by Atul Gawande
To become a doctor, you spend so much time in the tunnels of preparation—head down, trying not to screw up, trying to make it from one day to the next—that it is a shock to find yourself at the other end, with someone shaking your hand and asking how much money you want to make. But the day comes. Two years ago, I was finishing my eighth and final year as a resident in surgery. I had got a second interview for a surgical staff position at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, where I had trained. It was a great job—I’d get to specialize in surgery for certain tumors that interested me, but I’d also be able to do some general surgery. On the appointed day, I put on my fancy suit and took a seat in the wood-panelled office of the chairman of surgery. He sat down opposite me and then he told me the job was mine. “Do you want it?” Yes, I said, a little startled. The job, he explained, came with a guaranteed salary for three years. After that, I would be on my own: I’d make what I brought in from my patients and would pay my own expenses. So, he went on, how much should we pay you?
After all those years of being told how much I would either pay (about forty thousand dollars a year for medical school) or get paid (about forty thousand dollars a year in residency), I was stumped. “How much do the surgeons usually make?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Look,” he said, “you tell me what you think is an appropriate income to start with until you’re on your own, and if it’s reasonable that’s what we’ll pay you.” He gave me a few days to think about it.
Most people gauge what they should be paid by what others are paid for doing the same work, so I tried asking various members of the surgical staff. These turned out to be awkward conversations. I’d pose my little question, and they’d start mumbling as if their mouths were full of crackers. I tried all kinds of formulations. Maybe they could tell me how much take-home pay would be if one did, say, eight major operations a week? Or how much they thought I should ask for? Nobody would give me a number.
Most people are squeamish about saying how much they earn, but in medicine the situation seems especially fraught. Doctors aren’t supposed to be in it for the money, and the more concerned a doctor seems to be about making money the more suspicious people become about the care being provided. (That’s why the good doctors on TV hospital dramas drive old cars and live in ramshackle apartments, while the bad doctors wear bespoke suits.) During our hundred-hour-week, just-over-minimum-wage residencies, we all take a self-righteous pleasure in hinting to people about how hard we work and how little we earn. Settled into practice a few years later, doctors clam up. Since the early nineteen-eighties, public surveys have indicated that two-thirds of Americans believe that doctors are “too interested in making money.” Yet the health-care system, as I soon discovered, requires doctors to give inordinate attention to matters of payment and expenses.
from the issuecartoon banke-mail thisTo get a sense of the numbers involved, I asked our physician group’s billing office for a copy of its “master fee schedule,” which lists what various insurers pay staff doctors for the care they provide. It has twenty-four columns across the top, one for each of the major insurance plans, and, running down the side, a row for every service a doctor can bill for. Our current version goes on for more than six hundred pages. Everything’s in there, with a dollar amount attached. For those who have Medicare—its payments are near the middle of the range—an office visit for a new patient with a “low complexity” problem (service No. 99203) pays $77.29. A visit for a “high complexity” problem (service No. 99205) pays $151.92. Setting a dislocated shoulder (service No. 23650) pays $275.70. Removing a bunion: $492.35. Removing an appendix: $621.31. Removing a lung: $1,662.34. The best-paid service on the list? Surgical reconstruction for a baby born without a diaphragm: $5,366.98. The lowest-paying? Trimming a patient’s nails (“any number”): $10.15. The hospital collects separately for any costs it incurs.
The notion of a schedule like this, with services and fees laid out à la carte like a menu from Chili’s, may seem odd. In fact, it’s rooted in ancient history. Doctors have been paid on a piecework basis since at least the Code of Hammurabi; in Babylon during the eighteenth century B.C., a surgeon got ten shekels for any lifesaving operation he performed (only two shekels if the patient was a slave). The standardized fee schedule, though, is a thoroughly modern development. In the late nineteen-eighties, insurers, both public and private, began to agitate for a more “rational” schedule of physician payments. For decades, they had been paying physicians according to what were called “usual, customary, and reasonable fees.” This was more or less whatever doctors decided to charge. Not surprisingly, some of the charges began to rise considerably. There were some egregious distortions. For instance, cataract-surgery fees (which could reach six thousand dollars in 1985) had been set when the operation typically took two to three hours. When new technologies allowed ophthalmologists to do these operations in thirty minutes, the fees didn’t change. Billings for this one operation grew to consume four per cent of Medicare’s budget. In general, payments for doing procedures had far outstripped payments for diagnoses. In the mid-eighties, doctors who spent an hour making a complex and lifesaving diagnosis were paid forty dollars; for spending an hour doing a colonoscopy and excising a polyp, they received more than six hundred dollars.
作者:admin@医学,生命科学 2010-12-22 05:11