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Experts on a roll … to help rural doctors

“Meaningful use.”

It’s another confounding term in the often opaque lexicon of health care. But it represents a concept that is important for health care providers’ bottom lines.

The basic idea is that Medicare and Medicaid will pay incentives for hospitals and doctors to demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHRs) to improve patient care.

And to help rural doctors get up to speed with education and technical assistance on meaningful use, a two-day bus tour swept through central and eastern Georgia last week.

Technical assistance is given at Taylor Regional Medical Center.

Technical assistance is given at Taylor Regional Medical Center.

Experts on board the bus came from GA-HITEC at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; the state Department of Community Health; HP Medicaid; the Georgia Health Information Network; the Medical Association of Georgia; and HomeTown Health. They visited Thomaston, Hawkinsville, Eastman, Fitzgerald, Baxley, Springfield and Swainsboro to provide hands-on help to physicians and others.

“There have not been many resources out in rural areas,’’ Kathy Whitmire of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in the state, told GHN. She said the experts consulted with physician practices representing more than 120 eligible doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. full story

Building Georgia’s primary care workforce

The state’s pipeline for new physicians is getting wider.

Gwinnett Medical Center has joined a phalanx of hospitals developing residency programs in primary care – an effort that could help ease Georgia’s physician shortage.

The Lawrenceville-based health system launched its new family medicine residency program last week, the first physician training offered there in the organization’s history.

One of the five medical graduates starting the three-year family medicine residency is Barbara “Joy” Jones of Warner Robins. She graduated from the Georgia campus of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, in the Gwinnett County town of Suwanee.

Gwinnett Medical's five new family medicine residents include Barbara "Joy'' Jones (center)

Gwinnett Medical’s five new family medicine residents include Barbara “Joy” Jones (center)

 

Jones picked the Gwinnett Medical residency program, in part, because she “was already familiar with the area.’’

The newness of the program also attracted Jones – “the chance to be a trailblazer.”

Other Georgia hospitals starting or planning new residency programs include hospitals in Athens, Rome, Carrollton and Marietta, as well as a South Georgia consortium, according to Cherri Tucker, executive director of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce.

The state’s deficit in primary care doctors is propelling the changes, Tucker says. full story

Looking for answers to the rural health care crisis

Four hospitals have closed in the past two years. Many areas can’t attract doctors, or have trouble keeping the ones they have. Some counties are without a hospital or other critical health services.

Rep. Terry England

Rep. Terry England

Those rural health care problems in Georgia were among the issues discussed at the initial meeting Monday of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, recently appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The panel was created to identify the needs of rural facilities and offer potential solutions. Members include hospital leaders, physicians and state lawmakers.

“The task is not going to be an easy one,’’ said state Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), a panel member who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. “We’re open to a lot of different ideas and solutions.”

Possible remedies include a new initiative for a financially troubled hospital to downsize into a freestanding rural emergency department.

One strategy that went without much discussion was expanding the state’s Medicaid program. full story

Medical providers upset over health plan collections

Despite recent changes to ease employees’ concerns, the State Health Benefit Plan can’t seem to escape controversy.

Medical groups told GHN this week that they’re upset about having to collect money from state employees and teachers – payments that are linked to a benefits shift earlier this year.

These provider organizations say they’re being told by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, the main insurer for the SHBP, that they must recoup money from patients in the wake of a change to a co-pay system that became effective in March.

Tyler Riddle

Tyler Riddle

“Providers are being told by Blue Cross that we have to remit this payment,’’ said Tyler Riddle of Albany-based MRS Homecare, a medical equipment company. “Then we have to recoup from the patient.’’

Under that scenario, Riddle said, “We’re expected to be the ‘bad guy.’’’

The largest physicians organization in the state, the Medical Association of Georgia, said Tuesday that it “believes that this recoupment effort represents an unreasonable financial and administrative hardship for medical practices.”

The State Health Benefit Plan covers 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. With those numbers, the plan’s members can be a strong political force in an election year such as this one. full story

Know what they say about Piedmont doctors?

Dr. J. Thomas Taylor’s patient rating is 4.8 on a scale of 1 to 5 — with 5 being the best score. Comments from the internist’s patients include these:

“The best primary care doctor in the world.”

Dr. Thomas Taylor

Dr. J. Thomas Taylor

“Really cares about his patients.”

“Very friendly and upbeat.”

One of the comments is not so complimentary: “Maybe I should attribute his mood to the fact that it was Monday morning and they were off to a late start … but Dr. Taylor was very unfriendly …”

Consumers can now go online and find such feedback on more than 200 Piedmont Healthcare physicians, along with an overall rating score for each.

The Atlanta-based health care system is among the first in the nation to publish the patient satisfaction ratings and reviews of its doctors. The reviews are available for the first time this week on its piedmont.org website. full story

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