‘Drive-By Doctoring’ a Reason for Value-Based Purchasing
When asked about problems with the U.S. health care system, I often refer to a New York Times article called “After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know.“
The article details a patient who received a $117,000 bill from an assistant surgeon he was unaware would be aiding the surgeon. The surgeon he chose was in-network; the assistant was out-of-network and came in while the patient was under anesthesia.
In what other industry, other than U.S. health care, can you receive a service while unconscious, are given no opportunity to learn of (much less agree to) the service or price, and afterwards there is a valid expectation of owing the bill? I cannot think of one.
The Hidden Costs in Fee-for-Service
Two typical tricks outlined in this article were:
Drive-By Doctoring: It’s very common to have an additional doctor or specialist “pop by” during a treatment. This consultation and/or surgical assist may or may not be clinically supported. In group health, the article illustrates the devastating financial impact such unexpected charges may have on a patient. In workers’ comp, it demonstrates how critical it is to carefully analyze medical charges. While most payers and service providers will certainly notice a $117,000 charge, there can and will be many smaller charges that meet the “drive-by” criteria on a bill.
Out-of-Network Subcontractors: As we’re well aware, many providers (e.g. anesthesiologists, assistant surgeons) working out of a hospital may not, in fact, be hospital employees. It can be difficult to ascertain if out-of-network providers exist at network facilities, and to predict if an episode-of-care might result in subcontractor services. It is imperative that we find alternate ways to control these unpredictable costs.
A Value-Based Track to Transparency
These practices discussed in the article are purposeful, dishonest and costly, but they need not exist. A transition from fee-for-service models to value-based purchasing in group health, and even slowly in workers’ comp, allows payers to more easily explore pre-negotiated, all-inclusive rate alternatives. These arrangements have many advantages, not the least of which is the elimination of “drive-by-doctoring” or other hidden fees. When everyone agrees to a fair, upfront price, the opportunity and incentive to “game the system” is removed.
The benefits of cost predictability in workers’ comp are readily apparent, but the outcomes and care coordination aspects of value-based purchasing make it equally compelling. These arrangements allow payers to work with providers who meet certain performance parameters, and are further incented to ensure positive outcomes in order to keep costs commensurate with agreed-upon rates. Bundled rates also promote effective coordination amongst multiple providers who are handling varied aspects of treatment and sharing in a single payment.
It’s encouraging to see the gradual shift towards value-based purchasing in workers’ comp. And while this evolution will take time, the momentum towards a model where we do not simply reward quantity of services, but focus on a more holistic approach to patient care and healthcare purchasing is something that workers’ comp is more than capable of.