Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Regulatory affairs and waiting room times in medicine

I read an article last weekend in the Wall Street Journal called Long Medical Waits Prove Hard to Cure. I didn't think much about it until today when it popped into my mind as support for what has become a theme of this blog and of the situation of much of the United States: regulations pervade our lives.

The article discusses how the methods to measure doctor's office waiting times can be manipulated for reporting purposes. For example, patients not seen within 48 hours might have to wait a really, really long time to see a doctor while other patients who called later are accommodated within 48 hours. The hospital knows that once these patients are cleared from the log their waiting time numbers will worsen.

"Any waiting-time measure can be thwarted or misrepresented," says Michael Davies, an internist and acting director of high reliability systems and consultation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

This problem represents a larger issue in regulatory affairs; misconstruing data to match whatever regulation has been put in place.While I wouldn't go as far as to say I support the practice, I certainly am very sympathetic to businesses who have a bottom line to attend to. How can we expect them to pay the price of revamping their business practices for a regulation that may be revoked next year? This is very, very costly. And with the number of silly, nonsensical regulations out there, often this type of dishonest practice is the only option available to these businesses. Often they are just buying time to figure out if the regulation is actually a long-term one or if it is just the whim of an official who may be voted out of office next year.

Regulatory affairs is a tricky business, one I'm afraid we need more training for as a nation. Already we have certificate programs and masters programs available for people interested in studying it. I'm predicting it will become a staple career of the future like being a doctor or a lawyer. You might say something like, "I passed my RAC" in the future and people will recognize that name the way they recognize passing the bar in law or the boards in medicine.

We need some very educated, insightful people to take care of these overarching issues or a lot of time and money will go to waste. We're already seeing that with a regulation on hospital waiting rooms that just seems to cost labor, time and effort to implement- and the data is misconstrued. What a waste of everybody's time.