Housecalls, baby!

29 12 2011

Direct Primary Care is the future of medicine.  With insurance premiums spiraling out of control, more and more people are looking for the least expensive alternative to traditional insurance.  It’s the classic problem of insurance.  How much insurance do you need if you are in reasonably good health?  Actuaries will tell you, for example, that a traditional health insurance plan with high premiums, low co-pays for doctor visits and prescriptions doesn’t really make financial sense for say, a 25 year old male in good health (it makes more sense for a woman of the same age, who should be getting annual exams and has the possibility of getting pregnant).  He’s unlikely to see a doctor unless he’s seriously ill, doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in a heavy consult with his doctor and certainly doesn’t want to hassle with the average wait time to see his doctor. His doctor, similarly, is not likely to be stumped by the average ailment for this person and if she suspects its a common illness going around (like the flu), she’s likely to prescribe bed rest and plenty of fluids, and probably only do a diagnostic test out of obligation instead of necessity.  Hardly a case of House, M.D.  Compare this with the same guy with a bad case of the sniffles stopping off at the Minuteclinic (or, the Wal-Mart), waiting 15 minutes to see a nurse practitioner with automated tools at his disposal.  In about 15 minutes, the nurse has checked our guy’s blood pressure (it’s fine, he’ll want to check it more often after his 30th birthday), determined our 25 year old has a sinus infection and prescribed an antibiotic our patient can pick up in 15 minutes by walking across the store (and maybe picking up a bottle of Gatorade and a Snickers as an anodyne to his misery).  The whole affair is addressed in less than an hour.

Oh, and he paid $35 for the visit by swiping his card at the nurse’s terminal.  And $25 for the prescription.  And the whole visit including diagnosis and prescription can be captured electronically and saved in our patients’ personal health record like MS HealthVault or similar, so should this be part of a chronic problem, it can be shared with all the medical providers he may visit in the future.

The time involved with a traditional doctor’s office visit almost certainly took longer, then the patient has to travel to another location to pick up the prescription that maybe the doctor sent ahead, or maybe it’s on a little piece of paper that the pharmacist has to put in the queue. Then, there’s the small army of staff in a doctor’s office.  Their main purpose: to wrangle the myriad of paperwork for a whole variety of health insurance plans, engaging in the back and forth with the payer to get reimbursed and pass bills on to those patients who either don’t have insurance or have enough insurance. It’s all about the administrative overhead.  Is this for everyone?  Definitely not, but not only will this approach make sense for those in reasonable health (paired with some form of catastrophic insurance), but also those with chronic diseases that require close management.

Or, maybe the doc comes to you.  Why isn’t this happening, then?  It will and it’s probably closer than you think.  As more and more people are becoming active consumers of healthcare services, we will see more uninsured (and insured) people trying out MinuteClinics, (maybe) Wal-Mart, MedLion or a handful of similar concepts.  I’m waiting for a single entrepreneurial medical professional to figure out how to safely care for people from a roving van, armed with a few key medical instruments, a cell phone and a laptop.

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