Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Physician Skepticism About the Basic Doctrines of Health Care Reform: We're In This Together and, by the way, More Believe In Care Management Than the EHR

Taking a survey...
Read these headlines assembled by Kaiser Health News and it's easy to get the impression that America's physicians believe everyone else is to blame for health care costs.  A cursory read of the underlying original research suggests otherwise.  Regardless of the interpretation, the results should give pause to anyone who thinks health care reform is a slam dunk.

The Disease Management Care Blog explains.

3900 practicing physicians were randomly selected from the AMA Physician Masterfile. Three physicians were outside the U.S., leaving 3897 docs who were mailed an 8-page survey. $20 was used to increase the response rate. Non-respondents were mailed a second and then a third follow-up. The ultimate response rate was 65% and, aside from a one year age difference, the respondents were quite similar to the original 3897. The survey that was used can be found here.

The results are nicely summarized in Table 3 (go to this link, click the "Tables" tab).

99%, 97%, 94% and 86% of the respondents felt hospitals/health systems, health insurers, pharma and trial lawyers had "potential" major or some responsibility, respectively, to lower health care costs.  95% and 98% also felt the same was true for physicians and patients, respectively.

The DMCB take: None of the answers were mutually exclusive. The physician-respondents thought everyone was responsible.  That being said, if you look at Table 3, you'll see a spread of "major" vs. "some" responsibility.  Physicians were less likely to assign "major" responsibility to themselves (prompting the headlines above) but that's because docs believe their job is to advocate for their patients regardless of cost.

Similarly high percentages of respondents generally felt that continuity of care (98%), chronic disease care coordination (98%) and reducing fraud (93%) were important means of reducing costs. What was interesting that fewer felt the same about the electronic health records (74%), penalizing docs for readmissions (41%) or bundling payments (35%). They were also less sanguine about increasing patient "skin in the game" with higher co-pays (61%) or high deductibles (58%).

The DMCB take: More physicians believed in the cost-reducing potential of disease management/care coordination than the EHR.  While part of the respondents' skepticism about the economic incentives that underlie much of health care reform is arguably motivated by self-interest, the DMCB suspects physicians also genuinely believe patient needs trump economic penalties. Regardless of the underlying thinking, the results should give pause to policymakers and politicians who believe that readmission penalties and bundled payments are a no-brainer and that docs have bought-in.

The DMCB will close with the following scenario:

Pretend you are a Vice President for Medical Affairs, or a Chief of Staff, or a health system CEO about to announce a major collaboration with a major health insurer like CMS or a Blues Plan. You've done your homework, read the journals, listened to the experts and anticipated the future. You haven't been a regular reader of the DMCB.

You've called a meeting of the physician staff - the professionals you are counting on, caring for all those patients - and your job is go to the front of the auditorium and convince them that the success of your new venture relies on lowering health care costs with new payment arrangements that align incentives, in tandem with the launch of an electronic health record.

If the survey outlined above is even partially true, would you want to be that VP, Chief or CEO?

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