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Doctors billing for more procedures than there are hours in a day

The committee made of up members of the American Medical Association-a physician advocacy organization-provides estimates every year on how long the average duration a typical medical procedure should take a doctor to complete. The recommendations are based on federal law stipulations of time and intensity.

However, according to an investigation by the Washington Post, it seems doctors aren't following these guidelines. In some cases, they are rushing their time to perform a procedure and essentially are billing for more procedures than there are hours in the day.

In one instance, one physician reported performing 12 colonoscopies and four other procedures in one day. According to the estimated AMA durational period for all 16 procedures, it should have taken the doctor a total of 26 hours to perform all of these procedures.

The data

Along with interviews and academic research, the Post examined outpatient surgical procedures that occurred in both Florida and Pennsylvania last year.

The information revealed that the clinics where the procedures were performed were open 10 hours on average each day. However, approximately 340 of the doctors were found to record 16 hours worth of procedures performed-6 more hours than the clinic was even open for business. The physician breakdown included:

  • 115 Gastroenterologists.
  • 76 Ophthalmologists.
  • 41 Orthopedic surgeons.
  • 108 anesthesiologists, urologists, plastic surgeons and dentists.

Increased risk of medical errors?

So what does this mean? Not only does the data suggest deceptive-and possibly illegal practices-but it also suggests that many doctors are rushing procedures in order to meet bottom lines-and likely jeopardizing patient safety.

For instance, the AMA estimates that the before, during and after time for a particular colonoscopy procedure takes roughly one hour and 15 minutes. However, the data reveals that doctors are spending much less time for this type of procedure-roughly 30 minutes.

Physician efficiency

Some may argue that some doctors are simply experienced enough to perform under the estimated AMA timeframe and are not necessarily rushing through procedures.

However, the recommended durational periods provided by the AMA-a lobbyist group for doctors-are based on surveys filled out by seasoned specialists in each field. The Chair of the AMA indicates that the committee is very careful to set accurate timeframes for procedures. As a result, it's likely doctors are either overtaxing themselves or simply not spending enough time before or after with each patient to adequately assess the circumstances-thereby increasing the risk of medical mistakes.