In March, the Coastside Family Medical Clinic, a local clinic serving the population of Half Moon Bay and its surrounding area, abruptly closed its doors, leaving 8,000 patients without a primary care doctor. The Clinic ran out of money because 1)insurers took too long to re-imburse for services, 2)many patients had no insurance, and 3) the Clinic didn’t have adequate financial management systems to weather these storms, which hit all medical practices from time to time because insurers delay payment to maximize profit.
But it also left the patients without their medical records, and without a way to get them back. The Clinic went into bankruptcy, and the medical records are stuck in legal limbo. Remember, it’s now August.
By law, a clinic that goes out of business is required to make sure its records find their way either to patients or their doctors. But how to do that without funds? And within the boundaries of the Privacy Act regulations.
“It takes an extraordinary amount of labor and resources to go hunting for records. It’s time consuming,” [the bankruptcy trustee] said. “This is a hot potato … There’s a lot of people who want to volunteer for a few afternoons, but no volunteers are willing to step up and take responsibility.”
“This case doesn’t lend itself to an easy fix,” the judge said. “We’re a bunch of bankruptcy people suddenly becoming health experts.”
The trustee went further to explain that there were 37,000 total records, representing 8,000 patients. Only 3000 are actually active, but how do you know which ones without the doctors and nurses?
How would you feel if those were your records? You’d feel that it would be nice if they had been online, and you could have easy access to them to pass them on to the next physician. It would also be nice if there were an entity that had the power to step in and make it happen, like a Regional Health Information Organization. Read up on RHIOs, which are part of the National Institutes of Health’s plan to modernize health care delivery.
After all, those are your records. And it would be nice if you still had a doctor to take them to, especially if you were a mom and your children were treated at the clinic.
Yes, it would be nice if we had a system for continuity of care, in which clinics didn’t go out of business, or insurance companies refuse to pay. That’s what health care reform is REALLY all about. It’s not about costs, or about public plans, or about rationing, or about any of these other bogus red herrings. It’s about you, your health, and your ability to see a doctor, own your own records, and get the right care. No matter who pays.
Right now, a combination of the profit motive, late payments from insurers, uninsured people needing care, rising costs, and probably mismanagement can leave you and your children out in the cold, whether you are with or without insurance.