Entries in Clinical & Quality (54)


Much Ado about Peer Review

By Clive Riddle, July 14, 2010

JAMA’s current issue features the article: Physicians' Perceptions, Preparedness for reporting, and Experiences Related to Impaired and Incompetent Colleagues, by Catherine M. DesRoches, DrPH [JAMA. 2010;304(2):187-193. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.921]. The article presents survey results regarding physician peer monitoring and reporting, which nationally polled “2938 eligible physicians practicing in the United States in 2009 in anesthesiology, cardiology, family practice, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry. Overall, 1891 physicians (64.4%) responded.”

The survey asked "In the last three years, have you had direct, personal knowledge of a physician who was impaired or incompetent to practice medicine in your hospital, group, or practice?" The study found that:

  • 64% agreed with the professional commitment to report physicians who are significantly impaired or otherwise incompetent to practice.
  • 69% said they were prepared to effectively deal with and report impaired colleagues in their medical practice
  • 36% do not feel obligated by professional commitment to report such physicians
  • 17% had direct personal knowledge of a physician colleague who was incompetent to practice medicine in their hospital, group, or practice.
  • Of the 17% with this knowledge, 67% reported this colleague to the relevant authority.
  • Physicians working in hospitals or medical schools; and physicians with l0 years or fewer experience, were most likely to report impaired or incompetent colleagues.
  • Pediatricians and family practice physicians were the least likely to say they felt prepared to deal such colleagues; anesthesiologist and psychologists apparently felt most prepared
  • Most cited reasons for taking no action was (1) belief that someone else was taking care of the problem (19%) belief that nothing would happen as a result of the report (15%) and fear of retribution (12%)

The study concluded that “physicians support the professional commitment to report all instances of impaired or incompetent colleagues in their medical practice to a relevant authority; however, when faced with these situations, many do not report” " Matthew Wynia, director of the AMA Institute for Ethics, comments that “I don't think there's any excuse for less than 100 percent of physicians holding true to these ideals." A free JAMA podcast by JAMA’s editor in chief discussing the survey as part of commentary on the current issue is available for download.

Headlines regarding the article accentuate the minority percentage of physicians who do not report:

Los Angeles TimesStudy shows doctors often eschew watchdog role

CBS NewsMany Docs Don't Blow Whistle On Colleagues

The Washington PostDo doctors rat on each other?

This is certainly not the first study to address the issue of physician peer review. Some recent examples include California’s legislatively mandated study, which was released by sub-contractor Lumetra as the Comprehensive Study of Peer Review in California: Final Report, July 31, 2008 which found it was “apparent is that the present peer review system is broken for various reasons and is in need of a major fix”; from Public CitizenHospitals Drop the Ball on Physician Oversight , released May 27, 2009 which concluded a “lack of detection and widespread under-reporting to the National Practitioner Data Bank raise serious questions about hospital peer review.” Modern Physician magazine, in their June 8, 2009 issue ran a lengthy article discussing the debate about the Public Citizen report .

Here’s a few observations for consideration on this issue:

  • Regulated peer review focuses on the hospital setting, and is built on a 20th century model in which a greater degree of care was delivered in a hospital setting. Physician behavior and actions outside the hospital setting are typically under-addressed by state or federal regulations
  • Physicians, excel as they do as a profession, are still human, and subject to similar mindsets, pressures and workplace issues as other professions. Who really thinks any other profession subject to peer review would have better reporting outcomes?
  • Accountability for professional competence in any profession is much stronger when there is an organization structure that the professional is employed by, or financially belongs to. Organization accountability can be an even stronger continuous force for some than regulatory or even ethical accountability.  Thus large medical groups, medical schools, VA, group health plans and other such entities tend to have less of a problem in this area than open medical staffs. Note the survey findings that “physicians working in hospitals or medical schools; and physicians with l0 years or fewer experience, were most likely to report impaired or incompetent colleagues.” As younger physicians have a greater tendency to practice in larger medical groups and organizations, this issue should experience improvement over time.

Health Plan Coverage of H1N1 Virus Administration Varies

by Clive Riddle, September 17, 2009

Earlier this week, the FDA announced approval of four vaccines against the H1N1 virus. As we await the expected spread of the H1N1 virus this fall, health plans around the country are announcing their policy regarding coverage. Of course, the H1N1 vaccine itself is being covered by the government, once it becomes available. So the coverage issue is with respect to payment to providers for their administration of the shot.

Is it a no-brainer that health plans will provide coverage for administration of the H1N1 virus? It is as long as their specific plan of benefits cover immunizations. But typically, health plans offer a wide menu of benefit plans, including some that do not provide immunization coverage.

However, some health plans have announced they will take the extra step to provide administration coverage for all their members, even those whose benefit plans do not offer immunization coverage. Such health plans are taking the public health policy approach that by removing barriers to the vaccine, they are doing their part to reduce the potential spread of the virus, which should provide the indirect benefit of reduced overall incidence and corresponding cost of treatment for their member population as well.

A survey of recent health plan coverage announcements indicates health plans uniformly will cover H1N1 administration costs for member benefit plans that cover immunizations, but are split on providing H1N1 administration coverage when their benefit plans do not cover vaccines.

Those who will provide administration coverage to all members include:

  • Likewise, Independence Blue Cross in Pennsylvania issued a release that they will provide coverage of H1N1 vaccine administration including for members whose benefit plans exclude immunization coverage

Those who will limit administration coverage to members with vaccine coverage benefits include:


  • WellPoint some time ago announced they will provide H1N1 vaccine administration coverage only for members with benefit plans covering vaccines.
  • Aetna sent notices to providers that they will provide H1N1 vaccine administration coverage only for members with benefit plans covering vaccines.


The AAFP news yesterday published a story providing details on how physicians should code and bill major health plans and Medicare  for H1N1 administration fees. Interestingly, there is not a standard approach for coding by the health plans. The administration fee cannot exceed the regional Medicare vaccine administration fee.


H1N1 Flu: Key Info, Web Resources and News Headlines

by Clive Riddle, July 29, 2009

So the health care community has been warned for some time to brace for a surge in swine flu this fall. As August approaches, what’s the latest? The following is a summary compiled of some key information, key web resources, and recent news headline:


CDC provides this summary in their latest situation update: “On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a global pandemic of novel influenza A (H1N1) was underway by raising the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6. This action was a reflection of the spread of the new H1N1 virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus. At the time, more than 70 countries had reported cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection and there were ongoing community level outbreaks of novel H1N1 in multiple parts of the world.  Since the WHO declaration of a pandemic, the new H1N1 virus has continued to spread, with the number of countries reporting cases of novel H1N1 nearly doubling. The Southern Hemisphere’s regular influenza season has begun and countries there are reporting that the new H1N1 virus is spreading and causing illness along with regular seasonal influenza viruses. In the United States, significant novel H1N1 illness has continued into the summer, with localized and in some cases intense outbreaks occurring. The United States continues to report the largest number of novel H1N1 cases of any country worldwide, however, most people who have become ill have recovered without requiring medical treatment.”

According to the CDC Novel H1N1 Flu Situation Update as of July 24, 2009, the U.S. has experienced 43,771 cases involving 302 deaths. The top five states by number of cases are:  

  1. Wisconsin 6222 cases; 6 deaths
  2. Texas 5151 cases; 27 deaths
  3. Illinois 3404 cases; 17 deaths
  4. California 3161 cases; 52 deaths
  5. Florida 2915 cases;  23 deaths

For the week of July 12 -18 the CDC reported that:

· Widespread influenza activity was reported by seven states (California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, and New Jersey).

· Regional influenza activity was reported by Puerto Rico and 13 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia).

· Local influenza activity was reported by the District of Columbia and 13 states (Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin).

· Sporadic activity was reported by 17 states (Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming).

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest update, as of July 24, 2009, states “in most countries the majority of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 cases are still occurring in younger people, with the median age reported to be 12 to 17 years (based on data from Canada, Chile, Japan, UK and the United States of America). Some reports suggest that persons requiring hospitalization and patients with fatal illness may be slightly older.... The development of new candidate vaccine viruses by the WHO network is continuing to improve yields (currently 25% to 50 % of the normal yields for seasonal influenza for some manufacturers). WHO will be able to revise its estimate of pandemic vaccine supply once it has the new yield information. Other important information will also be provided by results of ongoing and soon-to be-initiated vaccine clinical trials. These trials will give a better idea of the number of doses required for a person to be immunized, as well as of the quantity on active principle (antigen) needed in each vaccine dose. Manufacturers are expected to have vaccines for use around September. A number of companies are working on the pandemic vaccine production and have different timelines.”


Pandemic (H1N1) 2009

World Health Organization

Key Facts About Swine Influenza

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 Novel H1N1 Flu Situation Update

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Interim Guidance on Antiviral Recommendations for Patients with Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infection and Their Close Contacts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

H1N1 Influenza A (Swine Flu) Alert Center



H1N1 Flu Spreads to Remote Corners of the World

Reuters Health Information, July 28, 2009

Pregnancy Likely to Be Swine Flu Shot Priority

Associated Press via Google, July 28, 2009

H1N1 Flu Shots Ready in Months, Winter a Risk: WHO

Reuters Health Information, July 27, 2009

China Presses Quarantine Against Flu

New York Times, July 27, 2009

Swine flu could hit up to 40% in U.S. this year and next without vaccine

Associated Press via USA TODAY, July 26, 2009

US: 160M doses of swine flu vaccine due in Oct.

AP via GoogleNews, July 23, 2009

First Trials of Swine Flu Vaccine Begin in Australia

Bloomberg News, July 22, 2009

Grants to States and Territories, July 2009

HHS Press Release, July 10, 2009


Misdirection Can Be Fatal 

by Laurie Gelb, March 17, 2009

ETHEX has initiated a retail-level recall of tablets found after the fact to have been manufactured in non-cGMP conditions. A Blues plan finally sent out a one-page masterpiece of misdirection, one that I'm confident was replicated similarly nationwide, to patients for whom one of the affected scripts was reimbursed. Unfortunately, in this case, misdirection could potentially be fatal, so a communication like this is worth delving into.

First, the letter is dated February 2009, though received in March. ETHEX PR is dated Jan. 28, so there's been a communication delay.

The salutation, despite the fact that these letters are obviously databased from PBM records, is the time-honored "Dear Valued Member." So what would cue a member that this letter, unlike several others received this quarter, should actually be read? The outer envelope holds no clue, either.

The sentence announcing the recall is in bold. That seems scary and necessitating action, doesn't it? But no.

We read that these prescriptions were no longer processed by the PBM as of January 30. If I were comparing this with recalls for cars or food, that would mean that I should take it back and get something fixed or refunded, yes?

Not here. Of course, use of the word "recall" isn't the plan's doing, but there remains the responsibility to explain it.

About halfway down the page, we read " is recommended that you continue to take them [the medications] in accordance with your prescriptions, as the risk of suddenly stopping needed medications may increase your risk for side effects."

Side effects -- not quite the term that most clinicians would characterize as the risk of suddenly d/c'ing nitrates or beta blockers. So this letter is presuming that the patient knows why s/he is on each medication (and remember, each of these is listed only under its full generic name). Alas, if the good ship Argo...and since the letter lists each of the recalled tabs, without specifying which one(s) were filled for the patient, it would be easy to skim this long, complex list and not see the connection. Another form letter gone astray, one might think.

But let's say the patient does recognize one of these meds. She should be thinking that she should do nothing, right? Side effects and all that. But the very next sentence advises: "Your physician is in the best position to help you slowly discontinue use of the medication..."

Wait a second. So the member is supposed to "discontinue?" That sounds like "stop?" But that logic fails when there's no mention of getting a replacement supply, because, of course, the letter is not really recommending that anyone d/c her meds. It's just saying that if you wanted to, you should let your doc in. In fact, it's not saying anything at all, but merely palming patients off on the Ethex customer service number or the MedWatch URL.

The closing: "Thank you for your attention to this matter," once again suggests that you should do something, but by this time, we're immune to confusion (and conclusions). Time to cue up the David Bowie song, "Changes."

This letter mentions five different organizations by name: the plan, its PBM, its pharmacy "consultant," ETHEX and the FDA. However, nowhere does the letter explain any of their responsibilities, roles, accountability or possible usefulness in sorting out any of the letter's contents.

Some of the recalled tabs may be over-generous with the active ingredients. Nowhere in this letter does this fact appear. What to do about refills when shortages for some of the compounds in question have been news for months is nowhere addressed (some patients have been switched over to immediate release vs. extended release metoprolol, for example). Even if the PBM is fully stocked, that reassurance is not made. Nor are terms like cGMP explained. Nor is it identified which drug(s) on the list may apply to the patient (we call it a mail merge with a form field). A single-spaced missive that fills a page, this letter raises more questions than it answers, yet it hints delicately at clinical implications.

When you read polls about distrust, mistrust and misunderstanding of the health insurance industry, remember this letter. A patient who is on a recalled med, based on the PBM's data, is sent a letter in a 8.5 x 11" envelope, signed by a PharmD. There's bold face type and mention of the FDA. It seems serious and worth reading, (well, if you get past the first sentence regarding "changes to prescription drugs in the marketplace"). But, in the end, it's not only unhelpful, it's anxiety-producing or a sedative, depending on which sentences one reads. The tone is cold, formal, impenetrable and replete with jargon. Health plan as robot? We are here.

What would the LA Times think and write about a physician who sent this letter? A hospital? What would you think? Need a plan somehow avoid any visible role in medication management beyond formulary access? The plan will certainly assume a broader role when it comes to hospitalization, surgery, medical devices, etc. and patients know this very well.

So to the Blues plan and your sisters and brothers: After the next recall, if you can't acknowledge the facts for whatever reason (and remember, there's more than one general counsel in the sea), please send your members somewhere that offers actual answers. For example, see the simple language about this recall at the Facts & Comparisons Web site: Ironically, this para is written for HCPs, but is simpler than many of your letters to members.

And next time, don't delay. Spring for a mail merge that produces a personalized salutation and short name rx info. A member with a condition serious enough to justify a drug that you're paying for deserves personhood, not to mention the fact that you might want to converse with that person in the future. Names of drugs and people are a good start. Run your next effort by some real patients, please, and if you can't come to grips with the fact that these are sick people, you might want to think about finding a vertical with lower stakes.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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