Archive for the ‘confidentiality’ Category

Therapists Behaving Badly

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

This one’s gonna be touchy. I’m not all that clear about putting this post up there. It could be nothin’ but net, could be a brick. I’m sure this is going to make some people unhappy on both sides of the couch but, I gotta say something & so, as Wellington said to his mistress when she threatened to make his letters to her public, “Publish and be damned,” though I probably already am. It’s a professional liability.

This is written in part for patients, in part for therapists, and in part to get it off my chest ’cause its been there for a while & it’s startin’ to feel like a 10-ton safe. Here goes and if it bends you out of shape, so be it.

I was in the elevator going up to my office a few weeks, maybe a month and-a-half ago with 3 other people. Two were therapists, one was, I think, a patient. One therapist asked the other about his next patient & the comment came back something along the line of “He’s a real borderline.” The other said something like “yikes,” and then followed with a comment about being told by some mentor that you shouldn’t have more than one on your caseload. The one who made the comment in the first place said something about that being right.  If you’re reading this and you recognize yourselves, I’m not picking on you. I’ve picked you as an example. If you’re offended you can take it up with me. Leave me a comment. Please. If you have an opinion about what I’m saying here, please, leave me a comment.

The whole time this exchange was proceding I was uncomfortable because I wanted to say something to this pair. The other guy in the elevator (remember him, the patient looking guy?) was looking decidedly uncomfortable and unhappy.  I wanted to tell this pair to pipe down, that there’s other people on the elevator. Mind you, they didn’t say anything that might identify the patient (other than that he’s a he.) The behavior broke no privacy or confidentiality rules, HIPAA was certainly not violated. So, what’s my beef?

That’s easy. It makes patients uneasy when they hear this. They already think we talk about them when they’re not present. They have wonderful imaginations and are very sure we talk about them. There’s no need to prove them right. It doesn’t make them happy and gives them a not great opinion of us because, they think, it tells them what we think of them.

We’re not even going to talk about the categorizing of a patient with an unflattering label. We all know what borderline means, and that includes patients. It means difficult, explosive, unmanageable, right? Too bad it didn’t mean that when it was first proposed, but that’s what it’s come to mean. But I digress….

My point here is this: I was fortunate. My first internship was, in part, at the James A. Peters Veterans Medical Center in the Bronx where there were signs on the two side walls of each elevator reminding the staff to not discuss patients in the elevators because staff, patients and patients’ families all share the same elevators. Good signs to post because people forget.

What I’m saying to therapists – pipe down! If you must talk about patients, and I’ll be generous and say that you’re “consulting” with a colleague, do it in your office or your colleagues office and do it with the door closed. Not in the hall. Not in the elevator. Not in the toilet. Let’s show them the respect they deserve.They come to us in pain and we’re not here to add to it by hearing us talk about patients (in the pejorative) in public. We’re not carnies and our patients aren’t Rubes. If you can’t pipe down, and you’re in a public place with me, expect that I’ll ask you to hold it for when you’re alone. I invite any other clinician to do the same when they hear another of us doing this.

By the same token I’m saying to patients that it’s OK to tell the therapists who are having this conversation in front of you that they should zip it. Tell them not to have this discussion in front of the kids. Tell them that you feel disrespected. Tell them that they’re treating you like you’re not there. They may get huffy. Let ’em.

You, Your Insurance and Privacy of Our Work, Pt III

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

OK, now for the kicker. The something more. This information that lives with your insurer and their insurers isn’t finished yet. What happens if you apply for life insurance? An auto loan? Change jobs and need to sign up for other health insurance? Apply for a credit card? Have you guessed yet?

That’s right. These worthies will often turn to an agency that they hire to collect your information, your protected health information, and that agency will then turn to me and request the records of your treatment. They will sometimes accept a summary but I have to tell them that’s what they’re going to get. What you’ve signed, after you first told them that you had this treatment (if they ask, and for life insurance they sure will,) is a consent for release of information for your medical records. That means they are going to be requesting my session notes (which are part of your official medical record.) This also means that this 4th party outside of the triangle of you, me & your insurance company (and their backers, but I included them in the triangle – so what if it’s got 4 sides? I’m a psychotherapist not a geometer) has your protected health information in its data bank. Yes, the release you signed is HIPAA compliant. They know the law & know that that’s what they have to give you. It doesn’t mean that they are as careful about disclosures as your psychotherapist (me, in this case.)

Does this chill you a bit? If it doesn’t then you’re not following the flow of your information. Wider and wider circles of dissemination.

Now, I’m not saying that if you and I keep things between us and you leave your insurance out of our relationship that you won’t at some point decide that you want life insurance and they won’t ask about treatments you’ve received. If you do they will. I won’t tell you not to tell them about treatments. That would be telling you to commit fraud and I won’t do that. I won’t tell you to lie on the application. I will tell you that, unless you are asked about treatments, in most cases (within the limits of the laws about confidentiality) it stays between you and me (maybe your accountant and Uncle Sugar if you claim it on your taxes, but I’m not going to go there.) There are limits imposed on confidentiality by law, such as if I think you are an immediate danger of committing harm to yourself or somebody else, or in case of suspected cases of child abuse but within the law what’s between you and me stays between you and me. Personally, I like it that way.

Another time I’ll tell you why I don’t like “diagnosis” as used in the DSM (or ICD,) but that’s not part of this. Let’s call it a day and I’ll go back to enjoying my cup of tea.

You, Your Insurance and Privacy of Our Work, Pt II

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

OK, where was I before I started brewing my tea – a nice Oolong with lots of flavor, good aroma & gentle bite? Oh, yeah, about codes and privacy. This section gets a little technical but hang in there, fans – it’s worth it.

I said that those codes don’t leave much of an artifact (footprint, trace, record) that’s going to make any difference, right? Wrong! There’s a procedural code for every procedure that goes on a claim form, whether it’s medical, dental, surgical, psychotherapeutic, etc. The procedure performed becomes part of your permanent medical record in your insurer’s database. “So what” I hear you say. So this: it’s not just in your insurer’s database. It’s in their insurer’s database. They’ve gotta lay their bets off somewhere. That’s with a meta-insurer (think AIG or similar.) Someone who does risk-management and determines how much they can back the bets your insurers make. Think of it as the insurance company has sold your marker to someone. You said it was Jake for them to do that when you signed the line that said that your information could be disclosed for the purpose of obtaining payment. And you thought it was just between you, me, and your insurance company. Have another thunk because there’s more.

Anytime there’s a procedure code there’s a diagnosis. Again, this is whether the work is medical, dental, surgical, psychotherapeutic, or whatever. Now we’re beginning to where it gets sticky. Diagnosis is a serious word. It means that, based on criteria established by the Taskforce that created the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV TR, you get labled with a disorder. You are no longer “the worried well,” or someone who just feels anxious. You now have a recorded disorder. This is part of that marker. The fun doesn’t stop there….

Anything that is contained in the DSM-IV is contained in a book called the ICD-9 (going on ICD-10) – “The International Classification of Diseases” published by varoius publishers all putting out the same book (it’s used world wide – International, right?) This means that where ever your record is read they all read the same diagnosis. Great, right? Maybe if the people reading that record were also psychotherapists, psychiatrists, or some kind of mental health professionals, but they may not be. Yes, some insurance companies do utilize us for review but not all the reviewers are. This means that your case is being reviewed by a clerk of some sort. This clerk gets to decide (among other things) how many sessions we can have during a given year for a particular disorder, if any at all. They can also decide that treatment has gone on long enough based on the tables they have and what instructions they’ve been given. At this point it involves more work; usually for me and for which I don’t get paid but, again, even though I mention the do-re-me it’s not about the bucks. It’s about the time it takes to appeal the decision & meanwhile the treatment and who’s going to pay for it is in Limbo (which is often somehow contiguous with Hartford, CT or someplace in Texas, maybe offshore. Who knows?)

These clerks aren’t under the same constraints about the privacy of your information (remember, that’s what this is about) as I am. They are allowed to bundle it for research as well as developing their actuarial tables and other statistical purposes. Your personal information (PHI – Protected Health Information) is not as protected anymore.

But wait, as they say on the infomercials, there’s more. See part III, coming up shortly….

You, Your Insurance And Privacy of Our Work Together

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

“Do you take insurance?” Yeah. I’m in-network (“par,” in insurance terms – participating) with several plans and take assignment. I’m not in-network (“non-par” – I don’t par…never mind. You get the idea) with many more than I’m in with. There’s various reasons for that, none of which really matter here. Feel free to email me if you really need to know but, trust me, that’ not what this is about.

Personally, I’d rather you not use your insurance. That way we can keep things just between us (the two of us, not the two of us and a lot of other people.) I know that you want to have your insurance company pay me (“par”) for part of your treatment or reimburse you (“non-par”) for some of what you paid me. It makes absolute cents. Dollars and cents. Unless you work for the exceedingly rare, and growing rarer all the time, companies that pay your entire premium, you pay a lot for your share of the premium on your health insurance. You want to get something for that hard earned cash that’s not going into your paycheck. Even if your policy doesn’t cover “behavioral health,” you may have a flex or cafeteria plan that you can use to cover some of the period of treatment, some sessions, something.

I get it. I feel the same way about my health insurance. I want to get something back for the money that’s paid in. It’s why we have insurance, right, so that we don’t have to pay the whole ginormous cost of examinations, treatments, medications, devices, etc., etc? Yeah, that’s all real swell but there’s a good reason, maybe several, why you should consider not using your insurance for your psychotherapy/psychoanalysis/mental health treatment. Can you guess what it is?

Money? No. That’s not it. Yeah, sure, I can ask for more money from you if you pay out-of pocket than the fees that the insurance companies “negotiated” in the contract for “par” situations. Even if I can charge you more if I’m non-par because I don’t have to accept the rate the insurance company wants to pay, it’s still not about the money.Please believe me on this.

OK, I’ll give you a hint: look at the title again. The part that says “…Privacy of Our Work Together.” That’s my big concern and needs consideration on your part before you simply say “I pay for the insurance and I want to use it where ever I can.”

Have you stopped to think about how I get paid or you get reimbursed? Of course you have. I do something that goes to the insurance company and they send me a check (or deposit to my account) or I give you something, you combine that with something else, send it to the insurance company and they send you money. Simple. As easy as 3.1416.

Not so fast, Kimosabee. What’s on that claim form that goes to them? The CPT code (that tells them what procedure was performed, e.g., 90806= O(ut)P(atient) psychotherapy, 45-50″ (minutes,) no med(ication) eval(uation.) That tells them how much they pay out for what went on in the room. We can all agree that this is pretty harmless and doesn’t really do much in the way of leaving an artifact, right? Wrongo! Let’s move on to part II of this and I’ll explain more. For now my tea is ready to brew. See you in a bit!