Stories written by Crystal Zuzek

So Appy Together - 06/21/2018

DocbookMD is a secure, HIPAA-compliant, Texas Medical Association-endorsed communication app that allows physicians and their care teams to share real-time messages and images such as electrocardiograms and x-rays, resulting in more efficient care coordination. Physicians can send text messages and images to one another while meeting HIPAA encryption and security requirements. The app is available free to TMA and county medical society members. A paid version of the app is also available for hospitals and large groups.


Public Health Crusade - 04/26/2018

In the crusade to improve immunization rates, reduce obesity's health burden, prevent HIV, and tackle a whole host of crucial public health concerns, research shows certain evidence-based strategies can make a big impact in a short time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to such areas of public health as "winnable battles." Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner David Lakey, MD, named other public health priorities that don't match the CDC's winnable battles. They include the DSHS Expanded Primary Health Care Program, birth outcomes, mental health, and substance use disorders.


Health Matters in Texas - 04/25/2018

Physicians who testified before legislative committees presented an aggressive public health agenda to shield Texans from cigarette smoke, protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases, curb the obesity rate, and support cancer prevention and research. Thanks to their voices and the work of the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Public Health Coalition, the 2013 Texas Legislature got the message and passed many key bills that will help physicians accomplish some of those goals.


Gone to Texas - 04/24/2018

A decade has passed since the Texas Medical Association won landmark reforms of the state's medical liability system. The result has been more physicians practicing in Texas, thus improving patients' access to care, and dramatically lower liability insurance premiums for physicians.


A Painful Process - 04/19/2018

Selecting and implementing the right electronic health record (EHR) system due diligence by physicians, buy-in by all practitioners and staff, commitment to training, and willingness to start from scratch and learn a new way of documentation. The initial adoption of an EHR may have its challenges, but some groundwork at the start of the process helps ensure a successful transition.


Peer Review Farce - 01/31/2018

TMA's policies on medical peer review promote a fair, reasonable system; the association condemns peer review abuses that harm physicians and have negative ramifications for patient care. Doctors subjected to unwarranted peer review action can sue. TMA came to the aid of locum tenens emergency physician Van Mask, MD, after he sued Coon Memorial Hospital in Dalhart, alleging officials published false and defamatory statements about him and falsely represented that he had quality and liability problems pursuant to a medical staff committee review. TMA argues in part that the hospital's ER/Trauma Committee didn't appear to be a medical peer review committee under Texas law. The case was settled before going to trial.


A Bitter Pill - 12/15/2017

When insurance companies make business decisions that could have negative implications for Medicare patients' access to care and treatment continuity, it's a bitter pill for physicians. Thousands of Texas physicians discovered last fall they'd been terminated from UnitedHealthcare's Medicare Advantage plans.


Preparing for the Worst: Planning for Untimely Death Is Vital - 05/25/2017

Unexpected deaths profoundly impact those left behind. And in the case of physicians, their deaths have financial and business implications they must address in advance. Professional planning allows physicians to address call coverage, management, and administration of the medical practice and helps ensure the orderly continuation of practice operations.


The Night West Blew Up - 06/02/2016

The April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 160 in the Central Texas town of West put the state's disaster response system to the test. Area health professionals and emergency responders mobilized quickly to care for the injured and prevent more deaths.


Who Really Owns Knapp Medical Center? - 05/13/2016

The sale of Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco to California-based Prime Healthcare Foundation raised questions regarding the validity of the transaction and prompted the City of Weslaco to sue Prime and other parties.


Protecting Patients, Society - 05/13/2016

Generally, Texas law allows people who pose a significant risk of harming themselves or others to be detained for up to 48 hours with a judge's order. Often times, psychiatric emergencies are managed in emergency departments throughout the state by emergency physicians. The additional burden of requiring a peace officer or judge to become involved before any action can be taken prevents timely treatment of these potentially dangerous patients. The 2013 Texas legislative session did not pass legislation authorizing physician-initiated mental health holds. The Texas Medical Association is part of a workgroup formed to develop a consensus on legislation for the 2015 session.


Fighting for Fairness - 05/13/2016

When the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Office of Inspector General (OIG) adopted "program integrity" rules physicians couldn't live with, the Texas Medical Association took action to protect physicians. The association fought during this year's legislative session to improve due process in OIG fraud investigations and secured legislation that lends greater transparency to the agency's investigative and payment hold processes.


Bad Air Day - 05/13/2016

In an unpredictable economy, policymakers look to alternative energy sources to fuel the future. And as scientific research exposes the link between air pollution and disease, physicians seek ways to restrict the amount of toxins patients breathe. A report released earlier this year examines retrofitting the Big Brown, Martin Lake, and Monticello coal-fired facilities in Northeast Texas with modern emission controls or replacing them with cleaner alternative energy sources. the report targets 1970s-era coal-fired plants because they are the leading emitters of air pollutants and greenhouse gases in Texas.


Write It Down - 05/13/2016

Appropriately documenting, maintaining, and storing employee personnel files may seem tedious, but experts say those tasks are essential to ensuring that employers comply with state and federal law. And, thorough employee personnel records can help physicians defend themselves if an employee sues the practice. The Texas Medical Association recommends all employees, including physicians, have well-maintained personnel files containing specific documents, as well as government-mandated forms.


Turning Data Into Success - 05/13/2016

In today's health care climate, physicians realize it's critical they be involved in the financial management of their medical practice and gain a basic understanding of the business side of medicine. Physicians say collaborating with an expert is key to long-term viability and profitability.


The Truth About Shots - 05/13/2016

Physicians on the front lines of disease prevention say inaccurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines complicates their efforts to immunize adults and children against deadly diseases. Many physicians haven't been appropriately trained in communicating vaccine risks to patients, most of whom haven't witnessed the effects of smallpox, polio, or other forgotten but deadly diseases. When communicating about vaccine risks to parents, physicians need to realize many parents have a limited understanding of vaccine science. Physicians need to understand risk perception and learn to manage it among patients.


Reading Their Minds - 05/13/2016

Results of the 2013 Texas Health Perception Survey reveal what Texas legislators think as they consider public health policies and initiatives each session. The results provide insight on lawmakers' knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs related to obesity prevention and related health measures. Survey findings also provide a glimpse into resources legislators use to access health policy information. Results show Texas legislators participating in the survey rank TMA as their No. 1 resource for obesity, nutrition, and physical activity information and policy.


Preserving Mother's Day - 05/13/2016

In this year's legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 495, aimed at helping physicians and public health officials reduce the tragic toll of maternal death in the state. It creates the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Task Force under the Texas Department of State Health Services. The task force will study and review pregnancy-related deaths and make recommendations to help reduce pregnancy-related deaths and severe maternal morbidity in Texas.


Pill Mills - 05/13/2016

Authorities have stepped up their efforts to close so-called "pill mills" and punish those who operate them. That means physicians should perform due diligence to ensure the business is legitimate and financially solvent before buying, serving as medical director of, or joining a pain management clinic, or any medical practice for that matter.


PHI, BAs, and NPPs - 05/13/2016

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made comprehensive changes (known as the Omnibus Rule) to HIPAA that took effect Sept. 23. The regulations expand physicians' obligation to protect patients' personal information. They also clarify when physicians must report breaches of unsecured information to patients and HHS.


Payback Possible - 05/13/2016

Physicians are being chosen by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use audits. Any physician who has received a meaningful use incentive payment is fair game for an audit. CMS expects to audit about 5 percent of participants in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment programs. Physicians who have attested to meaningful use or who plan to attest are urged to document the process carefully. They should maintain, for at least six years, documentation supporting the meaningful use measures, calculations, and data submitted during attestation.


One Year to Go - 05/13/2016

Failure to prepare for the Oct. 1, 2014, deadline to begin using the ICD-10 coding system will result in financial hardship — possibly even ruin — for physicians because payers will reject their claims. The ICD-10 deadline is one year away, but experts warn that planning for conversion is intricate and time-consuming.


Obesity Is a Disease - 05/13/2016

The American Medical Association House of Delegates' vote in June to classify obesity as a "disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention" sparked national debate. Critics worry calling obesity a disease will take focus off prevention and remove personal responsibility from the equation. Supporters say the classification is bound to spur innovative policy, research, and treatment approaches to obesity. Physicians by and large hope that the new label will persuade private health plans and Medicaid to pay for treatment of obese patients.


No Longer an Option - 05/13/2016

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General used to encourage physicians in Medicare and Medicaid to adopt voluntary compliance programs. But now it's the law. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, compliance programs are no longer voluntary. As a condition of enrollment in federal health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, the health system reform law requires physicians to establish a compliance program that features specific core elements.


Meaningful Deadlines - 05/13/2016

For physicians participating in Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the Medicare electronic health record (EHR) incentive program, Oct. 1, 2014, is the cutoff date for ensuring you've upgraded your EHRs to meet Stage 2 product certification requirements. If it's your first time to attest to meaningful use, you must begin the 90-day EHR reporting period by July 1, 2014, to meet the Oct. 1 deadline and avoid a future penalty. The software upgrade mandated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology requires you to collaborate with your EHR vendors. You'll also need time to test the system and train your staff on how to use it.