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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Seventeen doctors for shortness of breath: Unnecessary services

Dr. Sandeep Jauhar's story:
I recently took care of a 50-year-old man who had been admitted to the hospital short of breath. During his month-long stay he was seen by a hematologist, a endocrinologist, a kidney specialist, a podiatrist, two cardiologists, a cardiac electrophysiologist, an infectious-diseases specialist, a pulmonologist, an ear-nose-throat specialist, a urologist, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist, a general surgeon, a thoracic surgeon and a pain specialist.

He underwent 12 procedures, including cardiac catheterization, a pacemaker implant and a bone-marrow biopsy (to work up chronic anemia). When he was discharged, follow-up visits were scheduled with seven specialists.

Expert consultations had sprouted with little rhyme, reason or coordination.

Doctors are usually reimbursed for whatever they bill. Where doctors are paid piecework for their services, if you have a slew of physicians and a willing patient, almost any sort of terrible excess can occur. As reimbursement rates have declined in recent years, most doctors have adapted by increasing the quantity of services. The culture in practice is to grab patients and generate volume. Doctors are doing too much testing and too many procedures, often for the sake of business.

Advice: Ask, or have your patient advocate ask, about the value of an uncomfortable or painful procedure before it is performed.

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