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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Dispatches from the Field, 2/25/08

26 02 2008

For better or worse, these are the kinds of hard discussions we have to have as we look at our options for the ailing healthcare system:

Prevention is Good Medicine, but it’s Not a Fiscal Panacea
Prevention saves lives; it is the right thing to do. But prevention does not save money

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/02/prevention-is-g.html

One of my favorite economists is Dean Baker. His “Beat the Press” Column tackles the ignorance and hidden agendas in economics. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of material when the issue is the economics of healthcare!

When it Comes to Health Care the NYT Is Protectionist

Just yesterday the NYT editorial board was complaining about the threat of protectionism in discussing Senator Obama and Clinton’s trade policies. Today, the editorial board discusses Medicare’s financial problems and never once mentions the extent to which this is caused by protectionism.

The basic point is very simple. Every other wealthy country provides high quality health care at a far lower price than in the United States. If we want to lower cost then an obvious way would be to try to take advantage of these lower cost systems. It is easy to develop mechanisms that would allow for Medicare beneficiaries to take advantage of lower cost systems.

The argument for the gains from trade in medical services is exactly the same as the argument for gains from trade in cars and clothes (we can even use the same graph, we just have to relabel the axis), except the benefits are likely to be much larger in the case of medical care. It is inconsistent for the NYT to be so committed to eliminating trade barriers in manufactured goods but willing to tolerate much costly barriers to trade in medical services.

http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/beat_the_press_archive?month=02&year=2008&base_name=when_it_comes_to_health_care_t

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I am working on the Austin health insurance program mentioned in this article.

Texas Urban Areas Work to Bring Three-Share Programs to the Working Uninsured

HealthLeaders-InterStudy, a leading provider of managed care market intelligence, reports that five Texas urban areas — Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston and Houston — have made various levels of progress toward forming health benefit pools
authorized last year by the Texas legislature. According to the latest Texas Health Plan Analysis, these three-share health benefits programs are designed to provide coverage access to small businesses who feel they have been priced out of the healthcare market.

http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/02-26-2008/0004762435&EDATE=

This is shaping up to be a disappointment. The new office created by the FDA “will not get the ultimate power to sign off on label changes or recommendations to remove a drug from the market.”

FDA Unveils Plan to Boost Oversight of Drugs Once They Are on Market

The Food and Drug Administration unveiled a new effort to bolster its oversight of drugs after they’re on the market, in the agency’s latest response to years of criticism about its handling of medication safety issues.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120405750657094407.html?mod=wsjagent





An Oldie But a Goodie: Escape Fire

27 01 2008

Here’s a link to a personal review I wrote for Don Berwick’s Escape Fire: Designs for the Future of Health Care. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it for setting the context and the mission.





How Do You Get People Who Can Afford it to Buy Health Insurance?

21 01 2008

Do you scare the dickens out of them? I’d like to meet the creative team behind this commercial brought to the people of Ontario, Canada by their Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. (this video is definitely not for sensitive viewers, although you might just see it on TV if you’re channel surfing in Ontario)





Dispatches from the Field – January 21, 2008

21 01 2008

For Every Vice, There’s a Price
As part of an ongoing effort to curb the runaway cost of providing health benefits, a small but growing number of companies are charging workers for habits like smoking, overeating and failing to exercise.
http://money.cnn.com/2008/01/15/pf/102902056.moneymag/index.htm?postversion=2008011510

The Truth About Mandatory Health Insurance
WSJ Op-Ed – typically hard nosed WSJ editorial about getting people coverage, but some good points about catastrophic vs. comprehensive insurance for young people.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119941501118966929.html

A Health-Insurance Solution
The Health Care Choice Act would allow residents in one state to buy health insurance that is available in and regulated by another state.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119742880091722751.html?mod=sphere_ts

Employers Tell Workers To Get Healthy or Pay Up
In an effort to motivate workers to kick unhealthy habits, U.S. companies are hitting them where it hurts: in their wallets.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119674051866712859.html?mod=sphere_ts