Health Care Industry

The health care industry includes health care providers (hospitals, nursing homes, pain management clinics, doctor’s offices, surgical centers, rehab facilities, etc.) and health care professionals (physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, medical students, medical interns, hospital administrators, etc.). These health care providers and health care professionals are often the subject of legal issues.

Emergency Suspension Orders and Medicaid Fraud

In the recent case of Mendelsohn v. State of Florida Department of Health, Mendelsohn’s license to practice medicine was suspended under an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO).

According to the ESO, Mendelsohn is licensed to practice medicine in Florida pursuant to the provisions of chapter 458, Florida Statutes. On December 9, 2010, he entered a plea of nolo contendere in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to commit fraud upon the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. As a result of his conviction, the Florida Department of Health immediately suspended his medical license without a hearing pursuant to section 456.074(1), Florida Statutes (2010), which states:

(1) The department shall issue an emergency order suspending the license of any person licensed under chapter 458 . . . who pleads guilty to, is convicted or found guilty of, or who enters a plea of nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, to:

. . .

(b) A misdemeanor or felony under 18 U.S.C. s. 669, ss. 285-287, s. 371, s. 1001, s. 1035, s. 1341, s. 1343, s. 1347, s. 1349, or s. 1518 or 42 U.S.C. ss. 1320a-7b, relating to the Medicaid program.

Mendelsohn argued that his federal conspiracy conviction was not related to the Medicaid program, so the Florida Department of Health could not issue an ESO without establishing that his actions posed an immediate danger to public safety.

Florida law requires that an order directing the immediate suspension of a practitioner’s license contain “every element necessary to its validity . . . on the face of the order.” In general, an ESO will not be upheld unless the order on its face sets out the specific facts and reasons for finding an immediate danger to the public health, safety, or welfare, as well as the Florida Department of Health’s reasons for concluding that the procedure used is fair under the circumstances.

However, Section 456.074(1), Florida Statues, however, requires DOH issue an emergency order suspending a medical license in certain circumstances without regard to specific proof that a petitioner is acting in a way that poses an immediate danger to public safety.

But Mendelsohn asserted that the Florida Department of Health incorrectly found that his conviction required an ESO under section 456.074(1)(b). Section 456.074(1)(b) requires the Florida Department of Health to issue an ESO when a practitioner has been convicted of a “felony under 18 U.S.C. s. 669, ss. 285-287, s. 371, s. 1001, s. 1035, s. 1341, s. 1343, s. 1347, s. 1349, or s. 1518 or 42 U.S.C. ss. 1320a-7b, relating to the Medicaid program.”

Although Mendelsohn was convicted of a felony in violation of § 18 U.S.C. 371, he contended his conviction was not related to the Medicaid program, and thus, did not support the issuance of an ESO without further proof that he posed a threat to public safety.

The court ultimately agreed with Mendelsohn, deciding “the underlying facts do not qualify as one of those instances where the Florida Department of Health may issue an ESO without providing specific reasons why the suspension is necessary to prevent immediate harm to the public.”

Do not let the Florida Department of Health take away your license unless it is warranted. Contact a board certified health law attorney who is knowledgeable in handling these matters. For more information about Emergency Suspension Orders and other legal matters concerning healthcare providers visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

George Indest is an attorney, board certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law, who represents health care professionals and providers, including pain management clinics and pain management physicians.

Legal Strategy Checklist for Doctors to Fight Online Defamation

With the increase in popularity of online review sites, defamatory attacks against doctors have also increased. On these sites, patients and competitors can post almost anything they want – good or bad – about a doctor or any health care professional. As more physicians become employees of hospital systems or large health care institutions, adverse surveys, reports or reviews may impact advancement, bonuses and basic income.

Internet ratings on review sites like Vitals.com and Yelp.com can range from jabs about the patient’s waiting time in the doctor’s office to ruthless attacks that can seriously impact a physician’s career, including economical impact. In many cases, the review, comment, or rating may be a purposely untrue statement by a disgruntled patient, competitor or former employee. When the comment is posted, search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, or MSN may bring up the false statement every time someone searches for that doctor’s name. This can cost doctors both their reputation and their business, especially if they start losing patients because of bad reviews.

Many doctors are now seeking legal strategies to combat alleged online libel and defamation in order to save their reputation and their practice. However, not all negative online comments or ratings meet the actual definition of “defamation.” Defamation generally is a factual statement that can be proven true or false. For example, if a patient writes that she had a procedure performed by a doctor, this is a statement of fact that can be confirmed or disproved. However, if someone writes about a doctor’s poor attitude during a visit, this statement is usually considered to be an opinion which cannot necessarily be proven true or false.

If you find any statements about you or your practice that may be considered defamatory, the following are some legal measures you may take to try to stop the inflammatory comments:

1.  Identify person making comments.
Attempt to identify the person making the negative remarks. You may find it is a disgruntled former employee or a friend or relative of the patient who does not have any first-hand knowledge. See other tips below on how you might do this. Contact that person directly.

2.  Check your office records.
Your own records should be checked. Your notes about office visits or procedures, your appointment schedule or your own billing records may help you identify the patient who wrote the review or comment. If you think you may know who wrote a comment, try to contact the patient directly to discuss his or her concerns and request that the comment be removed. Sometimes you will find that you never treated this patient or that the patient has the wrong physician.

3.  Consult with an attorney.
Before making any decisions about the contents of a comment, consult with an experienced attorney for guidance. An experienced attorney will be able to determine whether the internet posting is considered an opinion or defamation.

4.  Send a letter to the website, host, owner and internet service provider.
Once the poster has been identified, doctors can contact the patient directly to ask that the post be removed. If the patient refuses, a doctor should request that his or her attorney send a letter warning the poster of potential legal action if the post is not removed from the website. If that doesn’t work, the physician should have his or her attorney send a letter demanding the comments be removed to the website, website host, owner and internet service provider.

5.  Contact the website.
If you are unable to determine who may have written something online, or if the person refuses to take the comment down, try contacting the website that the review or comment is posted on. Many websites have policies against defamatory statements. Contact the website to ask about its policy and get the comment removed. However, be very careful about signing up as a participant on the website and, especially, of agreeing to its terms of service (TOS) or terms of use (TOU). See below.

6.  Avoid agreeing to the website’s terms.
Avoid the urge to join the website, subscribe to the website or otherwise agree to the website’s policies and procedures. You may be agreeing to a legally enforceable contract that waives your rights to sue for defamation or other course of action. Every website has Terms of Service (TOS) or Terms of Use (TOU), usually with a simple block to check to acknowledge you agree to all of its terms. Do not do this. You may be waiving all of your rights to legally challenge defamatory comments that are published.

7.  File a lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit should be a physician’s last resort in handling defamatory online comments. Legal proceedings can often take years to complete and can draw more negative attention to the physician. However, in many cases the only way for a physician to defend his or her reputation is in court.

Before you can file a lawsuit you must check state laws regarding statute of limitations in which to file defamation suits. If the negative comment falls outside this statute of limitations, you will not be able to sue. You will also need to review state defamation and false light laws to see what are considered appropriate claims. Remember it is difficult to sue someone for an opinion, and many online reviews can be considered and can’t be proven true or false. It is also usually best to sue the individual poster, not the website, as The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects Internet service providers from liability for third-party comments.

8.  Seek a subpoena.
If the website provides no assistance in removing the comment, you and your attorney can seek a subpoena ordering the Internet service provider to give identification data. Generally courts will grant a subpoena during a defamation investigation. Identification information could be an email address, name or location information of the poster. 

9.  Request a court order.
If all requests for a post to be removed are unsuccessful, doctors can request a court order or an injunction. A doctor must be able to show that the comments are probably false and are causing irreparable harm to their reputation or practice in order for a judge to demand the comments be removed. Usually you will be required to file a petition or complaint (lawsuit) first.
There are also alternative methods for protecting your reputation online. Be proactive and make sure you are putting out positive information about yourself and your practice through your website, social media sites, and blogs. This will help bury negative comments that appear on search-engine results, making it less likely that potential patients will see bad reviews.

Physicians should also distribute surveys to their patients, which provide an instant forum for patients to express their feelings about visits. Such tools as having your own internal office complaint/grievance procedure for patient complaints may help. If patients feel that they are able to provide immediate feedback to a physician, they may be less inclined to share their feelings online.

For more information, please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Hospitals Allegedly Enforcing Questionable Practices to Increase Bottom Line

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Doctors and hospitals around the country seem to be butting heads. In the past month, an article in The New York Times and a segment on the television “magazine” show 60 Minutes shed light on some questionable practices being enforced by hospitals on physicians working for them.

I previously wrote a blog on this structural shift in the practice of medicine. Click here to read that blog.

The effects of this trend are examined in these two news stories. Doctors and former employees from a number of hospitals around the country were interviewed and all seem to be dealing with the same issues. The biggest concerns addressed were: pressure to order unnecessary tests, admitting patients to fill hospital quotas and drive hospital profits, and the feeling of being controlled by hospital executives and administrators instead of practicing effective medicine.

Doctors Allegedly Pressured to Fill Emergency Room Beds to Increase Profits.

On December 2, 2012, 60 Minutes aired an investigative segment on one of the largest for-profit hospital chains in the country. Former employees and physicians alleged this hospital system thrived by buying urban-area hospitals and turning them into profit centers by filing empty beds from emergency rooms. A former emergency medicine doctor stated that the hospital in which he worked required an admission rate of twenty percent (20%) for patients seen in the ER and fifty percent (50%) for patients who were 65 years old and older (most of whom are Medicare patients) seen in the ER.

A former hospital system employee interviewed by 60 Minutes claimed he was in charge of auditing the hospital chain in question. He stated that he was convinced that doctors were under an extraordinary amount of pressure to fill hospital beds. He stated that he personally audited hospitals in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma, and concluded there were hundreds of thousands of dollars submitted to Medicare and Medicaid for hospital stays that did not meet standards for reimbursement, including medical necessity.

Doctors interviewed for The New York Times article had similar stories. They stated in interviews that hospital administrators created quotas for how many patients should be admitted, because more admissions allegedly meant more money. Doctors who met or exceeded quotas were rewarded with increased compensation, while doctors who did not felt in danger of losing their jobs.

Click here to read the entire New York times article.

Consequences of Ordering Unnecessary Tests.

The New York Times article looked at a number of lawsuits filed by former employees who allege the hospitals they worked for compensated doctors for ordering more tests than necessary.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently settled with a hospital group in Joplin, Missouri. According to the DOJ press release, the hospital system had to pay more than $9.3 million for rewarding doctors partly based on how many tests they ordered. This is in direct violation of the Stark Law and the False Claims Act.

Click here to read the entire press release from the DOJ.

I recently wrote an article for Medical Economics on the legal ramifications of ordering unnecessary tests. To read that article, click here.

If you want to know more on the Stark Law, click here.

Doctors Feel Controlled By Hospital Executives.

Doctors also stated they felt controlled by hospital executives. This was due, in part, to a corporate wide computer software system that was customized to automatically order an extensive battery of tests, some unnecessary, as soon as a patient walked into the hospital. It’s also stated that the software would prompt a physician to reconsider when he or she decided to send an emergency room patient home.

Most doctors interviewed were upset that the program also generated reports that evaluated each doctor’s performance and productivity.

To watch the segment from 60 Minutes, click here.

Hospitals Say They are Embracing the New Model of Health Care.

The hospital system in question by 60 Minutes maintains that these allegations are not correct. The executive vice president said that as a whole admission rates haven’t changed in four years and are near or below industry averages. The hospital systems believe that by consolidating they are embracing the new model of health care and state patient care comes first.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Do you think there are constant battles between doctors and hospitals? As a health professional, have you experienced the pressure to admit patients, order unnecessary tests or refer a patient inside your network? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Creswell, Julie and Abelson, Reed. “A Hospital War Reflects a Bind of Doctors in the U.S.” The New York Times. (November 30, 2012). From: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/business/a-hospital-war-reflects-a-tightening-bind-for-doctors-nationwide.html?pagewanted=all

Kroft, Steve. “Hospitals: The Cost of Admission.” 60 Minutes. (December 2, 2012). From: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50136261n

Department of Justice. “Missouri Hospital System Agrees to Pay $9.3 Million to Resolve False Claims Act and Stark Law Violations.” DOJ. (November 5, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/printf/PrintOut3.jsp

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Attorneys, Lawyers and Defense Council in Florida

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Often we learn after the fact that a health professional such as a mental health counselor, psychologist, or pharmacist has received Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) insurance, has had a legal problem, and has not been able to locate an attorney or law firm that accepts this type of insurance. We have offices in Florida and Colorado, but we have attorneys licensed in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Virginia and other states.

Additionally, we can provide legal advice and representation in license investigations and administrative proceedings in many other states.

If you have HPSO Insurance, do not go without an attorney or with a lawyer that has little or no experience where you need it. Contact us, and we will help you.

Don’t Worry About Legal Bills While Your Case is Going On.

Call us first. We can assist you in determining if your legal problem is covered by your insurance, and we can help you file a claim to have your legal defense expenses and costs covered. In most cases, we will accept the assignment of your insurance so that you do not have to worry about legal bills while your case is going on.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys That Will Work with Insurance Companies.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. We will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company, if your insurance company will allow this. Many of these insurers will pay our firm to represent you in the legal defense of an investigation or complaint against your professional (nursing, medical, dental, psychology, mental health counselor) license or for an administrative hearing involving professional discipline.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

MedPAC Wants to Hold Accountable Care Organizations More Accountable

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) prepares to designate the next class of accountable care organizations (ACOs), the agency sought the advice and input of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) on how to proceed.  MedPAC is an independent Congressional Agency established to advise the U.S. Congress on issues affecting Medicare.

Click here to read our previous blog on the background and purpose of ACOs.

MedPAC Suggests All Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs Join the Two-Sided Risk Model.

In response to the request from the CMS, MedPAC reiterated its previous position that it would like to see all Medicare ACOs take on greater financial risk.  As it presently stands, some Medicare-contracted ACOs do not share in the risks associated with the ACOs patients’ healthcare costs exceeding certain target ranges.  Even though those ACOs do not bear any financial risk if the goals are not met, they nevertheless stand to benefit if they are.

MedPAC found that the one-sided risk model being used by most Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs to be insufficient to reach the goals of the MSSP.

Specifically, MedPAC wants to see all MSSP ACOs in the two-sided risk model.  That model requires the ACO to reimburse Medicare for some of the costs which exceeded the target ranges. This pressure is important to note because only 13 of the 32 Pioneer ACOs generated enough savings to Medicare to qualify for MSSP savings payments.

Understand an ACO Agreement Before You Sign.

As we see more and more physicians being approached to join or form ACOs, it is crucial to understand exactly what type of arrangement you are getting into.

Many ACO contracts we see are simply for participation as a provider in the organization.  However, some of the contracts we see require that the physician make a financial investment in the ACO or otherwise require that the physician pay a “pro rata” share of any penalty assessed by CMS.

Current ACO participation and recruiting is something akin to the gold rush of the nineteenth century.  Everyone is rushing to stake a claim in fear of being left out.  Be careful about what kind of an agreement you sign and be sure that you understand the long-term consequences of tying your practice to an as-yet unproven model. To read our previous blog on the first year pioneer ACO results, click here.

If you are approached to join an ACO, or are considering signing a participation agreement/contract with one, make sure to read the contract carefully and consult with an experienced healthcare attorney.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced With Healthcare Business Practices.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physician groups and practices with issues involving establishing, licensing, selling, merging, and intergroup affiliation.  If you are considering establishing an ACO or have been approached to become a participant in one, you can contact The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or you can visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of MedPAC’s position on ACOs? Have you considered joining an ACO? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Doctor or Nurse, Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators.  In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you.  This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators“), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible.  If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement.  You will not be better off explaining your side of the story.  The investigator is not your friend.  The investigator is not on your side.  All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you.  This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out.  However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage.  You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement.  However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this.  You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.”  This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense.  It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial).  It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents.  But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this.  You would be surprised at how many health professionals believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation;  in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession.  This is what they do full time, every day.  And they are very good at it.  They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.”  They will not be convinced by any excuses you make.  They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you.  Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you.  You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc.  It will not work.  You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator.  Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege.  If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either.  Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator.  In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act.  This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time.  They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is.  Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed.  Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you.  If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying.  However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

It is much better to make no statement at all.  Blame it on your attorney.  Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time.  “Speak to my attorney.”  “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.”  “I will have my lawyer contact you.”  “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.”  “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney.  What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?”  Please don’t fall for this trick, either.  This is America.  Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them.  There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the health professional only calls us after he has given a statement.  This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements.  Do not make either.  Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test.  Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

For more information about investigations and other legal matters, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Peer Review and “Disruptive Physician” Cases Physicians Should Know

Although Meyers v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.is one of the major cases concerning  termination of clinical privileges and peer review hearings, there have been other recent clinical privileges cases that are important for physicians to know when confronted with a peer review action. This is especially true if the physician is being accused of disruptive behavior.

One such case is Isaiah v. WHMS Braddock Hospital Corp., decided in 2008. In this case, Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges were revoked after hospital staff members reportedly expressed concerns about the surgeon’s surgical skills and allegedly compulsive behavior. Dr. Isaiah argued that his behavior did not impact his skills. The court concluded that the hospital’s revocation of Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges was immune from liability under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) because the hospital acted in an attempt to protect quality health care, which relates not only to a physician’s abilities, but also to the doctor’s behavior.

In 2009, Abu-Hatab v. Blount Memorial Hospital was decided, again in favor of the hospital. In this case, Dr. Abu-Hatab sued Blount Memorial Hospital after his medical staff membership and clinical privileges had been terminated due to his allegedly disruptive behavior. Dr. Abu-Hatab argued that allegations of his poor conduct were not true. However, the court decided that it didn’t matter whether the complaints were undisputedly true. Under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, as long as a hospital and its medical staff act “reasonably” in considering complaints, the professional review actions are protected. According to the court, the hospital’s many meetings concerning Dr. Abu-Hatab’s behavior were enough to show that it acted reasonably.

Another case reported originally in 2009, Leal v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, involved a urologist, Dr. Leal, who held clinical privileges at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Florida. According to the reported court decison, after being told he would have to wait to use an operating room, Dr. Leal exhibited behavior that led the hospital to suspend his clinical privileges for sixty (60) days. The reported decisions state that Dr. Leal broke a telephone receiver and copy machine, threw jellybeans into a trash can in a medical suite, shoved a metal cart and spoke sternly to a nurse. The hospital filed a report of its action taken against Dr. Leal with the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which was established under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) to collect information on the professional conduct and competence of health care practitioners. Dr. Leal felt that he should not have been reported to the NPDB and challenged the action. However, the trial court found that the decision to report Dr. Leal to the NPDB was supported by the HCQIA, which requires a report to the NPDB for a professional review action that adversely affects the clinical privileges of a physician for a period longer than thirty (30) days. This decision was also upheld by the appellate court (the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) in 2010.

One of the more recent clinical privileges cases is Badri v. Huron Hospital, decided in 2010. According to case reports, in this case Dr. Badri was involved in a car accident. Allegedly, the other driver involved choked Dr. Badri. Dr. Badri then began experiencing neck pain for which he self-medicated with steroids. He was then accused of disruptive behavior after several alleged incidents of poor conduct towards hospital employees and patients. When deciding Dr. Badri’s case, the court relied on Meyers, which provides authority for immunity for hospitals and medical staffs in professional review actions that cite a physician’s disruptive behavior as undermining quality health care.

These are just a few of many cases concerning clinical privileges and peer review actions where the hospital involved is found to be acting in accordance with the Health Care Quality Improvement Act and therefore not liable.

If you are a physician or any hospital staff member accused of disruptive behavior, misconduct, “rudeness,” disrespectful conduct or language, abusive acts, anger, hostility, profanity or other similar acts. beware. This is a serious matter. It could result in adverse peer review action that could be career-ending.

If you are concerned that your medical staff privileges may be suspended or revoked, or if you are currently facing a peer review action, make sure you consult an experienced health care attorney who is familiar with matters regarding clinical privileges.

For more information about clinical privileges, peer review, or fair hearings, please visit our website at wwww.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

How Safe Is Your Hospital?

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

It’s been a long time since most of us have seen a report card, but hospitals all over the nation received their safety grades on November 28, 2012. Leapfrog, a national group that advocates for safer health care, determined the grades. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida hospitals ranked well. Overall, 39 percent (39%) of the 156 hospitals graded received A’s, earning the Sunshine State a tenth place ranking in the nation.

Click here to read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel.

How Florida Hospitals Did.

Here is a list of the grades received by Florida hospitals:

A’s: 61 (This includes Orlando Regional Medical Center, Dr. P. Phillips Hospital,

Orlando Regional South Seminole Hospital and Health Central.)

B’s: 38 (This includes Florida Hospital campuses in Orlando, Altamonte, Apopka, Celebration, east Orlando, Kissimmee and Winter Park.)

C’s: 49

D’s: 8

F’s: 0

To see the number of hospitals receiving each grade for patient safety by state, click here.

Grades Were Calculated by Safety Measures in Hospitals.

According to the Kaiser Health News article, Leapfrog calculated the grades based on 26 different measures of safety. The company used publicly-available data, including the number of blood line infections, falls in the hospital, bedsores and the consistency that hospitals follow recommended methods of care.

Physicians Believe Rating System is Pointless.

This grading system has physicians reportedly complaining. In the Kaiser Health News article doctors interviewed said that the grades are redundant and offer no benefit to hospitals since Medicare calculates and publishes most hospital-related issues.

Click here to read the Kaiser Health News article.

Leapfrog defends the ratings, saying the report cards provide a more transparent health care system for patients.

How to Fight Poor Online Reviews.

The Leapfrog grading system is just one of the many ways the performance of physicians, hospitals, nurses, dentists and all health providers is put on the chopping block. Other internet review websites like Vitals.com and Yelp.com allow patients to post virtually anything they want – good or bad. If you’ve personally received an unfavorable review that was possibly planted by a disgruntled patient, competitor or former employee you need to fight it. When the comment is posted, search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, or MSN may bring up the false statement every time someone searches for that health provider’s name. To learn legal strategies for health providers to fight bad online reviews, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a health professional, do you think this grading system is redundant? Do you believe there is any merit to the grades hospitals received? Do you think patients benefit from the published grades? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Jameson, Marni. “Did Your Hospital Make the Grade? Group Rates Quality of Care, More.” Orlando Sentinel. (November 28, 2012). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-leapfrog-hospital-grades-20121127,0,5928170.story

Rau, Jordan. “Hospitals Get New Grades on Safety.” Kaiser Health News. (November 28, 2012). From: http://capsules.kaiserhealthnews.org/index.php/2012/11/hospitals-get-new-grades-on-safety/

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

American Medical Association Joins Minnesota Medical Staff in Its Fight for Autonomy

7 Indest-2008-4By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The American Medical Association (AMA) and several other physician organizations announced support of a court appeal by physicians at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center in Minnesota. The medical staff at Avera alleged the hospital’s governing board amended the medical staff’s bylaws and took away the medical staff’s right to self-govern. On February 6, 2013, the AMA, the Minnesota Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the hospital’s medical staff.

Click here to read the press release from the AMA announcing its support of the medical staff at Avera.

Background on the Case at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

In January 2012, the Avera medical staff filed a lawsuit alleging the new bylaws created by the hospital’s governing board left the physicians without “nearly all rights and responsibilities” and gave Avera’s governing board controlling power in processes that required medical staff direction. On September 26, 2012, a Minnesota District Court judge issued a final order on a lawsuit refusing to recognize the medical staff’s lawsuit and refusing to recognize the bylaws as a contract.

To read more on the final order by the judge in the Minnesota District Court, click here.

AMA and Other Physician Organizations in Favor of Self-Governance by a Medical Staff.

The brief supports reestablishing the independence of the hospital’s medical staff to ensure their right and responsibility to uphold the quality of patient care, without interference by the hospital’s governing board. The AMA president said the judge’s ruling gave unchecked power to Avera’s governing board over the medical staff. The brief urges the state’s court of appeals to revise this ruling and allow the medical staff to present its case for self-governance. The AMA believes giving the medical staff the right to self-govern will restore balance between patient care and corporate interests at the hospital.

Click here to read the friend-of-the-court brief file by the AMA.

My Input on a Self-Governing Medical Staff.

By law the medical staff in a hospital is supposed to be self-governing. The AMA, along with other medical associations, created a minimum standard to govern hospitals and to lay out what health care professionals need to do to improve the quality of care in the hospitals. Self-governing includes allowing the medical staff to discipline its own members when necessary, conduct peer reviews, and take action when they see hospital issues.

To watch a video explaining medical staff self-governance in more detail, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What are your thoughts on medical staff self-governance? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Mills, Robert. “AMA and Other Support Physician Fight for Autonomy.” American Medical Association. (February 15, 2013). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2013-02-15-physician-fight-autonomy.page

Medical Staff of Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center on Its Own Behalf and in Its Representative Capacity for Its Members v. Avera Marshall d/b/a Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. Case No. A12-2117. State of Minnesota Court of Appeals. February 6, 2013. From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/2012-12-05-amicus-brief-avera-marshall.2.pdf

Gau, Deb. “Judge Issues Final Order in Avera Lawsuit.” Marshall Independent. (September 26, 2012). From: http://www.marshallindependent.com/page/content.detail/id/536152/Judge-issues-final-order-in-Avera-lawsuit.html?nav=5015

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Copying and Pasting Clinical Notes in Electronic Health Records Could Be Considered Healthcare Fraud

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is concerned about healthcare providers carelessly copying and pasting clinical notes in electronic health records (EHRs). According to an audit report released on December 10, 2013, copying and pasting in EHRs can lead to fraudulently duplicated clinical notes, which can be considered healthcare fraud. This practice is allegedly widespread across medicine, according to a Modern Healthcare article. Federal officials say there is a need to crackdown on this behavior.

Click here to read the entire audit report from the HHS OIG.

This is the first of two reports on fraud and vulnerabilities in EHR systems. The second report from the OIG will be on weaknesses in how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) payment contractors monitor for fraud in EHRs. This report is scheduled to be published soon.

Report Looks at Hospital Policies Regarding Copy-and-Paste Features.

The audit report studied 864 hospitals that had received subsidies for EHR systems as of March 2012. Out of those hospitals, only twenty-four percent (24%) had any policy regarding the improper use of copying-and-pasting in EHRs. The report concluded that too few hospitals actually have policies defining the proper use of copy and paste in EHRs.

According to Modern Healthcare, adoption of EHR systems has coincided with a rapid rise in higher-cost Medicare claims. This has led to officials looking into whether EHRs are enabling illegal upcoding. Officials say that EHR features such as copy and paste make it too easy to bill for work that wasn’t actually performed and help increase reimbursements, according to Modern Healthcare. Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

In the report the HHS OIG recommends that the CMS strengthen its efforts to develop a comprehensive plan to address fraud vulnerabilities in EHRs. It was also suggested that CMS develop guidance on the use of the copy-paste feature in EHR technology.

Tips to Help Avoid Copy-and-Paste Errors.

Tools commonly available in EHRs that allow physicians to copy and paste patient information should be used with extreme care, according to an article on American Medical News. The article offers health care providers some guidelines to help avoid errors related to copying and pasting.

– Avoid copying and pasting of text from another person’s notes.

– Avoid repetitive copying and pasting of laboratory results and radiology reports.

– Note important results with proper context, and document any resulting actions. Avoid wholesale inclusion of information readily available elsewhere in the EHR because that creates clutter and may adversely affect note readability.

– Review and update as appropriate any shared information found elsewhere in the electronic record (e.g., problems, allergies, medications) that is included in a note.

– Include previous history critical to longitudinal care in the outpatient setting, as long as it is always reviewed and updated. Copying and pasting other elements of the history, physical examination or formulations is risky, as errors in editing may jeopardize the credibility of the entire note.

Click here to read the entire article from American Medical News.

What This Means for Healthcare Providers Using EHRs.

The practice of copying and pasting previous information without checking can be considered careless and potentially dangerous to patients. It can be problematic when there are multiple teams taking care of one patient and using the chart to communicate. The right way is to make sure everything in the note you sign accurately reflects what happened on your shift.

In the report the HHS OIG stated that copy-and-paste features in EHRs will be under additional scrutiny. By knowing where the enforcement focus will be, providers can attempt to avoid copy-and-paste practices that are likely to lead to audits. Additionally, providers can beef up compliance efforts and policies.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare and Medicaid Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

In your practice do you use an EHR system? Have you had any issues with copying and pasting clinical notes? Does your practice have a copy-and-paste policy? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.|

Sources:

Carlson, Joe. “Fed Eye Crackdown on Cut-and-Paste EHR Fraud.” Modern Healthcare. (December 10, 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20131210/NEWS/312109965/cut-and-paste-function-can-invite-ehr-fraud-officials-say

O’Reilly, Kevin. “EHRs: ‘Sloppy and Paste’ Endures Despite Patient Safety Risk.” American Medical News. (February 4, 2013). From: http://www.amednews.com/article/20130204/profession/130209993/2/

Levinson, Daniel R. “Not All Recommended Fraud Safeguards Have Been Implemented in Hospital EHR Technology.” Department of Health and Humans Services Office of Inspector General. (December 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/assets/pdf/CH92135129.PDF

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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