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Archive for November, 2010

The Price of Medical Errors

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

A recent report highlighted that more than 13 % of Medicare patients in the U.S. experience an adverse event each month in American hospitals – resulting in 15,000 deaths.

AOL Health’s recent article states, “The news is startling, particularly since the report points out that 44 % of adverse incidents occurring in hospitals are avoidable. And all-together, these adverse events are costing Medicare more than $300 million a month.”

Now what are some types of medical errors that have occurred?
1. A doctor operated on and amputated the wrong leg of a veteran.

2. An elderly woman received the wrong blood type during a blood transfusion.

3. A CT scan being performed on a pregnant woman who had a similar name to a patient who was having abdominal pain resulting in harm to the unborn baby.

Link to other, unforgivable medical errors.

Fighting Healthcare Fraud

Friday, November 19th, 2010

All puns aside, the government is really turning up the HEAT on healthcare fraud. HEAT (Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team) was established in May 2009 to crack down and prevent fraud, waste and abuse in a healthcare system that loses an estimated $60 to $80 billion per year to fraudsters and the “ethically challenged.”

HEAT compliments the joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force which is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud using high-tech data analytic techniques and a focus on community policing. Strike Force teams are currently in Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Tampa and Baton Rouge.

The HEAT task force is comprised of top-level law enforcement agents, prosecutors and staff from both the Department of Justice and the Department Health and Human Services.

How is HEAT weathering the storm? By all accounts, this new task force is living up to the hype. Thirty-six people in five different states have been arrested and 94 indicted following an investigation regarding a Medicare insurance scam totaling over $250 million. Investigators apprehended nurses, doctors and other health professionals in Miami, New York, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge.

Attorney General Eric Holder was quoted saying, “With [these] arrests, we’re putting would-be criminals on notice: Healthcare fraud is no longer a safe bet.”

What are the fraudsters doing these days? Well, according to reports, NOT getting away with healthcare fraud thanks to the new task force. The government is in hot pursuit of those that are bilking the system.
As an investigator, here are some sure fire tips to help spot fraud in a healthcare setting:

1. Make sure you have a system in process to collect diagnosis and procedure information.
2. Track diagnosis and procedures provided, even if just by volume.
3. By simply having the right information in a single source data base, we can begin to ask the data, “Where is the hanging fruit activity?” For example, how many procedures are done in one day by one provider? How long does a patient wait to be seen? How far apart are the actual treatments?
4. Finally, tracking the different types of healthcare fraud schemes is just as valuable. A common scheme in many countries is falsifying mental and emotional states of an individual as a ruse to steal assets which lead to misrepresenting identity to receive healthcare services.

Regardless, one thing for sure is that we can always depend on the creativity of the ethically challenged.

Employees Are the First Line of Defense

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

This past month I was double billed for tickets to a sporting event and charged for services at a health club that I did not receive. My credit card company did not “catch” this activity (nor did they have the information to know that the charges were incorrect – and perhaps fraudulent). I was able to reverse the charges because I understand how to read my credit card statement and can monitor it for inappropriate charges. Imagine if we empowered employees to look at healthcare the same way.

By recognizing how and when employees can add value, organizations can learn useful ways to influence their growth. With the challenge of increasing healthcare costs, employees can also help their organizations reduce their healthcare costs – and even prevent their organizations from being victims of healthcare fraud.

Knowledge Lowers Healthcare Costs

People are good consumers – of automobiles, home appliances, engagement rings and just about any other purchase that deeply affects their own “bottom lines”. Now that payors are shifting more expense to patients through co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, etc. and patients have greater access to healthcare information then ever before, it is the right time to get employees engaged in their healthcare expenditures. Clearly when an employee makes a better financial healthcare decision, their employer also benefits.

Because of the complexity of our healthcare system, it is important to teach employees how to be effective healthcare consumers and arm them with accurate information to make optimal decisions about their care. Patient Advocates help patients navigate our healthcare system – and can train employees to gather, assemble and use information to mange, control and reduce their medical expenses. Critical information that employees need to understand to make informed healthcare decisions include, but are not limited to:

1. Medical records

2. Beneficiary rules

3. Healthcare bills

4. Explanation of Benefits (EOBs)

5. Clinical quality outcome measures

The key is for organizations to explain to employees the incentives of being a conscientious healthcare consumer, including but not limited to:

1. Preventing costly clinically adverse outcomes

2. Preventing inappropriate payments for healthcare services and products

3. Safeguarding personal healthcare information from Medical Identity Theft

People know how to be conscientious consumers – we just need to teach them how to be conscientious healthcare consumers.