Health Insurance 101: Understanding Your Benefits

It’s a new year and, for many people, this means a new insurance policy. While insurance can be confusing, it is important to understand your health insurance benefits as you consider your options for treatment. We’ve put together a handy primer to explain the basic components of an insurance plan, in hopes that it will make life simpler for you!

In-Network vs. Out-of-Network: Providers who are in-network with your insurance company have agreed to accept a lower rate for their services, as determined by the insurance company, in exchange for being affiliated with and promoted as a “preferred provider”. Out-of-network providers determine the value of their services and are not under contract with the insurance company. Most plans have some level of out-of-network reimbursement. Many people think that if a practice is not in-network with their insurance, they can’t seek services at that clinic. In fact, insurance companies may even tell you you have to work with an in-network provider, even if you have out-of-network coverage. This is wrong and misleading. We elaborate more on the difference between in- and out-of-network coverage in this past blog.

Explanation of Benefits (EOB): This is sent by mail or available online after each medical service you receive. Your EOB will include lots of information, but look for the billed amount, allowed amount, any payments made by your insurance company, and the amount you owe, or patient responsibility.

Billed Amount: The amount that your healthcare provider bills to your insurance company.

Allowed Amount: The amount your insurance company deems a service provided to you is worth. This may be equal to the billed amount, though is more often less than the billed amount.

Deductible: This is the amount of money you are required to pay before your insurance benefits kick in. This amount resets annually, typically at the beginning of the year. Occasionally, there are some services where the deductible is waived, but in general you are required to pay the amount of your deductible before insurance pays for anything. Generally, there are separate deductibles for in- and out-of-network providers, though occasionally they are combined.

Coinsurance: Generally, this is the percentage of what you are required to pay per service. This is most often calculated using the allowed amount. For example, 30% coinsurance means that you are required to pay 30% of what your insurance allows for a particular service, while they pay 70%. This shared payment responsibility starts only after you meet your deductible.

Copay: This is a flat-rate amount that you pay each time you visit a provider, regardless of the billed or allowed amounts. This won’t start until you have met your deductible.

Out-of-pocket max: This is the maximum amount of money you will have to pay per year for covered healthcare. Once you reach your out-of-pocket max, insurance should cover 100% of your medical expenses.

Visit limit: This is the maximum number of visits your insurance company will pay. However, this is not a guarantee. Often, an insurance company will state a high number, or even unlimited visits, but will deny payment after review of medical notes if they don’t consider treatment to be justified.

At TherapydiaSF, we are happy to call your insurance on your behalf to determine your specific in- or out-of-network benefits. We also offer discounted cash rates as an alternative, if you are faced with a high-deductible plan, high co-insurance or limited visits. Please let us know how we can help you get started on your path to a healthy 2017!

 

 

Movement Matters

sf_run_assessment

You’ve heard it before, “exercise is good for you.” It probably started with your PE teacher in grade school and now it’s your doctor reminding you at your annual physical exam. It seems that a new study touting the benefits of exercise is reported on the nightly news almost every week. We all know that exercise is good for losing weight and getting stronger, but what you might not realize is that beyond the physical changes you see, by committing to a regular exercise routine, you’ll have a positive impact on your mind, body and soul. So why is it that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t participate in any physical activity?

Mind:
When faced with a busy schedule and too many meetings on your calendar, exercise often takes a backseat. If you’re not sleeping well and wake up exhausted, the last thing you want to do is lace up your running shoes and head out for a sweat session. However, the next time you’re fading midday, consider skipping your visit to the local coffee truck and hit the gym instead.

According to a 2011 study of more that 3000 people, those who get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day than those who do not.1

In that same year, a study of older adults revealed that regular aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus, the area of the brain related to memory, and can help improve memory function. While its effect on the mind is continually being studied, findings strongly suggest that exercise promotes improved brain function.2

Body:
You’ve probably known that aerobic exercise is essential for heart health as long as you can remember. Starting an exercise program is often the first piece of advice given to individuals at risk of developing cardiac disease. People who exercise regularly tend to develop less heart disease their sedentary colleagues. If they do develop a form of heart disease, it happens later in life and is generally not as severe.3

Exercise also promotes bone health, an important consideration as we age. While studies are ongoing, one released earlier this year showed moderate intensity aerobic exercise may have a protective effect on bone and cartilage by regulating elements in the body involved in increasing our bone mass density.4

A strong heart and strong bones are important, but exercise can help the body in other ways. Emerging research suggests that moderate amounts of exercise may have a positive effect on chronic pain by changing an individual’s perception of and response to their pain.5 Movement continues to be the most conservative, most inexpensive, and likely the most effective treatment for lower back pain, a condition that affects 80% of us during our lives.

Soul:
Have you ever started a workout in a bad mood and ended it feeling even worse? Not likely. Do you alleviate stress with a tough session? You might be on to something. There is a strong link between between exercise and mood. In general, active people are less depressed than sedentary people. A 2007 study concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder.6 A hot topic of research in the mental health field, scientists are extremely interested in learning how to prescribe exercise as treatment for a variety of conditions including stress, anxiety, and depression.

The more digitally connected we are, the less real contact we tend to have with friends and family. There’s an app for everything, but not one that promotes in-person interaction with our true social circles. Exercise has a positive effect on our relationships and can even lead to developing new friendships. Finding a common exercise interest increases motivation, fosters healthy competition and can create strong social bonds with friends and family.

The benefits of exercise are vast and the scientific support of movement continues to grow. Who wouldn’t want to look better, feel better and be better? If you’re a regular exerciser, keep it up! The changes you’re making are huge. If exercise hasn’t been your thing, find something you enjoy, commit to your health and get moving. Your mind, body and soul will thank you.

  1. Loprinzi, Paul and Bradley Cardinal. “Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005–2006.” Mental Health and Physical Activity2, (2011) 65–69.
  2. Ericksona, KI, et al. “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.” PNAS 108.7, (2011) 3017-3022.
  3. Myers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation.107(2003) e2-e5
  4. Alghadir, JH, et al. “Correlation between bone mineral density and serum trace elements in response to supervised aerobic training in older adults.” Clin Interv Aging.11 (2016) 265-73.
  5. Jones, MD, et al. “Aerobic training increases pain tolerance in healthy individuals.” Med Sci Sports Exerc8(2014) 1640-7.
  6. Blumenthal, JA, et al. “Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder.” Psychosom Med. 7 (2007) 587-96.

 

trx2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Physical Therapy: What to Expect

physical_therapy_san_francisco

Marathon training has picked up and your Achilles tendon has been bothering you on your long runs. Or maybe you played golf this weekend and your back has been sore ever since. Perhaps work has gotten busy and your neck has been sore for a week. Whether it’s a friend or your doctor, chances are, if you ask around, someone will suggest you see a physical therapist.

So what should you expect?

During your first visit your PT will work to understand your injury and develop a treatment plan. We will ask you questions about your pain or discomfort—when did it start, what makes it better, what makes it worse? We will ask you about your work and the things that you do for fun. Sure, we want to get to know you, but, more importantly, that info also helps us understand how to best help you and keep you as active as possible while you’re recovering.

We will watch you do certain movements and collect some information by taking measurements and conducting particular tests. Often we will even look at different areas of your body that may not seem to be related to your injury.

Once we feel like we have enough information to create your treatment plan, we will likely get started that first day by teaching you an exercise or two to work on until your next appointment.

You should expect to work with the same PT at each session. Occasionally, two PT’s will work together as a team during your course of treatment, but our goal is to maintain consistency from visit to visit, and we find this harder to accomplish when more than two PT’s are involved.

When you return for your first follow up visit, expect to get to work! Your PT will have developed a plan that may include a variety of manual therapy techniques (‘hands-on’ work) and will definitely include exercise. We might ask you to do some things that seem silly—feel free to ask us why. It is not uncommon to see our patients blowing up balloons during their appointments, or crawling across the gym mat. It’s actually fun and we laugh a lot! At each session we will check and recheck some of the same tests we performed on day one, to understand the effect of the treatments we have been providing.

When you leave our studio, you will be expected to do your homework. We will provide resources to help you remember your exercises and yes, we will know if you’re doing them. Patients who are active participants outside of the PT clinic almost always heal faster than those who aren’t. A physical therapist can’t make you better alone. Physical therapy is a team approach and we need your help!

How often you come to PT is part of the treatment plan that you and your therapist develop together. Among our patients, there is a wide range of plans that change over time (i.e. once per week, once every other week, twice per week, etc). There are several factors we consider when planning your PT schedule. From the rate of healing and the body’s adaptation to new activities, to being swamped at work or due to financial constraints, treatment schedules will be specifically recommended to fit your needs. However, you should expect to attend at least 3-5 sessions in order to get the full benefit of working with your PT.

Once you are back to your marathon training, out on the golf course, or are able to sit at your computer without neck pain, it’s probably time to graduate from physical therapy! Some of our patients choose to continue to work with their PT for exercise as part of one of our wellness programs while others reach out the next time they need us.

Let us know how we can help you stay as active as possible!

The Top Five Reasons Why You Should Get To Know Your PT

A few years ago I hosted a get together with a bunch of friends. At some point in the evening, after everyone had figured out how we were connected, someone remarked, “It’s a good thing you’re a PT. You wouldn’t have any friends otherwise.” As I looked around the room at my guests, two were physical therapy colleagues, while the rest were former patients turned friends. While I understand that some PT’s prefer not to develop personal relationships with current patients, I truly believe in the importance of developing a long-term professional relationship with one.

If it’s not a good fit, find one you trust and with whom you can connect. If they turn into a good friend, even better!

Here are The Top Five Reasons Why You Should Get To Know Your PT:

We’ll be spending quality time together.
During the course of your treatment, you’ll be seeing us regularly. I am fortunate to spend 45 minutes with patients, often once, maybe twice a week. Compare that to the amount of time you spend with your doctor during a scheduled appointment, or even how often you see your best friend in any given week. Several years ago, I attended the wedding of a patient-turned-friend after knowing her only a few weeks because, as she told me, “The only person I spend more time with during the week is my fiancé.”

You can confide in us.
Because we will be spending time together working on improving your health, there may be certain things that come up during our time together. Human are complex creatures. There are many factors that can contribute to health, some of which may not be that easy to bring up. As healthcare providers, we are bound by law and ethics to maintain your privacy, and need to know about factors that may be affecting your healing. During any given week I talk to people about such potentially uncomfortable topics as depression, intimacy, problems in relationships, and other sensitive things. We talk about frustrations with treatment and health concerns seemingly unrelated to their physical therapy treatments. Often, the things we discuss are vital to my success as a PT though occasionally I need to refer out to someone better equipped to handle the issue. You need to feel comfortable enough with your PT to be able to discuss the uncomfortable.

We can help ease your fears.
Perhaps you’ve just received a new diagnosis that is troubling, even scary. Sometimes the medical jargon associated with an MRI report or after a doctor visit can be overwhelming. Chances are, we’ve worked with other patients with similar problems and can help explain things in ways you’ll understand. It is not a normal week if I don’t have a friend or family member reach out with questions about a particular diagnosis. The discussion this weekend was about Jason Day at The US Open, his struggles with vertigo, and how PT can help…did you know that?

We can let you know when it’s time to get serious about your health.
There is a reason your back hurts. Ignoring it isn’t the answer and it is likely a symptom of a larger problem. The good news is, you’re willing to invest a little time and energy, and maybe a few little changes to your daily routine, we can make a huge impact. Sometimes a friend or PT who knows you well is the best person to impress upon you the importance of taking your health seriously. You only get one body in this life, treat it well.

We can help you navigate the confusing world of medicine AND fitness.
There is so much misinformation and conflicting advice floating around out there. Who can help you differentiate fact from fiction? A PT with a good clinical experience who has continued to grow professionally and is able to critically evaluate research is good person to have on your team. Well-meaning but incorrect advice is commonly dispensed from people who don’t have the same training and expertise as PT’s who work in musculoskeletal medicine every single day.

We really do care.
My colleagues and I talk about this all of the time. It is not uncommon for us to say to a patient, “I was thinking about you on my walk to work.” I often develop new treatment plans in the most unlikely of places. This is why my showers are sometimes a little longer than necessary. We PT’s are generally so invested in our patients that we take it to heart when someone doesn’t seem to value or appreciate our care. This is also the reason we are exhausted at the end of the week. Don’t expect your PT/friend to want to get together for Happy Hour on a Friday evening!

The Educated Therapist

Let’s face it. Most physical therapists aren’t winning any sales and marketing awards. Most of us have don’t have a business background and typically enter this profession based on a love of health, exercise and helping others. In school, we don’t really have time to cover anything beyond examination and treatment of our soon-to-be patients. We graduate, enter the world of health and wellness as practitioners of physical therapy, and soon realize the competition is fierce. In San Francisco, a city with something for everyone, there are individuals providing health and wellness services that seem in direct competition with everything we offer. There are personal trainers, massage therapists, Muscle Activation Therapists, Sports Therapists, Neurokinetic Therapists, Core Activation Therapists, and more. Have you ever stopped to consider who is best trained to help you heal? While these practitioners may indeed be skilled at the services they offer, based on our level of education and training, physical therapists are in a league of our own.

The other day, I had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman who was interested in learning more about the field of physical therapy. A seemingly intelligent man, he’d also had personal experience as a recent physical therapy patient. At some point in our conversation, he stopped me and asked, “Do you have to have some sort of certificate to be a physical therapist?” My jaw dropped.  It was then and there I realized how physical therapists have done such a terrible job of informing the public of what we do, what we can offer, and why we should be considered the practitioners of choice for musculoskeletal health.

So here’s what you should know: physical therapists go to school for 7-8 years. This includes 4 years of undergraduate education, heavily based in science (physics, chemistry, microbiology, exercise physiology, etc.), and 3-4 years of graduate-level education. Students graduating from physical therapy programs in the United States today earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy. The first Doctorate program in Physical Therapy was started in 1993 at Creighton University in Nebraska and, as of 2015, all accredited and developing physical therapist programs are DPT programs. Often part of a medical school, PT programs teach physical therapy examination and treatment, as well as courses in Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, Pathology, Pharmacology, Radiology and Differential Diagnosis (how I determine if a symptom may be something more serious—and outside of my scope of practice—than run-of-the-mill back pain). In fact, when I attended UCSF in the early 2000’s, the physical therapy students were the only students who performed full cadaveric dissections. Other programs used the cadavers we spent our first foggy summer in San Francisco dissecting. It was also the start of our collaboration with the first year medical students, where we 2nd year PT students helped teach the medical students musculoskeletal anatomy. Most recently, residencies and fellowships after graduation have grown in popularity to provide advanced training for physical therapy school graduates.

Beyond our formal education, physical therapists are licensed by the state in which we practice and are held to a high level of professional conduct that includes requirements for continuing education every year. Most courses are held on the weekends and many physical therapists travel great distances to take courses of interest. This year alone, PT’s from TherapydiaSF will take courses in San Francisco, San Diego, Montana, and Las Vegas. Some physical therapists also opt to enhance their degree and training by completing board certification in different areas of practice, including Orthopaedics, Pediatrics, Women’s Health, Neurology and 4 other areas of specialty practice.

The next time someone suggests physical therapy, please consider our extensive training and education and know that we have the education, expertise and dedication to help you work, play and move without pain.

 

 

“My Physical Therapist”

Month–wonder if anyone knows that besides the physical therapists?  It always amazes me when I ask a new patient if they have ever had physical therapy and their answer is, “no.”  Many of the people I know in San Francisco have a team of practitioners: my doctor, my dentist, my chiropractor, my acupuncturist, my nutritionist, my personal trainer, the list goes on and on.  I look forward to the day when physical therapists consistently make the list of healthcare practitioners that patients seek out if they have a musculoskeletal injury.

A couple of years ago, my friend was diagnosed with an L5-S1 spondylolisthesis.  He was anxious about the diagnosis and asked for my advice.  I assured him that this was a common condition that PT’s treat and encouraged him to seek treatment.  A few weeks later he told me about his experience choosing a physical therapist.

He explained that he called the clinic and asked to speak to the therapist in order to interview her before starting treatment.  I laughed at the time–he wanted to interview her??  I told him that isn’t the way it works–generally patients just schedule the appointment and go for the initial evaluation where they meet the therapist for the first time.  Of course, I’ve given many clinic tours and talked to plenty of patients at the front desk to answer questions before their first session.  In the past, I always did so with a little (hopefully well-hidden) annoyance feeling irritated that they had doubts that we could help them.  Well, maybe my friend and those patients are on to something.  I’m not suggesting we all spend hours of our already packed days being interviewed by prospective patients, but perhaps a few minutes spent answering an email or talking with a potential patient could go a long way in developing rapport and ensuring that the patient become an active participant in their rehab.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

And then, just like that, you’ve become, “my physical therapist.”