How to Protect Your Practice’s Trade Secrets

dreamstimemaximum_51887081-flipBy: Shobha Lizaso

“Prevention is better than cure” is a maxim that has reigned in the healthcare industry for thousands of years; however, this phrase echoes through the halls of the legal profession as well.

Healthcare practices often neglect to appreciate the value of their confidential information as assets and the need to protect these assets. Although HIPAA and HITECH compliance aids in maintaining the confidentiality of patient records, it does not protect a provider’s trade secrets.

Trade secrets of a healthcare practice may include any of the following: patient lists, financial information, contract rates, contract terms client lists, collection rates, marketing tactics, pricing/discount information, and methods of doing business. If leaked, this information may be used by competitors to secure advantages over a healthcare practice. For example, patient lists could be used to solicit a practice’s patients or contract rates and terms can be used by a competitor to undercut the rates of a practice. Continue reading

When A Patient’s Rx is Termination

terminating a patientBy: Dave Davidson

There will likely come a time in your practice when you find yourself considering whether you should maintain a relationship with a patient.   It may be that the patient is non-cooperative.  Or the patient may refuse to pay his or her bill, or to follow a reasonable payment plan.  Even more significantly, the patient may have engaged in behavior that is disruptive to your practice.  For whatever reason, you are questioning the value of the relationship.

In those situations, the law does allow a physician to terminate a patient from his or her practice.  However, careful analysis must be done in these situations, and there are several steps that should be followed. The risk of a claim of abandonment or of professional negligence makes it important to protect yourself, your practice, and the licenses of the providers within your group. You may already have a process spelled out in your policies and procedures, and if you do, that process should be followed.  However, make sure your policy at least covers the points below. Continue reading

Physicians: Start Preparing for 2016 Changes in Healthcare

By: Jeff Cohen

Stepping into 2016, physicians and medical practices must continue to be vigilant about the changing landscape in healthcare.  Those who adapt quickly and smartly will thrive, while those who don’t will lose.  What can they do?

Stabilize

Stability for medical practices requires two things:  clear analytics and fixes.  Smart medical practices will examine threats outside the practice and within it.  As far as external threats go, the key area to focus on is competition.  Do you know what competitors are doing and how they’re different than you?

Internal threats are general revealed in the form of (a) employees that need better training and communication, (b) employees that just need to go, and (c) creating a succession plan for the practice.  If the practice is top heavy with older physicians, what plan is in place to ensure that “new blood” is brought in?  What recruitment strategies are in place?  Can the practice go it alone or does it need a recruitment arrangement with a hospital that can demonstrate a community need?  How will the older physicians phase out?  Is there a plan in the corporate documents to make sure phase out is slow and planned?  What do departing physicians get?  What about billing and collection?  When was the last time that was analyzed?  And finally, coding analysis.  Is money being left on the table?  Far too many practices actually undercode visits and services out of fear of payer audit.  Apart from constituting a False Claims Act violation (though regulators are not fast to indict providers who are underpaid), the differential can mean the difference between a good year and a bad one.

Finally, in light of the fact that regulatory and recoupment activity has never been higher, practices would do well to ensure compliance via a self-audit and compliance plan.  This is a different animal than a coding audit.  This one looks at all contractual relationships to ensure compliance and augments coding compliance.   Continue reading

Avoiding Delays in License Renewals

Florida Medical BoardIt’s almost renewal time once again for many health care practitioners.  If this is your renewal cycle, please note the following information provided by the Florida Board of Medicine, which can help you avoid some of the most common delays encountered with license renewals.

It is important to remember the upcoming renewal is the first to have mandatory continuing medical education reporting requirements.  If you have not done so, please activate your account with CE Broker and ensure that all required CME you have completed for this renewal has been uploaded.

Most of the medical practitioners renewing will be required to submit the following:

  • Completed renewal application
  • Required fees
  • Evidence that you have practiced medicine or have been on the active faculty of an accredited medical school for at least two years of the immediately preceding four years
  • Completion of Financial Responsibility form
  • Completion of Physician Workforce Survey
  • Verification of Physician Profile
  • Verification of your current status relating to prescribing controlled substances for the treatment of chronic non-malignant pain

Continue reading

Tuomey Court Has A Lot to Say

bcbs lawsuit

 

By: Jeff Cohen

The Tuomey decision, U.S. Court of Appeals case out of South Carolina, contains important lessons for physicians, especially as it relates to (1) compensation arrangements with hospitals, (2) proper compensation arising in connection with the provision of designated health services (“DHS”), and (3) the advice of counsel defense.

The concept of DHS arises largely in the context of the federal Stark Law, which in pertinent part (1) forbids physicians from owning and referring to providers of DHS (e.g. PT, rehab, diagnostic imaging, home health, DME, clinical laboratory, inpatient and outpatient hospital services), (2) describes how medical practices can provide DHS to their own patients, and (3) forbids even physicians within a practice from allocating DHS profits on the basis of who ordered or referred to them.

The Tuomey case involves a whistleblower action filed against a not for profit hospital system.  The original jury in that case decided that the system didn’t violate the False Claims Act, but the appellate court set aside the verdict using facts and testimony that had be excluded from the jury trial, Tuomey Healthcare System was found to have knowingly submitted over 21,000 false claims to Medicare and the government was awarded over $237 Million (most of it in the form of punitive damages).  The government (which often advances the plaintiff’s—“relator” case in whistleblower cases) filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court granted and the appellate court affirmed.

The case involves the following: Continue reading

New OIG Advisory Opinion Frowns on Proposed Lab/Physician Arrangement

OIG crestMarch 25, 2015 Advisory Opinion No. 15-04 addresses a proposed arrangement involving a clinical/anatomic lab’s desire to position itself as the single lab recommended by practices.

The proposal arises in the context of the OIG Advisory Opinion process, which allows the OIG to opine on its view of how the federal anti-kickback statute might view a proposed arrangement.  Though Advisory Opinions are not “law,” they do provide good insight into prosecutorial intent.

Facts Presented

The clinical/anatomic lab (“Lab”) wanted to have agreements with physician practices to provide all their lab services.  To deal with the fact that some commercial insurers have exclusive arrangements with labs,  the Lab proposed that if a practice patient’s insurer required the patient to use another lab, the Lab would waive all fees for the affected practice patients and would not bill the patient, the medical practice or the patient.  The Lab would provide its services to these “exclusive patients” for free, while billing all other patients (and/or their insurers, including governmental payers) its fee scheduled or contracted rates.  The proposed arrangement would allegedly simplify things for the practices and keep lab results uniform.  A practice patient would be required to use the Lab.  The Lab’s services would simply be offered by the practices to their patients.  The Lab stated that the provision of free services to certain practice patients would not provide any financial benefit to the practices, although the lab would provide the practice a limited-use interface.  Samples would not be drawn in physician offices. Continue reading

Physician Communications: Considerations for Using Text Messages and Social Media

doctors textingBy: Jackie Bain

It is becoming easier and easier for physicians to communicate with each other and their patients.  And although open communication is generally thought of as positive, the medical profession should proceed with caution.  Patients and consulting physicians rely heavily on their communications with their treating physicians.  Thus, communications which do not require the thought of focus that a physician would otherwise give to a situation may result in disaster. While there are many potential ways a physician might use text messaging and social media both professionally and personally, we will focus generally on physician interactions with other physicians, and physician interactions with patients.

To start, physicians should be aware that, in 2011, the American Medical Association issued guidelines in its Code of Ethics for physicians who use social media: Continue reading