To the Editor:
With health care constituting one of the larger segments of the US economy, medical practice is increasingly subject to business considerations.1 Patients, providers, and organizations are all required to make decisions that reflect choices beyond clinical needs alone. Given the impact of market forces, clinicians often are asked to navigate operational and business decisions. Accordingly, education about the policy and systems that shape care delivery can improve quality and help patients.2
The ability to understand the ecosystem of health care is of utmost importance for medical providers and can be achieved through resident education. Teaching fundamental business concepts enables residents to deliver care that is responsive to the constraints and opportunities encountered by patients and organizations, which ultimately will better prepare them to serve as advocates in alignment with their principal duties as physicians.
Despite the recognizable relationship between business and medicine, training has not yet been standardized to include topics in business education, and clinicians in dermatology are remarkably positioned to benefit because of the variety of practice settings and services they can provide. In dermatology, the diversity of services provided gives rise to complex coding and use of modifiers. Proper utilization of coding and billing is critical to create accurate documentation and receive appropriate reimbursement.3 Furthermore, clinicians in dermatology have to contend with the influence of insurance at many points of care, such as with coverage of pharmaceuticals. Formularies often have wide variability in coverage and are changing as new drugs come to market in the dermatologic space.4
The landscape of practice structure also has undergone change with increasing consolidation and mergers. The acquisition of practices by private equity firms has induced changes in practice infrastructure. The impact of changing organizational and managerial influences continues to be a topic of debate, with disparate opinions on how these developments shape standards of physician satisfaction and patient care.5
The convergence of these factors points to an important question that is gaining popularity: How will young dermatologists work within the context of all these parameters to best advocate and care for their patients? These questions are garnering more attention and were recently investigated through a survey of participants in a pilot program to evaluate the importance of business education in dermatology residency.
A survey of residency program directors was created by Patrinley and Dewan,6 which found that business education during residency was important and additional training should be implemented. Despite the perceived importance of business education, only half of the programs represented by survey respondents offered any structured educational opportunities, revealing a discrepancy between believed importance and practical implementation of business training, which suggests the need to develop a standardized, dermatology-specific curriculum that could be accessed by all residents in training.6
We performed a search of the medical literature to identify models of business education in residency programs. Only a few programs were identified, in which courses were predominantly instructed to trainees in primary care–based fields. According to course graduates, the programs were beneficial.7,8 Programs that had descriptive information about curriculum structure and content were chosen for further investigation and included internal medicine programs at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York, New York). UCSF implemented a Program in Residency Investigation Methods and Epidemiology (PRIME program) to deliver seven 90-minute sessions dedicated to introducing residents to medical economics. Sessions were constructed with the intent of being interactive seminars that took on a variety of forms, including reading-based discussions, case-based analysis, and simulation-based learning.7 Columbia University developed a pilot program of week-long didactic sessions that were delivered to third-year internal medicine residents. These seminars featured discussions on health policy and economics, health insurance, technology and cost assessment, legal medicine, public health, community-oriented primary care, and local health department initiatives.8 We drew on both courses to build a lecture series focused on the business of dermatology that was delivered to dermatology residents at UMass Chan Medical School (Worcester, Massachusetts). Topic selection also was informed by qualitative input collected via email from recent graduates of the UMass dermatology residency program, focusing on the following areas: the US medical economy and health care costs; billing, coding, and claims processing; quality, relative value units (RVUs), reimbursement, and the merit-based incentive payment system; coverage of pharmaceuticals and teledermatology; and management. Residents were not required to prepare for any of the sessions; they were provided with handouts and slideshow presentations for reference to review at their convenience if desired. Five seminars were virtually conducted by an MD/MBA candidate at the institution (E.H.). They were recorded over the course of an academic year at 1- to 2-month intervals. Each 45-minute session was conducted in a lecture-discussion format and included case examples to help illustrate key principles and stimulate conversation. For example, the lecture on reimbursement incorporated a fee schedule calculation for a shave biopsy, using RVU and geographic pricing cost index (GCPI) multipliers. This demonstrated the variation in Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reimbursement in relation to (1) constituents of the RVU calculation (ie, work, practice expense, and malpractice) and (2) practice in a particular location (ie, the GCPI). Following this example, a conversation ensued among participants regarding the factors that drive valuation, with particular interest in variation based on urban vs suburban locations across the United States. Participants also found it of interest to examine the percentage of the valuation dedicated to each constituent and how features such as lesion size informed the final assessment of the charge. Another stylistic choice in developing the model was to include prompts for further consideration prior to transitioning topics in the lectures. For example: when examining the burden of skin disease, the audience was prompted to consider: “What is driving cost escalations, and how will services of the clinical domain meet these evolving needs?” At another point in the introductory lecture, residents were asked: “How do different types of insurance plans impact the management of patients with dermatologic concerns?” These questions were intended to transition residents to the next topic of discussion and highlight take-home points of consideration for medical practice. The project was reviewed by the UMass institutional review board and met criteria for exemption.