Doctors aren’t paid to think
If you read this blog regularly, this won’t be the first time you’ve read a post about the growing trend in medicine that favors reimbursement for procedures over time spent with patients, regardless of how important or necessary that time is to the overall plan of care. As the leader of many trends in medicine, Medicare is the driving force behind this direction our reimbursement system is taking, and there isn’t an immediate end in sight. This article from the Wall Street Journal explains how this trend is reducing the availability of needed specialty care in the United States by providing a disincentive for medical students to pursue specialty areas that rely on cognition rather than procedural expertise.
A discipline built on spending time with patients to gather clues for a diagnosis, neuro-ophthalmology could become another casualty of a medical payment system that favors high-tech procedures over low-tech exams. The median income of a neuro-ophthalmologist at a teaching hospital is $200,000, according to the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society. That’s a third less than most general ophthalmologists, who undergo less training but can see more patients, and do more pricey procedures, in a given day.
Many in health-policy circles have focused on how the current health-care payment system is helping create shortages among primary-care doctors, internists and others on the front lines of medicine. But often lost is how the system is endangering some of the country’s most highly trained specialties as well.
Endocrinologists, rheumatologists and pulmonologists — specialties that also don’t involve performing many procedures — face acute shortages. Many of the severest deficits affect children. Though nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed annually with juvenile arthritis, lupus or other complex rheumatic diseases, there are fewer than 200 pediatric rheumatologists to take care of them, according to the U.S. government’s Health Resources and Services Administration.