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Physicians

Is Georgia’s medical access law too weak?

The state insurance department is looking at possible ways to strengthen a Georgia law that requires health insurers’ networks to give consumers adequate access to doctors and hospitals.

“Georgia is not alone: The feds and all the states are looking at the issue,’’ Trey Sivley, director of the Division of Insurance and Financial Oversight for the Georgia agency, told GHN recently.

Healthcare CostThe National Association of Insurance Commissioners is working on a redraft of its model for a network adequacy law. Georgia is studying the NAIC proposals, Sivley said. But he added that the state’s interest in the details “doesn’t mean that we’re going to adopt” the national group’s plan.

Such regulatory changes, if enacted, would coincide with an accelerating trend of health insurers offering consumers more limited choices of medical providers. The resulting health plans have become known generally as “narrow networks.” full story

Doctors: EHRs a good idea that needs improvement

Dr. Danny Newman, like other physicians, recognizes that electronic health records are here to stay.

Newman, an Augusta internist, has seen some of the benefits of replacing paper medical records with computerized data. One advantage, he said, is electronic prescribing of medications, which reduces mix-ups caused by unclear handwriting.

Dr. Danny Newman

Dr. Danny Newman

But Newman isn’t thrilled with electronic health records (EHRs) as they now exist. He said the current versions are primarily geared to billing and reimbursement, rather than focused on care for the patient.

“They’re supposed to be more efficient,’’ Newman told GHN on Thursday, “but I think they’re less efficient.”

A patient visit now produces five pages of notes, instead of a single page in the pre-EHR days, he said. And it takes about five minutes to fill in the EHR for one visit. “It’s taking away time from my patients,” Newman said.

Nowadays, he added, many doctors “feel like they’re data entry clerks.”

Earlier this month, the American Medical Association gave official voice to physician frustration with computerized records. It called for improvements to EHR systems to benefit caregivers and patients. full story

Merger shows health IT still blooming in Georgia

Seven years ago, Baha Zeidan and two of his Valdosta colleagues entered a local competition for business plans, looking to build on their idea for a health care software startup.

At the time, the three young men, all graduates of Valdosta State University, were working at a medical lab company in the South Georgia city.

The group saw a need for better software for the health care industry, which still was bogged down with paper medical records.

Baha Zeidan

Baha Zeidan

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce awarded Zeidan, Douglas Swords and Daniel Henry the first prize of $15,000 for their business plan. The contest award also came with legal and other services.

“That was the start of the company,’’ Zeidan said Wednesday.

Azalea Health, launched in 2008 in Valdosta, “the Azalea City,” focused on providing electronic health records and billing software for physicians, along with software for laboratories.

On Tuesday, seven years after the contest award, the company announced a merger with Alpharetta-based simplifyMD, another private health IT firm. The merged company will have 70 employees and will have offices in Valdosta, Alpharetta and Macon as well as in Gainesville, Fla. full story

Plan for new trauma center not welcomed by all

Hospital chain HCA’s push to have its Augusta hospital designated as a trauma center has unsettled leaders in the state’s hospital industry.

A trauma center is a medical facility that’s specially equipped and staffed to treat seriously injured people. Georgia authorizes four levels of such centers, depending on their capabilities.

The critics of the HCA effort point to the trauma center growth in the Florida market. Such centers in the Sunshine State are charging a “response fee” – essentially an entry fee into the hospital – for each trauma case that averages more than $10,000 per patient, according to a Tampa Bay Times investigation in March.

Doctors Hospital

 

HCA’s Doctors Hospital said through a spokesman that if it receives trauma center status, it plans to set its trauma activation fee at about $9,900 for each such case at the Augusta facility. The HCA initiative in Georgia was first reported by Tom Corwin of the Augusta Chronicle.

The two current trauma centers in Augusta, Georgia Regents Medical Center and Trinity Hospital, said they charge activation fees of $1,949 and zero, respectively, for a comparable Level III trauma patient, the Chronicle reported.

Nashville-based HCA’s bid for trauma designation has drawn strong opposition from the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, an organization of nonprofit hospitals. full story

Commentary: Tort reform can save rural hospitals

Medical malpractice reform got a big push prior to the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session, but a sweeping bill never made it out of a Senate committee.

iStock_000023217379LargeSupporters of tort reform vow to bring the proposal back again next year.

They note that four rural hospitals have closed in the past two years, and argue that savings from malpractice reform could prop up many of Georgia’s ailing rural facilities.

Under the legislation, “no doctor or hospital would ever be sued again,’’ Wayne Oliver, executive director of the group Patients for Fair Compensation, says in a new GHN Commentary.

The new patient compensation model, if enacted, “could save $6.9 billion over the next decade,’’ Oliver writes. “That state revenue could be reinvested in rural hospitals that are barely surviving.”

Here is a link to Oliver’s Commentary.

 

Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please email Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at amiller@georgiahealthnews.com

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