CMS has posted a new presentation covering the proposed rule for the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. For those who have not yet started to dig in for review, it’s a nice 35,000-foot summary of the E&M coding and virtual care pieces. Plus, it’s only 17 slides long, which might possibly make it the shortest document to come out of CMS in a long time.

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My fortune cookie revelations are usually pretty bland and I’ve never had my palm read. However, I wonder if my inbox is trying to predict my future. I had back-to-back emails about the best ways to onboard physicians from MGMA and the top 10 things to think about when you’re thinking of leaving your practice from AAFP’s Family Practice Management journal. It made me laugh, particularly because my current clinical situation is the best one I’ve ever worked in. The support team members are great, the owners are extremely supportive of my life in healthcare IT, and I feel energized and valued at the end of the day even when it’s been a very tough shift. I wish I had found that kind of clinical fulfillment earlier than halfway through my career, but I’m glad I found it when I did. Still, the documents were good advice, so I’ll tuck them into my consulting portfolio for the next client.

From Noteworthy: “Re: news. It’s amazing what passes for a news item in healthcare today. It’s not outcomes data, it’s not a new gamma knife offering, or even mobile mammograms — it’s vinyl flooring.”Actually, it’s both vinyl flooring and new blinds to give the practice greater “curb appeal.” The practice administrator is quoted regarding how important it is to have vinyl flooring in order to provide a clean environment for patients. Does that mean that their previous carpet provided a less than sanitary space before this week’s renovation reveal? Inquiring minds want to know. Perhaps I should pitch a new show to HGTV for renovating disastrously outdated physician offices. I’ve definitely seen more than my share.

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Earlier this week, Mr. H mentioned the phenomenon of medical students skipping classes and instead using YouTube videos and other resources to prepare for their licensing exams. There is a great comment posted by reader AndyWiesental, who details the non-content skills that physicians need to learn. The diagnostic process and how to determine the appropriate care for a given patient take time to learn, but despite the push for patient-centered care and individualized medicine, educational and quasi-regulatory bodies are still pushing us towards fact-based testing that quickly becomes obsolete. Board certification exams are a case in point, with questions such as “which of the following drugs is the most effective therapy for XYZ” where the answers are items that are 70, 72, 80, or 85 percent effective. In the world of in-the-trenches medicine, those numbers are not terribly relevant. It’s more complex than lab-based effectiveness; one needs to look at the cost vs. efficacy, tolerability and side effect profile, whether it’s on the insurance formulary, and more. And by the way, there’s a chance that a formerly-effective drug will be recalled, so all the numbers go out the window. It all depends on the patient sitting in front of you, as well as the statistics, and the way we are currently tested doesn’t take that into account.

I recently had a conversation with a physician as I was waiting for a plane, and we were lamenting the idea of recertification exams. His board is taking a more progressive approach and allowing more of an extended open-book format that demonstrates the ability to find knowledge rather than memorize factoids. That’s how we practice now, finding the best evidence through curated sources rather than trying to regurgitate what we learned to pass the exam. Although medical education is progressing, the students I work with tell me it’s not a lot different from when I was in school, just more high-tech. Where we recorded lectures on a cassette tape and had a classmate transcribe them, print them, and stuff them in our student mailboxes, today’s students view recorded videos of the lectures.

I once failed a medical microbiology exam because I actually learned the material and didn’t memorize the old test papers that my classmates circulated. When I sat for the exam, the questions were so poorly written that you often couldn’t tell what the correct answer was, with double negatives, multiple correct answers, typographical errors, and more. Yet, many of the members of the class scored 100 percent where a full third of us failed. The dean actually advised us to spend more time with the old tests and allowed us to retake it. With no studying but time spent memorizing questions, I aced it. Hopefully those days are long gone and we’re testing the ability of students to apply information rather than hoping they know the correct answer to the question about E. coli is D.

In response to Mr. H’s question: “If medical school education is vastly different from the content mastery required to pass Step exams, is either set of knowledge incorrect or are students expected to complete a self-managed, dual-track education?” In my experience the latter is correct. Students have to memorize the minutiae for certain, but it’s also often up to them to identify suitable mentors and clinicians whom they want to emulate, and try to learn how to be “that kind of doctor.” Some professors in academic settings aren’t the kind you want to copy, and it can be challenging to find opportunities to rotate with “regular” physicians in the community. There are similar issues in residency training, with some rotations being irrelevant to the trainee’s chosen career path. Statistically, only 17 percent of family physicians practice obstetrics, yet we’re all required to spend several months on rotation. I’d rather have had that time to take extra behavioral health rotations or emergency rotations since those were areas I was more likely to use in my planned future career.

Other rotations are woefully inadequate. My residency’s family medicine program ran a private practice clinic where we learned to code and bill and how to document, which are key for surviving in medicine today. We received productivity and utilization reports. By the time we were in the second half of the last year of residency, we were running full clinic days seeing a volume of patients equivalent to the faculty attending physicians, mostly in 15-minute visits. The internal medicine program ran a clinic where no one ever had to code or bill and every appointment was 30 or 60 minutes. Which trainees came out better equipped to succeed in practice? It was in those 15 minute slots that we learned how to prioritize patient issues and how to best use limited time and resources for individual patients. Of course, we’d all have preferred at the time to have the half-hour or hour slots that our peers did, but when we made it to the real world we were grateful, and our former classmates were shocked.

I’m coming up on a milestone reunion for medical school and it will be interesting to see where people have landed. Our class was an outlier, with nearly 10 percent of graduates not pursuing residency training. Some went to research, others to the pharmaceutical industry, a few to law school or business school, and a couple left medicine altogether. I’m definitely making a point to connect with some of my former classmates who are in academic settings, to see what they make of all of this.

Are you working at an educational institution? How does your employer support student learning? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.