I could say the cliche' things about it seeming like yesterday, yet like it has been forever since I worked anywhere else. I guess I just did…so there’s that. But more to the point is the reality that I actually survived. Many expressed confidence in me when I started doing this, while many others expressed supreme skepticism over whether or not this type of practice could actually work. To both of those groups of people I say: keep waiting to make your final judgment. The practice, while profitable and now growing steadily, is still not near to the point I need it to be. It’s heading in that direction, but there are no guarantees; I still could mess this thing up.
People are quick to accept non-answers from specialists, to be misconstrued by ER doctors, and to spend a week in the hospital without knowing what is going on. Other doctors are far too willing to accept fragmented care, not knowing the context of the current hospitalization or outpatient consultation.
Since my model of practice (a monthly fee without copay or other profitable procedures/products) benefits most from people paying for my service without heavy use of those services, this seemed to be prudent. It seems that I was right about this, when comparing experiences with my colleague. People are much less likely to pay $50 per month (or more) unless they have significant need, so a higher price essentially selects for more complex and/or demanding patients.
This is why I can reasonably handle 640 patients today with only two nurses (one of whom is away on vacation). Yes, I don't get as much money as I would for 640 patients at a higher monthly rate, but I wonder if I could actually handle that number of patients with only two nurses if I selected out for more demanding patients with that higher rate. I doubt it. The longer I consider this, the more I'm convinced of its truth, and the less I am inclined to raise my rates (much to the chagrin of my accountant).
For those still unaware (perhaps looking through catalogs for gigantic inflatables for president's day), ICD-10 is the 10th iteration of the coding taxonomy used for diagnosis in our lovely health care system. This system replaces ICD-9, which one would expect from a numerological standpoint (although the folks at Microsoft jumped from Windows 8 to Windows 10, so anything is possible). This change should be cause for great celebration, as ICD-9 was miserably inconsistent and idiosyncratic, having no codes describing weakness of the arms, while having several for being in a horse-drawn vehicle that was struck by a streetcar. Really.
Like my practice, membership medicine is still in its early phases. Like my practice, the future of membership medicine depends on a lot of things beyond our control. But the excitement I hear regularly from physicians, residents, medical students, patients, business owners, and even politicians about its potential is quite remarkable. Both of these conferences were full of something that I once thought no longer existed: doctors who were excited about medicine and cautiously optimistic about the future.
So much bad stuff is (justifiably) said about the healthcare system, and how it is becoming distant, frustrating, impersonal, and dehumanized. That is certainly true in many settings, as we value data, documentation, diagnosis codes, and checklists over the humans for which it's supposedly built. My office is a sanctuary for me, my staff, and my patients from that impersonal world. But the time I spent in the ICU encouraged me greatly, as I saw that people there, in the middle of one of the most stressful settings in my profession, are still caring. They are caring about the work they do, caring about their patients, caring about the families, and caring about doing what is right. In the midst of the hectic world of the ICU, they took the time to talk to me even though I was not at all involved in the patient's care.
The drug test came back abnormal. There was THC present. I walked back to Mrs. Johnson and raised my eyebrows.
"What's wrong?" she asked, not used to whatever kind of look I was giving her.
"Uh, you forgot to mention to me that you smoke weed."
She blushed and then smirked. "Well, yes, I guess I forgot to put that down on the sheet. I don't do it real often, but sometimes it takes mind off of things. I just get real anxious about my kids, my husband...and my heart problems. I only smoke one or two a night"
She's not your usual picture of a pot-head. She's in her sixties, has coronary heart disease, irritable bowel, hypertension, is on Medicaid, and is the essential caricature of the the poor white folk who live in the deep south. And she smokes weed.
"Welcome back healthcare fans! I'm Dr. Rob."
"And I'm Dr. Rob's evil twin."
"Good to see you again, Dr. Evil"
"Nauseated, as always, to see you, Dr. Rob. We've got a thrilling lineup in store for you tonight, as the Washington Senators take on the Mighty Docs in the third round of the Meaningful Use playoffs."
It's been a very slow week in my office. Today we almost pitched a no-hitter, having only one patient come in toward the end of the day. Overall, we've been quiet in nearly every way - few phone calls, few patients stopping by, few appointments, few secure messages.
"I want to tell you my story now," a patient recently told me, a woman who suffers from many physical and emotional ailments. She had the diagnosis of PTSD on her problem list, along with hospitalizations for "stress," but I never asked beyond that.
"OK," I answered, not knowing what to expect. "Tell me your story."
She paused for about 30 seconds, but I knew not to interrupt the silence. "I killed my husband," she finally said.