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Entries by John Di Saia, MD (3)

Monday
Jul022012

What's Your Gimmick Doctor?

Anyone running a private practice in plastic surgery now should be quick to realize that the media can be a powerful resource. 

The sad fact is that the public does not know of your talents unless you let them know about them. My father's long held statement that "the cream floats to the top" is naïve to say the least. People do not know the best. They only know the doctors of whom they have heard. They just assume that they are the best. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren't.

Early in my interactions with the media, it was apparent that they prefer to feature "breaking news items." Their definition of breaking news is something new and different.  Most of us in medicine know that these "breaking news items" we see tend to more often be not-so-new news. Some are factually incorrect. You may also add unadulterated bull pucky. Breaking this news to your friends in the media will get you rarely featured unfortunately.  They want what they want.

When dealing with the media, they in essence want to know "what's your gimmick?' They want a pitch. They want a story. Those who are more successful with them give them what they want. I give them the truth branded somewhat with my opinion. So I have made the truth my gimmick. It may not be so frequently successful, but I sleep well at night.

Monday
May282012

Hospital Administrators Are Not Always Honest

Hospital administrators have an agenda that's not always aligned with yours.

I used to do emergency work at a hospital in a large chain. It was hardy profitable and became less so over time. When I moved an hour away I sought to limit my emergency exposure for obvious reasons. The hospital administration cited sections of the Bylaws and Rules and Regulations that mandated that surgical specialists take call. This was specified for Plastic Surgery and Orthopedics.

Later and entirely by accident, I found out that the Orthopedists were being paid to take this emergency call by the same administration that was citing those hospital documents. Essentially they were being paid to take call from 15 minutes away whereas I was required to take call for free from four times the distance. Needless to say I dropped that hospital after briefly entertaining legal action. So soon after my divorce I hardly wanted to enrich another attorney. They are much smarter about getting paid than physicians are. I did inform a contact at the local newspaper who passed on the story stating that the public doesn't really care if a doctor gets screwed over. I found that a bit amusing.

As the story evolved I extended my practice up the street not so far away and something similar almost happened again. This time the administration in my new acute care hospital sought to get into an arrangement with me to take call. They were very quick to stipulate that this arrangement was to be secret. It was to involve some kind of payment from the hospital. The thought left a bad taste in my mouth. Emergency call is a loser. I just stopped taking it.

The moral of this story is that you should not expect hospital administrators to be honorable people. Entering into any kind of business arrangement with them especially a secret one is liable to be unfair, unjust or just plain illegal. You might want to avoid that.

Tuesday
May152012

Effects of Changes in the Medicare Physician Fee System

Relatively newly practicing physicians may not know that the Medicare physician payment system changed pretty substantially in the early nineties. This was by design.

The perception of those who designed this new system was that certain services were overpaid and others underpaid. It likely had much more to do with ratcheting down the costs of health care. As physician fees constitute only 10-20% of the entire equation, the wisdom of concentrating on physician’s fees to change the system is perhaps questionable. This is what was done nevertheless.

A cornerstone philosophy of the new system was that procedure-based specialties were overpaid. The physician fee system prior to this was based on usual and customary fees. This newer one based payments on a model that paid for a service at a uniform rate regardless of who performed it. While this seems fair on the surface, it had predictable effects.

Why would a surgeon with much higher overhead remove a lump in a patient if the new payment system put the procedure in a revenue negative position? The practice of surgeons removing certain lumps gave way to family practice and dermatology physicians removing many of them. These were the only specialties that under the newer system could turn a profit doing so.

The Medicare fee schedule economically regulates procedures in medicine. It also indirectly fed the growth of cosmetic medicine and surgery as this was the escape hatch many practitioners sought as the Medicare boom feel upon us. Surgeons interested in turning a profit quickly figured on what paid adequately and more importantly on what did not. As my grandfather told me as a young child, everyone needs to make a living. It is perhaps unfortunate that doctors do not discuss these matters with patients when telling them why they cannot offer a service. Is it really ever wrong to tell your patients the truth?

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