the end, to have a stomach virus, the costs incurred in getting to that diagnosis will be vastly higher than those for the child seen in her pediatrician’s office. In addition, the time expended in the ER is likely to stretch into hours; rare, indeed, is the office visit, even with a period of observation, which exceeds an hour in duration.

While no reasonable pediatrician would attempt to manage a life-threatening condition in the office, we do see urgent conditions every single day. We take care of kids with asthma who come in wheezing, we see children who have had seizures from fever, we evaluate injuries which might break bones and we manage vomiting and dehydration—these “urgent” conditions are often able to be managed quickly, efficiently and effectively in the same offices where children get their routine examinations and immunizations.

We insure that urgent matters are attended to promptly, compared to an ER where the asthmatic child might wait for hours until after the heart attack or multiple trauma patients are seen, especially on busy evenings.

Pediatrician’s office are often a more friendly environment.

Finally, the pediatrician’s office is a place known to the child, often more child-friendly than a large, noisy and busy emergency room, so the child is likely to avoid having an already scary situation be made even more frightening by the bustle of an unfamiliar place and unfamiliar faces.

Worrisome conditions are those which do not need to be seen in an ER, either, especially at night.

We all know how kids have a knack of getting sick at night, and on weekends and holidays. But it is important to decide whether the condition is a something that can and should wait until the next morning, to be seen in the child’s regular doctor’s office, as opposed to immediately running out to the nearest hospital, often giving everyone in the family from the child on up a long, miserable night in the ER.

With more and more pediatricians adding evening and weekend hours, it is rarely the case that a sick child will need to wait much more than twelve or so hours before being seen and evaluated. Life-threatening emergencies should always go to the ER, and I would encourage parents to be over-cautious in determining what they might be worried about as an emergency.

But at the same time, with a child with a simply worrisome condition, observing the child and thinking about how ill he or she appears is the first step to deciding whether or not to “rush” to the ER. A phone call to the pediatrician can also help a parent decide the degree of urgency represented by the child’s symptoms. Many times the child with a fever or an injury looks and acts good, and can be made comfortable at home until the doctor’s office opens in the morning. This actually will make the illness easier on the child, and enable him or her to be seen in the most familiar place, reducing the stress on all concerned.

It will also generally be more cost-efficient.

There is no doubt that the American health care system is in a financial crisis, given the large proportion of our national wealth consumed by health-care services. Pediatricians certainly do not advocate skimping on health care for financial reasons; in fact, the often-expensive preventive care which is our special interest may cost money upfront, but the payback over the years in dollars saved (and improved outcomes as well) is well documented.

What we do seek to encourage is the most efficient and cost-effective use of health care dollars, in order that we, as a nation, can get the biggest bang for our buck. Making sure that our children get the level of care appropriate for the degree of their illnesses is just one step in that direction.

Dr. Hackell is a founding member of Pomona Pediatrics PC, a division of Children’s and Women’s Physicians of Westchester. He practices in the lower Hudson River Valley just north of New York City.

8

Six Reasons You May Want to Bring Your Child to the Pediatrician’s Office Instead of a Retail Based Clinic.

Written by Richard Lander MD

Why should I bring my child to the pediatrician when he/she is sick? It is so much easier to run over to the local retail-based clinic (RBC) at the pharmacy where there is lots of parking, I don’t need an appointment and while I’m there I can pick up tissues, milk and medicine. Right?

Here are six reasons why going to a RBC may not be in the best interest of your child’s health.

1 – Most RBCs are not Staffed with Board-Certified Pediatricians

Your child will probably be diagnosed and treated by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Imagine that you are concerned about your child and therefore a little distracted and forget to mention that your child has allergy to an antibiotic. This could have a bad outcome. If you are at your pediatrician’s office, that allergy information is kept in your child’s chart.

2 – You Can’t Call The RBC in the Middle of the Night

Now imagine that your child’s condition worsens at midnight. The RBC you visited earlier is now closed and so you can’t ask for further advice. On the other hand, had you called your doctor earlier and then required additional help later in the evening, you would be able to receive consistent medical advice because your doctor or a covering doctor is on call 24/7. The American Academy of Pediatrics has always stressed the importance of continuity of care. It’s what I want for my children; it’s what I want for your children.

3 – RBCs Have Age Restrictions

Many RBCs have an age below which they will not treat a patient. What will you do if two of your children are sick — take one to your doctor and the other to the RBC?

4 – RBCs Can’t Handle Complex Medical Issues?

Worse still, the RBC cannot deal with complex medical issues. If you visit the RBC with a problem that is beyond the scope of their training and knowledge, they will tell you to see your doctor or send you to the emergency room.

5 – RBC Provides No Continuity of Care

Let’s think about vaccines. Your child needs a flu vaccine as well as one or two other immunizations. Many of the RBCs are only prepared to give the flu vaccine. If you are receiving the flu vaccine at the RBC and all other immunizations at your pediatrician’s office, no one will complete your [child’s] vaccination record. Again this speaks to a lack of continuity of care. This fragmented record keeping could cause trouble in the future.

6 – An RBC’s Not Your Medical Home

Your pediatrician’s office should be your child’s medical home. Your pediatrician has cared for your child’s physical and mental well being since birth. At your pediatrician’s office you received vision and hearing screening, and we assessed your child’s fine and gross motor skills. Your pediatrician has checked for autism and ADHD, asked you questions relating to your child’s growth and development and if there was a concern, and addressed it. When a behavioral problem at school or home arose, it is your pediatrician who thought about the possible medical conditions that could cause these behavioral changes. Will your RBC help you with your child who is crying out for attention secondary to a new baby at home or to parental discord? Will your RBC talk to your teenager about depression, alcohol, drugs or tobacco use? If your child has a GI problem, a broken arm, a heart condition or a blood disorder, will your RBC recognize the problem and send you to an appropriate specialist? Would you want the recommendation of a competent specialist to come from your RBC or from your doctor who knows you and your family’s medical history?

Your pediatrician provides your children with vaccines after they have looked at the medical research. He/she does not give vaccines because a corporate entity (RBC) made the decision to do so. Your pediatrician went to medical school for four years and then did a pediatric residency for an additional three years and continues to both attend medical conferences and read the medical literature to make ensure that he/she remains current and ahead of the curve. One of the national RBC chains has the tag line “You’re sick, we’re quick.” Is that the kind of medicine your loved ones deserve?

 

Dr. Lander has been practicing pediatrics for 32 years in New Jersey and is the immediate past chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Administration and Practice Management.  He says if he had to do it all over again he wouldn’t hesitate to be a pediatrician.

3

The Nurse Will See You Now

Written by David Sprayberry M.D.

Something has got to change.

In recent years, the practice of medicine has been under attack from a variety of sources. Insurance companies continue to squeeze both physicians and patients in order to increase their already enormous profits. Our federal and state governments have decided to target physicians when an error is made in the exceedingly complex billing process in order to levy fines and recoup some of what they spend on Medicare and Medicaid.

Our federal government purposes to replace physicians with cheaper, lesser trained individuals who have not received nearly the level of education that physicians have. Even other healthcare professionals who have traditionally been a part of the physician’s team are seeking to take on the role of a physician and become your “provider.”

I fear that the best and brightest students will increasingly choose careers other than medicine if we as a nation continue to demean the work that physicians do and continue to attack the physicians who entered the field with altruistic intentions. It is also quite possible that the U.S. will lose practicing physicians to other nations that value their services more highly or at least do not make it as painful to do their jobs.

The American public needs to spend some time thinking about what they want from our medical system. Do they want their primary physician to be merely a coordinator of care or do they want him or her to be the provider of care? Do they want nearly all their office visits to be performed by a nurse who only calls in the physician if something is complicated or do they want a physician who is capable of detecting serious problems based on subtle findings or symptoms? Do they want to see a nurse when they go to a specialist? Do they want the person who is deciding whether they may have cancer to be someone who has never spent sleepless hours at the bedside of someone dying of cancer? Do they want the person who is deciding whether their child should be admitted to the hospital to be someone who has never seen a patient progress from simple wheezing to respiratory failure and death in a matter of hours? Do they want the person counseling them on whether to get that new vaccine to be someone who has never taken care of a child who died from a vaccine-preventable disease?

Our current system continues to march toward having nurses provide medical care and physicians only supervising and taking care of “complicated things”. Is this really what we want?

Dr. Sprayberry is a practicing pediatrician in Watkinsville, GA and blogs at Pediatrics Gone to the Dawgs