Alexandra Sobol writes:
A recent Weill Cornell Medicine study is breathing new life into the expression, “time is money.” The study, which was published in the March issue of Health Affairs, reveals that physician practices in the United States in four specialties — orthopedics, cardiology, family care, and internal medicine — spend 15 hours a week, or an astounding $15 billion annually, reporting data to private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The data is being used by insurance providers as a metric for assessing physicians’ performances and as a basis for awarding those physicians who score well on the quality care measures.
Of the 15 total hours spent each week by physicians and their staff, physicians were independently found to have spent 2.6 hours providing data to insurers, which, as lead investigator Dr. Lawrence P. Casalino noted, could amount to each of these physicians seeing “about nine additional patients in that time, which is not trivial.”
Notably, 81 percent of the 394 practices surveyed indicated that they spend more time reporting quality metrics now than they did three years ago, which Dr. Casalino indicated is most likely attributable to the Affordable Care Act and its emphasis on quality measures. The bad news is that insurance providers have already begun to indicate that physician reimbursements will be even more closely correlated with their performance on these quality metrics in the future.
Time is precious, so what can be done to address this costly problem? The investigators suggest that streamlining the data that insurance providers are collecting would save a great deal of time, money, and inconvenience. Moreover, another potential solution would be to program electronic health records to routinely gather and send data to insurance companies.
Of course, the irony, as Dr. Casalino acknowledged, is that “while this data is meant to help physicians do a better job, the amount of time spent by medical practices collecting and reporting it costs time and money that could be used for treating patients.”
At the end of the day, for physicians, caring for patients is, and should always be, the priority.