Are You Following These 10-Steps Before Terminating A Physician- Patient Relationship?

This post was originally published on the Verden Group’s Blog. Written by Sumita Saxena, Senior Consultant, The Verden Group

It unfortunately can happen to anyone: You go above and beyond to provide your patients excellent care with uncompromising accessibility, and yet something somewhere goes wrong and the relationship quickly deteriorates.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 12.13.02 PMAfter trying your best to mend the problem it becomes clear – the relationship has broken down beyond repair and for whatever reason you reach the tough decision to terminate the patient from the practice.

Before you act and send notice, please take a look at some helpful steps we have compiled for you to consider as you navigate this difficult subject.

Step One: Try to Work It Out With Your Patient.

Practically speaking, when faced with a difficult patient situation, the best course of action is to avoid a unilateral termination of the physician/patient relationship by addressing the problem quickly.

Communication is the key.

The patient should be advised of the situation and given a reasonable opportunity to correct the problem. You should make it clear that failure to correct the problem may result in the dismissal of the patient from the practice.

Step Two: Review the Applicable State Medical Licensing Rules.

State licensing boards govern the practice of medicine and the relationship between a physician licensed in that state and his or her patients. Accordingly, it is essential to review the medical board rules carefully before you terminate a patient from your practice.

Step Three: Consider AMA Guidance. 

The American Medical Association (the “AMA”) has provided guidance on terminating the physician/patient relationship. According to the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics, physicians have the option of terminating the physician/patient relationship, but they must give sufficient notice of withdrawal to the patient, relatives, or responsible friends and guardians to allow another physician to be secured.

The AMA recognizes that there are times when a physician may no longer be able to provide care to a certain patient, including when the patient refuses to comply, is unreasonably demanding, threatens the physician or staff, or otherwise is contributing to a breakdown of the physician/patient relationship.

According to the AMA, terminating a physician/patient relationship is ethical as long as the proper procedures are followed.
The AMA has given the following advice for the termination process:

  • Giving the patient written notice, preferably by certified mail, return receipt requested;
    Providing the patient with a brief explanation for terminating the relationship (this should be a valid reason, for instance non-compliance, failure to keep appointments);
  • Agreeing to continue to provide treatment and access to services for a reasonable period of time, such as 30 days, to allow a patient to secure care from another person (a physician may want to extend the period for emergency services);
  • Providing resources and/or recommendations to help a patient locate another physician of like specialty; and
  • Offering to transfer records to a newly designated physician upon signed patient authorization to do so. American Medical Association (AMA), “Ending the Patient-Physician Relationship,” http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/legal-topics/patient-physician-relationship-topics/ending-patient-physician-relationship.page

Step Four: Check Your Payer Contracts and Policies. 

A physician who is a participating provider (under contract) with the patient’s insurer (commercial or government payer) may be obligated to notify the payer and comply with additional requirements. You should review your provider contract(s) and policies in order to determine if the payer has a policy on patient termination.

For example, some insurance carriers require 60 or 90 days notice before dismissal (as compared to the 30 days notice required pursuant to certain state laws) and some require prior written notice to the carrier to enable the carrier to contact the patient.

There also may be specific requirements concerning pregnant or mental health patients. Medicare, Medicaid, and other government payers have strict policies on terminating a patient that should be reviewed before terminating a governmental plan beneficiary.

Step Five: Review Your Malpractice Carrier Requirements. 

Some medical malpractice insurance carriers have adopted rules or recommendations for terminating the physician/patient relationship. Accordingly, you should review your malpractice policy or contact the malpractice carrier when establishing the procedure for terminating the physician/patient relationship.

Step Six: Send Written Notification to Your Patient.

You should send written notification advising the patient that he or she is terminating the patient relationship. The notification should comply with the licensing board’s rules and the requirements of the applicable payer and the your malpractice carrier. Ideally the patient notification should be prepared or reviewed by experienced counsel before sending to the patient.

Step Seven: Provide Continuity of Care.

You should ensure that you provide the proper continuity of care when dismissing a patient from your practice, including any requirements under state licensing rules, their payer contracts and their malpractice policy. The AMA guidance recommends that the physician provide the patient with resources and referrals for other sources of care.
Step Eight: Do not Charge for Patient Records.

A physician who terminates his or her relationship with a patient should not charge the patient for copying the patient’s medical records.

Step Nine: Consider Risk Management.

Additionally, you should perform a risk management analysis before terminating the physician/patient relationship. You should consider the possibility (even if the patient’s position is without merit and you will ultimately be successful) of patient complaints, disciplinary investigations, litigation, or other action initiated by disgruntled patients.

Step Ten: Establish a Set Policy on Patient Terminations and Train Staff on the Policy.

In order to avoid any potential issues with former patients, the practice should have a set policy in place for the termination of the physician/patient relationship, including a sample termination letter. The policy should be applied to patients consistently and without discrimination. The staff should be trained on the policy and should document compliance with the policy.
By following the above steps you can be proactive and diligent in mitigating your risk if such a situation ever arises with a patient.

Insurance Contract Negotiations: 15 Tips From a Pro

Today’s guest blog post comes from David Horowitz MD. Dr. Horowitz responded to a question on SOAPM regarding how to go about negotiating with a payer. I thought his advice was practical, to the point and very useful, so I asked him if he had an issue with me posting his response. He graciously agreed to share his comments with readers of PediatricInc.
 
By the way, this is not an unusual response on SOAPM. Most comments are this good. Enjoy…

I have done the contract negotiations for my practice for 20+ years. In those dark ages, before Internet and AAP resources, there was no primer for doing this. One of my partners recently asked how she could get up to speed on this, looking to the point where I might retire – which is not anytime soon. So I started thinking about a few essential points to have in contracts. You may not be able to get all of them, but they are all worth fighting for.

  1. Do a payer analysis so you know ahead of time what % of your practice income comes from each payer and what each payer is paying you for the major E/M codes. This means learn spreadsheet 101 software. Sometimes you need to be prepared to tell a company their offer is not acceptable and walk away. You need to know ahead of time what this may cost you. You also need to know whether you are the only pediatrician for 30 miles or whether there are 3 other practices within 5 miles who would be happy to snap up your cast offs.
  2. Become familiar with RVU valuations. AAP book Coding for Pediatrics issued yearly is an excellent resource for this.
  3. Ask for fee schedules based on a percentage of a given years Medicare, rather than just “we will pay you $x for code y. If you are lucky enough to get them to agree to basing the fee schedule on the current year, be aware that Congress is still playing with something called the SGR, which, if not fixed, may cut payments from Medicare by 30%. Fee schedules based on prior years Medicare are fixed in stone at this point.
  4. Know your area. There are parts of the country where simply getting 100% of Medicare is considered good. There are other parts of the country with rates as high as double that.
  5. Try to get a concession that they will follow CPT coding guidelines. I have been unable to get this in any contracts. But by bringing it up, it opens the door to specific discussions of paying for –25 modifiers for well and sick care on the same day, and bringing up what services are or are not bundled into well care, such as vision, hearing and developmental evaluations and after hours care.
  6. If in office lab is a big part of what you do, insure that what you are paid doesn’t lose money. You can always threaten to send every kid who needs a specific test to the hospital if they don’t at least meet your cost.
  7. VACCINES: know you costs, know your overhead and make sure that you are paid appropriately. These are almost always carved out of every contract and can cost you tons of money. Inscos often try to pay less than your acquisition cost for vaccines. Try to get payment based on the CDC price list. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/cdc-vac-price-list.htm. Also check out the AAP information on the Business Case for Vaccine pricing. This one piece of the contract can make or break you.
  8. Try to avoid forever renewing contracts. A good price today is going to look pretty poor in 5 years when it hasn’t changed. 2 years is a reasonable amount of time so you are not forever negotiating.
  9. It takes 6 months to negotiate a contract and they are almost always completed after the actual termination date. Stall is the name of the game for inscos.
  10. When you agree on a contract, make sure the contract they send you to sign is actually the one you agreed to. All the companies have boiler plate contracts. I have had a company agree to give me specific terms, but the contract sent to me was 3 or 4 drafts prior to what we agreed upon. I was told this was an “oversight”.
  11. Once you agree on the big things, like payment for E/M codes, don’t forget the little things. Will they pay for after hours care and in office labs are the main things here. If they don’t pay for a specific service, do they consider it “bundled” which means you can not charge the patient, or do they consider it “not covered” which means you can bill the patient.
  12. Not that I don’t trust people, but once you sign a contract, look at the EOBs that come in and make sure that they are really paying you what they said they would pay you. You’d be surprised how often the insco computers load the “wrong” fee schedule by “accident”.
  13. You may not win even if you think you won. A comeback offer from an insco may take the form, “We will give you 10% more on E/M codes, but pay you 5% less on vaccines.” You have to be able to know that this 2nd offer may actually pay you less than the first. It can only help you in negotiating when you come back to them with something to the effect of how disappointed you are that they think you are so naïve, so how about a real offer, not a trick offer. Know what they mean by “E/M codes”. In my experience, they mean only Office Visit and Preventive Care codes. And even though all the other common codes for hospital care, newborn care, in office counseling, etc. are in the E/M section of the CPT book, they usually are not included in the insco definition of E/M.
  14. Know a ballpark minimum offer that you simply can not go below. If you don’t get it, WALK AWAY. This is the hardest thing to do. But if you are losing money on a payment schedule, you can’t make that up by doing more volume.
  15. Start your 1st negotiation with a payer who is rather MINOR in your income. This way you can learn, get your feet wet, and mistakes (which I still make) are not so costly. Save the big payer negotiations for after you have gotten some experience.

This is a starting place. I’m sure others on this listserve will be happy to offer more critical points that I have over looked. And some of these items can be rather daunting. It can take a while to get proficient at Excel. If you have a spreadsheet wiz in the office, it might be reasonable to delegate this part of the task. And getting the Medicare fee payments for the common codes that you do may be somewhat hard if you are not good at Excel. The AAP and Chip Hart on this listserve have good sources of information about common CPT codes and their valuation.

Can One Practice Really Negotiate And Win Against A Health Insurance Co.?

 

smallcontractI hear consultants suggest all the time that practices need to negotiate with health insurance companies in order to be fairly reimbursed for their services. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always been very skeptical of this suggestion. Especially when one is a small practice. I mean, what is the incentive for a big health insurance company like BCBS (which is about 30% of our patient mix) to sit down and negotiate with our practice? Would they really lose business if our practice decided to walk away from the contract? If anything, we’d lose 30% of our business.

Chip Hart from PCC posted a note he received from someone on his blog recounting their negotiation results with a health insurance company. Below are some of the things I found most interesting from the note.

 

The resultant offer improves E&M codes by 40-75% and preventive care by 90-140%, by virtue of and change from a defacto 50% of 2008 rates to 100% of 2009 Medicare…”

“For many vaccines they pay essentially cost (100% of CDC), for some vaccines, especially the pricier ones, these amounts are enhanced by 5-11%. 

“It’s apparent after a few negotiations that is it easier to get a custom fee schedule than to have a policy altered for an individual practice.”

“If the current fee schedule had been in effect for 1/1/07 to date, our revenue would have been enhanced by a 31%, which I would project as the enhanced value of the new contract.”

 

Apparently, it worked out really well for this practice. I can’t argue against a 31% increase. So I guess it can be done. You can check out Chip’s entire post by clicking here.

If you’ve had an experience negotiating contracts, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe you can help me come around.

 

@PediatricInc