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How Should Physicians Be Evaluated?

Dr. John Mandrola again has a great blog post over at his site and at Medscape. The post is about how employed doctors nowadays are evaluated by a "measure of productivity" - called the relative value unit or RVU. This means one gets a higher score of productivity from the number of procedures done on patients, rather than listening and counseling patients, or reading medical studies or doing medical research.

Which is the opposite of how medical care should be. Also look at the comments after the post. From Dr. John M:

A Corrosive Force in Medical Care

It comes in a large white envelope each month. It’s marked confidential. When I hold it up to the light, I can see through the envelope. I can’t see the details, but the colored graphs give it away. It’s my monthly productivity report. Most employed doctors get these graphs.

These “dashboards” of value include your own productivity as well as many graphs on how you stack up with other doctors across the country. It shows your employer if you are a hard worker. The measure of productivity we use is called the relative value unit or RVU.

Doing an ablation, cath, stent or valve replacement earns a bunch of RVUs. Listening to patients, examining patients, counseling patients, hugging patients earns very few RVUs. Doing important research, teaching colleagues, and reading the medical evidence earns zero RVUs.

Too often, in too many medical systems, RVUs have become the primary unit of success. No, you can’t be a mean and nasty doctor. And no, you can’t be a totally unskilled doctor who has too many complications. But short of those extremes, if you make few waves, have good templates on your electronic health record so documentation is complete, and do tons of procedures, you are valuable.

If, on the other hand, you like slow conservative medicine, or narrative notes rather than templates, or worse, if you are thoughtful and frank about silly policies, you become an outlier. If you do these things, your RVU tally usually does not reach the 75% of standard. Then trouble can come to you.

What’s really scary, though, is that this is the milieu in which a younger generation is learning the craft. I was shocked to learn that a major teaching center (will remain nameless) has its teaching faculty on 100% productivity compensation. Imagine that. Teachers of young people whose paychecks are determined by how many RVUs they generate. This, my friends, is happening in many of the places you go to get health care.... Productivity and the RVU has no place in medical care. There needs to be a different system of valuing the care of people with disease.

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