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Archive for April, 2010

Patient Safety Trends & Data

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

In honor of Patient Advocacy Week that took place April 12th – 18th the focus of this commentary will relate to patient safety and self-advocacy.

In a recent RAND report “Is Better Patient Safety Associated with Less Malpractice Activity? Evidence from California” it was found that there is a correlation between the frequency of adverse events and malpractice claims. “On average, a county that shows a decrease of 10 adverse events in a given year would also see a decrease of 3.7 malpractice claims.” What this is telling us is that there is a link between patient safety and malpractice claims. While that might not necessarily be news to some, it does put some light on the “frivolous” lawsuits. If hospitals were to concentrate on patient safety and patient education the malpractice lawsuits will (according to this report) most likely decrease.

Another article by the Wall Street Journal titled “New Focus on Averting Errors: Hospital Culture” highlights the fact that errors made by healthcare professionals cause 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year. To combat this number hospitals are taking a surprising approach: “Not only are they trying to improve safety and reduce malpractice claims, they’re also coming up with procedures for handling – and even consoling – staffers who make inadvertent mistakes.” Hospitals are taking a proactive approach to patient safety and staffer guidance instead of waiting for a bad event to occur and then reacting.

A Personal Health Record Can Help with Safety

And now just a little information regarding Personal Health Records (PHRs) and their useful for patient safety. Having a PHR can certainly save you time and help with all the cumbersome paperwork, but having one can also save your life. Patient data is lost/mixed up etc. daily and having your own record of your health will help keep you safe. The state of California has the largest PHR adoption rate. Here is a look at the numbers:
1. 7% of adults had used a Personal Health Record (PHR)
2. California leads the nation in PHR use, at 15%
3. 58% of PHR users with two or more chronic conditions say they know more about their health care as a result, compared to 44% of those with only one or no chronic conditions
4. 48% of caregivers are interested in using a PHR for the person they care for
5. 75% worry about the privacy of PHR information
6. 40% of those who do not have a PHR express interest in using one

Recent Healthcare Fraud Scams

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

We have discussed types of healthcare fraud (i.e. Rent-a-Patient Schemes, Pill Mill Schemes, Drop Box Schemes & Third-Party Billing Schemes) in a previous post. However we didn’t highlight some new ways scammers and fraudsters are stealing your healthcare dollars, mainly through the online world.

A recent ABC News article, “Health Care Fraud: Two Ways Scammers Are Trying to Take Your Money” describes two “ingenious” ways fraudsters are stealing your money. The article explains that because of all the healthcare hoopla occurring, people do not understand and are unaware of current policies – leaving what they call “anxious Americans.” This is how the scammers get you.

Health Insurance Scams

The first scam that was highlighted was “Door-to-door salesman selling bogus policies.” What does that entail? Scammers are going door-to-door selling fake health insurance policies by stating that current legislation is accounting for the low “limited enrollment” period fees. They are confusing people by essentially telling them that if they don’t buy the insurance now, the price will increase excrementally and they will not be able to afford it in time.

The next scam “1-800 advertisements promoting scams” is very similar to the door-to-door scam; however, this time the fraudster are taking it to the airwaves and asking people to call and 1-800 number for “limited enrollment specials made possible by new legislation.”

As always, don’t forget about Medical Identity Theft – this practice is increasing by 375%. The key to any insurance deal is if it is too good to be true than it probably is.

Digital medical records (EHRs)… New wave of healthcare?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

In a previous post, legal implications surrounding privacy standards with EHRs was discussed. The questions asked were: Are there enough safeguards surrounding the technology? Is it easier to steal patient information when records are in an electronic format? And the list goes on. The post did not address the advantages and shortcomings of the EHR technology. Adaptation is slow. Why is that?

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal “Can Technology Cure Health Care” stated that “digital medical records come with some big promises – they’ll improve patient care, eliminate errors, stem costs and make health care more efficient.” On the other hand a 2009 study indicated that “hospitals with more-advanced electronic systems fared NO better than other hospitals on measures of admin costs, on average, even if the systems might ‘modestly improve’ performance on care.”

What does that mean? Healthcare professionals are frustrated with the electronic systems. Could it be because healthcare – notoriously slow to change – isn’t ready for the switch? Unlikely – the article surmises that it might not have to do with how the digital records are implemented, but with how they are designed.

The article discusses how hospitals can customize digital systems to fit their own unique needs. Digital technology has a chance to revolutionize healthcare. We just need to come up with a system that is uniform enough so all systems can communicate, but unique enough to satisfy each health facilities’ needs and wants.

How startup health services firms are educating consumers on medical spending

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Medical Business Associates, Inc. President & CEO was featured in the Chicago Tribune Monday, April 5th 2010 in an article by Ann Meyer titled, “Consumer Education on Medical Spending a Key Component of Many Startups.”

The article explains that many small businesses will be faced with numerous choices due to the passage of healthcare reform.

Rebecca asserts that education is important when understanding healthcare reform and how it will affect your business. “The one thing you can control is educating the individual. We spend too much on healthcare not be educating the frontline.”

At the end of the article Rebecca also offers some tips about going about acquiring healthcare. Here is a highlight of what she had to say.
1. Watch out for fraudulent billing, counterfeit medication and medical identity theft. Interesting fact: Americans spend an average of $6,400 every second in healthcare fraud, waste and abuse compared with the estimated $3,400 per second the new legislation is expected to cost.
2. Ask about your bills – overbilling by healthcare providers contributes to the high cost of treatment. Make sure you understand what you are being charged AND for what you are being charged. Example a doctor might bill with a code that says you were at the office for 60 minutes when you only actually saw the doctor for 10.
3. Make sure you are buying insurance from a legitimate insurance provider. Rebecca states, “One of the fastest-growing areas is selling fake insurance.” Research a company before you buy insurance from them. Just remember the adage – if it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Read full article here.

Doctors try to have non-pregnant woman give birth

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Two North Carolina doctors are in hot water after inducing labor and performing a C-section on a woman who wasn’t pregnant.

The doctors and several other interns tried to induce labor because the woman described only as “Patient A” came to the hospital claiming to be pregnant. Only after performing a Cesarean section did the doctors realize that the uterus was empty and the woman was in fact not pregnant.

The doctors later determined that the woman was suffering from pseudocyesis – also known as false pregnancy.

The two doctors in question were issued letters of concern but other doctors commenting on this story thought the punishment should be a little harsher. According to the article, “In this day and age, how can something like this happen? We have sonograms readily available to confirm whether or not someone is pregnant.”

An ultrasound was preformed by a resident (not the doctors in question), however, but it showed no heartbeat and “Patient A” insisted that she needed to be induced for fear of her baby.

The two doctors in question never actually examined the patient before they approved the C-section.

This is where we need to practice intelligent medicine and take the time to examine a patient. Doctors and nurses are extremely busy – especially in a hospital setting, but one simple examination would have shown that the woman was not actually pregnant and a major surgery (C-section) would not have been preformed.

Read full article here.

2010 Healthcare Audit Forecast

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Medical Business Associates President & CEO Rebecca Busch was featured in the March issue of the Journal of AHIMA in an article titled, “The Year of the Audit.”

The article highlights coding audits and the reasons for them – Rebecca asserts that in order for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to lower its costs, it devised several financial recovery divisions to catch overpayments and fraudulent claims. Some audits include RAC (Recovery Audit Contractor), which evaluates a provider’s claims data, and medical records for possible over/under payments and ZPIC (Zone Program Integrity Contractor), which, according to the article, are the “aggressive cousins of RACs formed by CMS to detect fraudulent claims activity.”

Rebecca goes on to discuss payer fraud and how it will affect health information technology (HIM). HIM departments need to audit yearly to ensure they are not releasing personal health information (PHI) into the hands of fraudsters. As Rebecca states, “For HIM, the ‘year of the audit’ is about ‘releasers beware.’”

Criminals pose as insurers to obtain medical records and other sensitive information more times then one would think. Rebecca says, “This is what makes HIM vulnerable – people who really understand how the department works and how correspondence works. They are writing letters in a typical format that is routine. So it is going to really easy to miss letters that don’t have altruistic intent.”

With 2010 being the year of the audit everyone in the healthcare industry needs to be alert and in top form. The government is looking for overpayments. Insurance companies are looking for overpayments. Hospitals need money to continue to provide services and can’t afford to miscode, bill incorrectly or anything in between. It is a buyer’s beware market out there and patients most likely the ones to be most affected by these audit initiatives.

New Whistleblower Lawsuit Restrictions

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“Blowing the whistle” on a former healthcare employer can lead to lottery like payouts. Recent whistleblowers are earning millions of dollars for their fraud reporting. Here are some highlights:

1. Pfizer whistleblower earns $51.5 million reward – with Pfizer having to pay $2.3 billion in penalties.
2. $2 million awarded to two New Yorkers for speaking out against their former nursing home employer – $24 million was paid back to the state.
3. A registered nurse received $4.9 million for her help in a Medicare fraud case that netted the U.S. Government $24 million.

However a recent Supreme Court ruling could change the nature of whistleblower lawsuits and the big individual payouts. The court has placed limits on existing whistleblower lawsuits claiming that local governments have misused federal money. The court voted 7 – 2 to hold that a technical, though important aspect of the federal whistleblower law applies to local governments. There is a section of the law that prohibits whistleblower lawsuits when public disclosure occurs through a court hearing, a news report or congressional/administrative audit. Read full article here.

It makes sense that once allegations are disclosed publicly, lawsuits are harder to file. If that wasn’t the case, people could hear about something on the news and head to the courthouse to file a claim. On the other hand, we need to make sure that people are still willing to file these claims against current or former employers who are guilty of wrongdoing. A previous post discussing two Texas nurses who are on trial for bringing claims against a doctor is a perfect example of what we are doing to NOT encourage people to stand up for what is right.