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Today was a Google Cloud kind of sock day, and I have to say these made me smile with their stethoscopes, microscopes, and miniature DNA. These beauties (along with many of the other socks given out at HIMSS) are from Sock Club, which designs their socks in Austin, Texas and manufactures them in North Carolina using cotton sourced from the southeastern US. Perhaps I see some locally-sourced HIStalk socks in my future.

CMS has released an updated version of its Security Risk Assessment tool. Many organizations I’ve encountered fail to appreciate the importance of the Security Risk Assessment, which is required under HIPAA. Some clients think that SRA is something their EHR vendor does for them and don’t understand that it’s not just about the technology, but also about compliance with physical, administrative, and technical safeguards. CMS has always had free tools, but they hadn’t been updated in a while. This one was release in October 2018.

Speaking of CMS, there is less than one month remaining for eligible clinicians to submit their MIPS Year 2 data for the Quality Payment Program. The system closes at 8 p.m. ET on April 2, 2019. CMS Web Interface users must report their Quality performance category data by 8 p.m. ET on March 22, so that deadline is even shorter. Good luck to everyone who is making the final push before submission.

It’s also time for the annual Call for MIPS Quality Measures. CMS is looking for measures to consider for future years of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). Recommendations can come from the domains of: patient safety, person / caregiver-centered experience and outcomes, communication / care coordination, effective clinical care, community / population health, and efficiency / cost reduction. Measures can be submitted through the ONC-JIRA system. You can learn more about the measure selection process here.

Congratulations to the 178 physicians who recently became board certified in clinical informatics, bringing our overall number to more than 1,800. There are yet more physician practicing in our field who are unable to be certified because they may have let their primary board certifications lapse. I’m looking forward to the day when we can be either primarily certified in clinical informatics or when we will be allowed to recertify without a current primary board certification.

As a former family medicine physician with a traditional practice, I realized all too quickly in practice that a good portion of my job was sales – trying to convince patients to “buy” something they didn’t want, such as healthier behaviors or medication compliance. Even in the urgent care setting, I’m constantly trying to sell patients on the benefits of symptomatic treatment for their viral illnesses rather than throwing antibiotics at anything that sneezes, runs, or coughs. I enjoyed this Health Affairs article  that looked at the idea of rewarding patients financially when they choose lower-cost alternatives.

The study looked at more than two dozen employers with almost 270,000 eligible employees and dependents. It was in play for more than 100 elective procedures, including advanced imaging (MRI, CT) and joint replacement surgeries. Patients who chose lower-cost alternatives received between $25 and $500 cash depending on the nature of the procedure and the relative cost of the provider. Although the savings only translated to a 2.1 percent reduction ($8 per patient), it resulted in an overall $2.3 million in savings annually. The largest effects were in MRI and ultrasound imaging. There was no savings seen with surgical procedures. The authors note that “this structure is appealing to employers, because compared to alternative programs such as high-deductible health plans or reference pricing, it encourages patients to price shop without exposing them to increased out-of-pocket spending.”

Until recently, I received my mammograms at an independent physician-owned imaging center that delivered high-quality services at a fraction of the cost of the local hospitals. Some quirky genes led me to enroll in a local medical center’s high-risk breast cancer surveillance program, which includes alternating mammograms and MRIs with increased frequency along with input from genetic counselors, surgeons, and other members of the support team. The cost is certainly higher than the independent imaging center and I’m able to understand the risk/benefit equation better than the average patient, for whom this could be challenging. Data is evolving so quickly it’s difficult at times to make these choices. I’m still not sure about the risk of gadolinium contrast deposition in my brain and whether it’s making me wacky, so if anyone is a neuroradiologist and has an opinion, let me know.

A team from Harvard University is partnering with the US Department of Health and Human Services to better understand attitudes towards health data, accessing it, and what patients know about their rights. Take a minute to complete their survey. Thanks to Amy Gleason @ThePatientsSide for sharing.

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Not all tech is good: The US Food and Drug Administration issues an alert that patients and providers should be cautious regarding robotically-assisted surgeries for mastectomy and other cancer-related surgeries. The FDA has not granted marketing authorization for any cancer-related surgeries and states that “survival benefits to patients when compared to traditional surgery have not been established.” Robotically-assisted surgeries use small surgical site incisions and can reduce pain, blood loss, and recovery time compared to open surgeries. The FDA goes on to say it “is aware of scientific literature and media publications reporting poor outcomes for patients, including one limited report that describes a potentially lower rate of long-term survival when surgeons and hospital systems use robotically-assisted surgical devices instead of traditional surgery for hysterectomy in cases of cervical cancer.”

Hospitals love to use the robotic devices for marketing campaigns because being high tech is sexy. As a physician, it’s more important to me to make sure I have a surgeon who has a high-volume practice in a particular procedure and performs that procedure at a facility which also has a high volume of those procedures. Those two factors have been shown to improve outcomes compared to lower-volume surgeons and facilities. The amount of training that providers receive on robotically-assisted procedures can be highly variable and is an important question for patients to ask as well.

Medscape released its 2019 “Family Medicine Physician Lifestyle, Happiness, & Burnout Report” last month. Here are the takeaways that caught my attention:

  • Plastic surgeons are the happiest, at 41 percent
  • Family physicians are nearly twice as happy (52 percent) outside of work than they are at work (23 percent)
  • We cope with burnout by eating junk food (35 percent), drinking alcohol (22 percent), and binge eating (19 percent) but we’re not using marijuana (0 percent)
  • We drive reliable, economical cars: 23 percent Toyota, 18 percent Honda
  • Nearly one-fifth of us don’t have spiritual or religious beliefs
  • 17 percent of us have had suicidal thoughts and 1 percent have attempted suicide

The last item is particularly sobering and weighs heavy on me as I approach a milestone reunion for my medical school class. We lost one of our dear classmates during the last semester of our fourth year. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has resources specifically for health professionals. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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Email Dr. Jayne.