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Healthcare fraud and abuse

“During Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the Federal Government won or negotiated over $2.4B in health care fraud judgments and settlements…$2.6B was returned to the Federal Government or paid to private persons.”

Put this into perspective.  If you were born today and started counting one…two…three…four, you would get to 2B right around retirement age.  This is of course assuming that you don’t sleep.

That’s a lot of money!

What’s important is to read that the money was returned to the government or paid to private persons.  This means that the Government is at least paying this much out to health care providers in order to recover the money at a later date.

There is a saying in health care…”it’s not about how much you make, but how much you keep that matters”.

“In FY 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened 967 new criminal health care fraud investigations…filed criminal charges in 439 cases.”

Again, I’d love to say that health care is a field full of altruistic people, we we know that some people suck!  They just suck. They take advantage of people.  They may have been bullied as a child and feel the need to get payback.  They may have been the bullies and just continue to try to take advantage of others.  It doesn’t matter the why, but they can’t be trusted to do the right thing when placed in a situation in which personal gain is an option.

“HHS-OIG also excluded 3,244 individuals and entities from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health care programs.”

When a health care provider attempts to defraud a federally funded program, the health care provider can be excluded from seeing any patients that participate in these programs.  For instance, if I were to be a shady individual and overbill or bill for services that I didn’t actually provide, the government can then say that I am no longer allowed to see these patients.  The government could also enter into a corporate integrity agreement with the person or company and allow them to see patients, but the company would have to prove that steps are being taken in order to minimize abusing the system.

“Under the joint direction of the Attorney General and the Secretary, the Program’s (Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program) goals are:

  1. To coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement efforts relating to health care fraud and abuse with respect to health plans;
  2. To conduct investigations, audits, inspections, and evaluations relating to the delivery of and payment for health care in the United States;
  3. To facilitate enforcement of all applicable remedies for such fraud; and
  4. To provide education and guidance regarding complying with current health care law. “

Imagine that you have the full force of the Federal Government tracking you as a health care professional.  How confident are you that you are doing everything correctly? We are responsible for complying with health care laws and regulations.

It’s unfortunate, but there are many therapists that still struggle with how to bill appropriately and will just take the word of another health care provider instead of looking up the rules and regulations.

“Relators’ Payments: $262,095,000…are funds awarded to private persons who file suits on behalf of the Federal Government under the qui tam (whistleblower) provisions of the False Clams Act”

In my opinion, this is where it gets interesting.  If anyone sees an injustice of abuse or fraud and reports it to the government, the government may pay that person(s) a percentage of what is recovered from the abusing person or company.

About 10% of what was recovered was paid out to individuals and groups that reported this fraud.

Someone is hitting the lottery by doing the right thing and reporting on those that are taking advantage of the system or are ignorant of the rules of the system.

“The return on investment (ROI) of the HCFAC program over the last three years is $4.20 returned for every $1.00 expended.”

If you are the federal government, “would you put more or less money into trying to recover more money from those committing fraud or abuse?”

I don’t see these recovery attempts to slow down over the years.

“Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT)…The Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams are a key component of Heat.  The mission of Heat is:

  1. To marshal significant resources across government to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid  programs and crack down on the fraud perpetrators who are abusing the system and costing us all billions of dollars.
  2. To reduce health care costs and improve the quality of care by riding the system of perpetrators who are preying on Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
  3. To highlight best practices by providers and public sector employees who are dedicated to ending waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare.
  4. To build upon existing partnerships between DOJ and HHS, such as our Medicare Fraud Strike force Teams, to reduce fraud and recover taxpayer dollars. “

If you are in healthcare…are you listening?!

Does this sound personal?

This is to crack down on perpetrators costing us billions of Dollars.

“DOJ and HHS have expanded data sharing and improved information sharing procedures in order to get critical data and information into the hands of law enforcement to track patterns of fraud an database and increase efficiency in investigating and prosecuting complex health care fraud cases…enables the DOJ and HHS to efficiently identify and target the worst actors in the system.”

As a therapist, you should be shaking in your boots…if you are breaking the rules.  When the DOJ gets involved, it gets serious.

If you aren’t sure if you are one of the “worst actors in the system” you should check out the statistics.

Scary statistics for some

“In January and February 2017, 4 defendants pled guilty…conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering…submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for among other things, fraudulent physical and occupational therapy services…patients received medically unnecessary services that were later falsely billed to Medicare and Medicaid…totaling over $55 million were submitted to Medicare and Medicaid in connection with the scheme”

This may be more than most people can perceive regarding fraud, but it doesn’t always start this way.  I’ve heard that it starts with overcharging by a couple of minutes and when a person doesn’t get caught, then the billing becomes more and more unethical.  Before you know it, the person is billing for thousands of dollars of services that weren’t actually performed.

“In March 2017, an owner of several physical and occupational therapy clinics in the Central District of California was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in prison after pleading guilty to health care fraud conspiracy…ordered to pay more than $2.4 million in restitution to Medicare…instructed therapists and others to bill Medicare for physical and occupational therapy services that were medically unnecessary and not provided”

This is unfortunately all to common.  I received calls just in the past year from PT;s in Minneapolis, Houston, NYC, and San Diego describing similar situations.  This is happening all across the country, but very few people are saying anything about it.  It is much easier to ask opinions of others that have no vested interest in the topic than it is to actually call the compliance officer for the company or call the office of inspector general.

“In July 2017…a 2-count indictment against 5 high-billing medical professionals who worked at a network of Brooklyn-area clinics where patients were paid illegal kickbacks in return for subjecting themselves to purported physical and occupational therapy, diagnostic testing and other medical services.”

Kickbacks are illegal.  Kickbacks come in many forms.  Money is the easy one, but there are others.  I’ve heard of free sports tickets, free trips to medical conferences, paying patients to show up for sessions, waiving co-pays for all patients in order to keep them in the clinic, etc. etc. etc.

If you are a patient, this is illegal and needs to be reported.  If you are a therapist, this is illegal and needs to be reported.

“In October 2016, the owner and medical director of Christian Home Health Agency in New Orleans were sentenced to 8 years and 6 years in prison, respectively, after being convicted of health care fraud for billing Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary or were not provided.”

People go to prison.  Some worry about whether they will be shunned by their job, so they don’t report the wrongs noted in the clinic.  Some people worry about whether they will lose their job, so they don’t report it.  People are going to prison.  Jobs come and go, but time served isn’t something that one can just walk away from.  Walk away from a negative situation while you still have time…or you may find yourself doing time.

To see the report in whole click here

To learn more click here.

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It’s how winning is done!

“…distress among clinicians had been understood primarily through psychological concepts such as stress and burnout, which, although relevant, were not sufficient.”

Part of the reason that burnout is not purely psychological is because this model dictates that the person doesn’t have the tolerance for the mental aspect of the game that is being played.

My game of choice is physical therapy.  Burnout is happening in this profession and it still baffles me at times, but I am starting to have a more thorough understanding of it as I apply research from other sectors to our profession.  For instance, there are therapists that pride themselves on treating multiple patients per hour.  Some therapists are able to handle the load of multiple patients, but once they understand the purpose of treating multiple patients at once, said therapist may no longer feel proud of doing this.  Some clinics need to treat multiple patients per hour to keep the doors open, which is noble for the therapist to feel like he/she is greatly helping the clinic, whereas others are doing it only to fatten a pocketbook.

“shortages of resources, such as shortages of time and staff, led to dispiritedness, a lack of respect, and an absence of recognition for both patients and staff, all of which severely diminished the ability of staff to provide high-quality care.”

In healthcare, it’s all about how much work can be done in a specific time period.  This is measured by patients seen/hour or units billed/hour or dollars made/day.  We are always being asked to do more with less.  Guess what? Us and almost every other industry out there.  This is not just healthcare, but in a limited scope its what we focus on here.  Because of this, some may feel unappreciated and believe that the big bosses (administration) don’t see our struggles.  We can either play the victim or we can take action.

I don’t know if I agree with the last part of the statement “diminished the ability” etc.  The ability has not changed.  The skills have not changed.  The personal drive should not have changed.  I have worked in environments where morale was down because of this exact scenario and still never understood it.

We make choices everyday.  We made a choice when entering this profession that we would place the patient’s needs above all else.  I made that choice.  I have to live with that choice and can’t allow other outside influences to impede the decision that I made.

I think that more in the healthcare profession need to go back and examine their personal mission. Mine is short and sweet.

“The consequences of moral distress for nurses and other health care providers include feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, and powerlessness.”

I’ve seen this firsthand.  People stop caring.  It’s sad to walk around in an environment where the employees don’t feel heard.  If things in an specific environment always remain the same, then where is the impetus for change? Are you a flea?

“…moral distress can also occur when clinicians internalize external constraints to such a point that their own moral values begin to shift, causing them to disengage morally, compromise their integrity, and possibly engage in harmful practice.”

I have had conversations with those that enforce the rules (read that as members of the department of justice) and there was something said that has stuck with me all these years. To paraphrase: people don’t start out with the intention to deceive, but they may slightly overbill every once in a while.  If they don’t get caught, then there is no external pressure not to do it and then other vices take over such as greed.

Understand the why behind actions and it is easier to understand the actions.

“…moral resilience, which can be understood as ‘the capacity of an individual to sustain or restore [his or her] integrity in response to moral complexity, confusion, distress, or setbacks.'”

Some people are just stronger.  That’s not wrong to say.  It holds true in many aspects of life.  I am a bigger guy, so I am in the bottom half of runners.  I’m just not a strong runner.  I have seen people get shot.  I’ve had friends killed.  I’ve had family in prison.  I’ve seen bad stuff.  I have a stronger resilience to bad stuff than others and I don’t tend to panic quickly.  I know…I know… “I have a high pain tolerance.”  I hear it all the time from patients, but I believe that my moral compass is on point because of my experiences.  I don’t believe that there are many in healthcare with my experiences.

Question of the day:

Do you have moral resilience?  This means can you stand up for what you believe in or are you going to get knocked down and not have the ability to stand up for yourself again?

 

Excerpts take from:

Rodney PA. WHat We Know About Moral Distress: Looking over three decades of research and exploring ways to move the concept forward. AJN. 2017;117(2):S7-S10.

 

 

Moral Distress and Moral Resilience

“At the individual level moral distress may cause burnout, lack of empathy, and job dissatisfaction, while at the organizational level it may lead to reduced quality of care, increased staff turnover, and poor patient outcomes.”

Moral distress is essentially knowing the right action to take, but being unable to take that action due to external conflicts.  For instance, in therapy we may believe that a patient only requires one visit per week, but the corporation may place pressure on the therapist to see the patient more often during the week.  Again, this decision may be due to corporate pressures to make more $$$.  If you are the therapist, you are now in the middle of doing the right thing by the patient (at least what the therapist believes to be the right thing) and doing the right thing by the company.

You can see a quick link here speaking to some of the pressures felt by staff PT’s to keep patients longer than “needed”, in the therapist opinion.

When employees feel this pressure, they start to believe that the initial reason for getting into healthcare, “to help people”, becomes trumped by the need to make more money for the company.  This difference of personal moral code and corporate code has been shown to lead to moral conflict.

Can you see how this could lead to staff turnover? Of course, when the therapist’s personal mission is not in alignment with corporate mission, it may cause the therapist to find a new job that best matches personal mission.  It has been said that Millenials are very concerned about a corporate mission matching a personal mission.

One can logically make the jump from a lack of empathy (not listening or understanding the patient’s position) and job dissatisfaction to worsening clinical outcomes.  All of this makes sense to me.

“Generally, resilience refers to ‘the ability to recover or healthfully adapt to challenges, stress, adversity, or trauma'”

I love using this when talking to patients about tissue ability to absorb force and unexpected events.  When talking about moral issues, it has to do with a person or therapist’s ability to absorb stress without significant setbacks in emotional or physical well-being.

The article went on to create recommendations for addressing moral distress and moral resilience.

“Institution leaders need to value and create a culture of ethical practice and commit resources to support individuals in cultivating moral resilience”

Many statements can sound great, but creating a culture of ethical practice may be near impossible in all practices.  From the top there is a culture that leaks downwards onto the worker bees.  This company will assume the “culture” of the owner, if not in whole, at least an iteration of the owner.  This is where I believe that having a thorough understanding of one’s own personal mission is vital because otherwise one may assume another’s mission and waste years or decades on a mission that one doesn’t own.

“Encourage accreditation bodies to mandate that curricula for all health care professions include content addressing ethics, moral distress, and moral resilience”

I fully disagree!  Whaaat?!

I don’t think that the curricula should include ethical content, but ethics has to be embedded within all of the curricula. Here’s my rendition of an ideal program set-up.  The ideas on the periphery can always change, but they must center around creating an ethical professional.

ethical curriculum

The ethical issues that are noted across the lifespan will differ and the ethical issues noted in business are a completely different animal.  Because of this, it is important that topics are brought to the students attention so that they have some background from which to make a decision.

I also don’t think that this should be taught by the professors at the universities.  In terms of treating in the trenches, most of academia that I come in contact with haven’t practiced full time in a clinic in a long time or ever.  Because of that, there is a lack of “street cred”.  It’s hard to discuss and own a topic if there is no experience in the topic.

We had a teacher in PT school that would always say refer to Reese and Bandy (authors of a book), whenever we brought a question.  At first, I thought that she wanted us to obtain the answers for ourselves, but over time I learned that the professors (plural) teaching that class 1. didn’t know what was in the book and 2. couldn’t rationalize the ideas that were in the book.  They had me refer to a different teacher altogether in order to have him explain the concepts in the book that were contradictory.

Ethics has to be taught from experience…in my opinion.

Excerpts from:

Rushton CH, Schoonover-Shoffner K, Kennedy SM. Executive Summary: Transforming Moral Distress into Moral Resilience in Nursing. AJN. 2017;117(2):52-56.

Why Rush

I came across this quote today in Black Belt Magazine. (Read topics from other fields because you will expand your knowledge and may find information that applies to your mastery).

This quote is perfect for the profession of physical therapy.

Are you in this profession for the long term?

If so, study every day. Learn a little bit every day. Master a topic every day. You have time to reach that mastery. You have you’re entire career to become a master at physical therapy.

If this is a stepping stone to something else (I ain’t gonna hate ya for it), then why bother to master anything at all?

If your goal is to go into the business of owning a clinic, teaching courses, becoming a professor, then it doesn’t matter if you “master the profession”. It only matters that you master that which is your goal.

Happy thought for the day.

Moral Distress

“Unfortunately, information about moral distress and its consequences is often inadequate in healthcare provider education.”

This topic of moral distress was never spoken of in our physical therapy program, but I am unsure if this has changed with time.  Moral distress occurs when someone knows the morally right thing to do for that person, but the individual feels like they are unable to do the right thing for one of many reasons.

These are topics that are not addressed well enough in PT school.  If a person doesn’t have strong moral resolve, then the person may work to appease the reason that he/she feels constrained instead of fulfilling his/her own moral code.

 

“Moral distress as ‘psychological response to morally challenging situations such as those of moral constraint or moral conflict or both’…experience moral distress and burnout in situations such as patients receiving non-beneficial treatment, patient suffering, care not consistent with patients’ preferences, lack of administrative support, perceived powerlessness, and competing obligations.”

For those that are new grads reading this…WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF HEALTH CARE!

Burnout is a topic that has apparently been taboo to talk about in previous years or there hasn’t been a platform in which healthcare practitioners felt comfortable releasing their thoughts.  I can’t remember in my career, albeit only 11 years, in which burnout has been such a large topic as it has been in recent months.

Moral conflict can happen from providing care that is not beneficial.  WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD ANYONE EVER GIVE THIS TYPE OF CARE?!

Enter Shane McMahon

Unfortunately, there have been many therapists that I have spoken to across the country that are performing treatments that they do not personally believe to help the patient, but are trying to stay out of trouble with higher-ups in the company that they are employed.

 

If you are a patient reading this, close your eyes for this and skip to the next paragraph…Companies are trying to get their hands in your pockets.  (YOU WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO READ THAT!)

“Poor work environments…associated with a higher frequency of nurse-reported healthcare-associated infections. Persistent moral distress can progress to burnout, which is also associated with increased incidence of hospital-acquired infections.”

So…who do you want treating you? Do you want to be treated in an environment that increases your likelihood of developing an infection?

If not…pay attention to your surroundings.  Are your healthcare professionals happy, energized, empowered and fulfilled?  If so, you are probably in a good spot.

“Nurse leaders provided insights on risk factors that increase the possibility of moral distress. System-level factors such as work environment, lack of strong ethics resources, and heavy workloads prevailed.”

If you are practicing in healthcare, does this sound familiar.  A lack of ethical resources and heavy workloads describes most institutions in which I have worked and hear from others in the field of PT.  At no time should money trump patient care, but it happens all too frequently.

I get it…I am trying to run a business.  I have heard the phrases that we need to keep the lights on.  We need to make sure that we are making a small profit.  I get it, but at no point in time should we allow greed to take precedence over patient care.

Seek it out

Understand it

Pay attention to workplace climate

Promote receptive environment and engagement

Open opportunity for dialogue

Reflect, Evaluate, Revise

Transform Environment

Link to article

Thanks for taking the time to read this synopsis.  It would mean a lot to me if you would share this for others to see the state of healthcare in today’s environment.

CrossFit and physical therapy

Our goals as PTs should be our patient’s goals and vice versa. As much as I may want to centralize a patient’s symptoms, sometimes the patient doesn’t care about that and I have to learn that patient’s passions and needs without superimposing my wants on top of the patient.

This is a quick synopsis of a recent interaction that went in a direction totally different than I expected.

Burnout

“The interest of this project is assessing the prevalence of BOS (Burnout Syndrome) among physiotherapists who work in the Estremadura region (Spain)”

 

I can already hear the arguments from other PT’s, “Why are you reading research from Spain?” and the answer is because we don’t have enough research from America.  We will have to try to extrapolate some of the information from this article to see if it applies to our work environment.  In the end, people are people and no one article will apply to everyone, but maybe some bits of knowledge can come out of this article to help many.

 

Let’s start with burnout.  It exists in healthcare and this sector has one of the highest rates of burnout among sectors (think like education, healthcare, transportation, law enforcement etc).

 

From the other research articles that I am reading, burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low professional (sense of) accomplishment.

 

“LPA (low professional accomplishment) is clearly higher in the case of split shift working day as well as in private practice”

 

A split shift, in this study is defined as just that, a shift that is non-consecutive. For instance, there was one job that I was interested in that would take a two-hour lunch in order for the people working there to go to the gym next door.  As much as I was in favor of it, it would have meant another hour away from my family…so I politely turned it down.

 

Private practice is private practice.  We have this here in the states.  Private practice is traditionally seen as a capitalistic venture, in which the owners are trying to make as much money as possible.

 

“…more than 40 hours of direct attention (patient contact) is linked to higher scores in EE (emotional exhaustion), and that more than 20 patients treated per day is associated with higher scored in both EE and Dp (depersonalization)”

 

Are you surprised?

 

We treat sick people day in and day out.  We treat people in pain day in and day out.  We are constantly taking the burden of others in trying to help these folks.  It can be exhausting.  The other option that could happen when a person becomes emotionally exhausted is to just “shut it down” and then depersonalize work and simply “go through the motions.”

 

Is this what you want in a health care provider?

Be on the lookout when you go to therapy to see if the therapist is seeing one patient at a time or more than one patient at a time because it can start to give you insight into the PT’s mindset.

“Physiotherapists included in our study had a moderate level of BOS (burnout syndrome) in its three dimensions: EE (emotional exhaustion), Dp (depersonalization) and LPA (low professional accomplishment).”

Although I don’t believe that I fit into this category, it is becoming more obvious from talking to other PT’s in the profession that this is a major problem that will have to be addressed in the not-so-distant future.  Think about it! The population is becoming older, we have a shortage of PT’s and there will be a higher demand for our services.  There are only so many of us to go around and if the PT works for a company that values $$$ over quality, then the PT’s will be asked to see more and more patients per day.  This appears to be leading the charge for burnout, based on the conversations that I have with other PT’s.

 

I did an informal survey on FB to determine the primary cause of burnout among the professionals and the primary answer was productivity demands.  For those of you that aren’t in healthcare, this means how many patients are you billing per hour.  WE DON’T MAKE WIDGETS!!!! We can’t treat people like WIDGETS!  It makes sense that some PT’s are getting their ethical buttons pushed and start to depersonalize.  One PT that I spoke to literally said that he was exhausted from TREATING PATIENTS!

 

Are you kidding me?!

 

It’s only getting worse out there.  As a patient you need to know what’s happening in the profession and choose a PT that is giving you undivided attention when you are in the clinic (THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE PAYING FOR!) and as a PT, you have a choice to work in a place that is asking more from you than you can deliver or you can leave and find something different.

 

“…the age of physiotherapists does not seem to have any influence in the syndrome. However, there is an adjustment period, at the beginning of the physiotherapist’s professional development, where they are especially vulnerable to the development of BOS (burnout syndrome).”

 

Old and young alike feel stress.  We all have ethical buttons.  Some that have swam the waters of this profession for years have learned to live with it, but those coming out are facing challenges that are considered taboo to speak of in school.  It’s only due to social media that these topics are becoming more mainstream for students to learn about.

 

“…physiotherapists who work split shifts and more than 38.5 hours per week are those who present the highest level of BOS (burnout).”

 

I don’t know any PT’s, minus those that don’t choose to work full-time, that are consistently putting in less than 39 hours per week.  I am personally putting in a ton of hours per week of direct patient care and indirect care through notes, blogging and doing videos.

 

“Burnout syndrome reaches its highest levels in those who dedicate more than 40 hours per week of direct attention to patients…”

 

Should we even bring up student loan debt?

 

If you want a comfortable/stable life, then you will work more than 40 hours per week.  Otherwise, you will pay your student loans off over decades.  That ball and chain will always be there.  Click  here to learn more about the ball and chain.

 

I personally receive income from three different companies, which I wished that I did sooner instead of waiting almost 10 years to work multiple jobs.  On the flip side though, had I done this sooner, then I may have experienced burnout and not be in the position that I am in today.

 

“…more than 20 patients per day have the highest levels of EE (emotional exhaustion), Dp (depersonalization) and BOS (burnout)”

 

PTs: Does this fit the description of the person and therapist that you want to be? If so, go forth and treat 2+ patients per hour.  Just know that you are making that decision and there is no sympathy for you in the end.

 

Patients: Does this describe the person that you want treating you? Emotionally exhausted, depersonalized and burnt out? If not, look around.  How many patients are there per therapists.

 

YOU ARE NOT A WIDGET!

 

Excerpts from:

Gonzalez-Sanchez B, Lopez-Arza MVG, Montanero-Fernandez J et al. Burnout syndrome prevalence in physiotherapists. Rev Assoc Med Bras. 2017;63(4):361-365