“New patient in the office today had a CT scan ordered by his urologist for presumed symptomatic kidney stones, which was denied by his insurance for 2 months. I ordered the study stat, cash pay. Done 30 minutes later, $220 cost paid by the patient. Stone identified, results given same day. Treatment and care plan initiated. Now that we have a diagnosis, the urologist has the insurance logjam relieved to proceed with a care plan if our conservative therapy is ineffective. Insurance is frequently an obstacle to health care.” #DPC
FCC Unveils COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Updates Connected Care Pilot
The Federal Communications Commission is using $200 million in funding from the CARES Act to launch a new program to help providers access the broadband resources they need to support telehealth programs.
Wow, the government has discovered remote digital technology medical care! Although, maybe a little late. What would we do without those innovative minds in D.C. ?!?
But there’s a better solution that’s been up and running for more than a decade; private citizens being free to act and chose what services they value. It is a solution which occurred organically when an innovative supply side acted to solve other people’s problems within a cooperative marketplace driven by mutual benefit. It is called Direct Primary Care (DPC). And it is only possible because we still have some semblance of healthcare freedom within our society. No thanks to Washington, D.C.
But step aside, the FCC with money to burn is coming to the rescue after COVID is already in full crisis mode.
Never mind that Direct Primary Care physicians have routinely integrated remote care technology platforms into their practices for a more than a decade. And set aside the fact that revenue in a DPC business model doesn’t rely on office visits (the opposite of social distancing) to trigger a billable encounter, the claim against which is paid out of a grossly over-priced pre-paid 3rd party fund that we call health insurance. Instead, the Direct Primary Care physician is paid to be available to solve problems, answer questions, triage illness/injury, provide treatment and advice via the most appropriate venue for each patient.
And last, no disrespect meant to the media outlet below for featuring this story. They are just reporting the healthcare news, as is their mission.
Having quick access to a primary care doctor 24/7 is very appealing to Mick Lowderman, 56, who is married with two children, ages 10 and 8. He pays a monthly membership fee to AtlasMD, a direct primary care practice in Wichita, KS.
Primary care is built on the long-term relationship between clinicians and patients. A 10- to 15-minute patient visit doesn’t support that relationship, Sullivan says.
When Kevin Boyd, 64, fell on his stairs in Wichita and broke three ribs, he didn’t go the emergency room. Instead, he called Umbehr, who told him to come to his office. He referred Boyd nearby for an X-ray and dispensed pain medications at his office. The total cost was $70.
In contrast, the first time Boyd fell and broke his ribs, he had Blue Cross Blue Shield and drove himself to the ER, where he saw the ER doctor, a radiologist for an MRI, and got shots for his pain. The total bill was $14,000, and he paid $2,600.
“I don’t put off care the way I used to because of the money I save,” says Boyd, who joined AtlasMD in 2015.
For his monthly membership fee of $75, Boyd gets several benefits, including unlimited 24/7 access to Umbehr by text, email, or phone, extended same- or next-day office visits, and free diagnostic tests and office procedures, such as EKGs, DEXA scans, and body fat analysis. If Boyd gets really sick and needs a house call, or if he needs a phone consult when traveling, those are also included in the fee.
My teaching session with the medical student at the end of the day included a discussion about patient care decisions and recommendations that go beyond ticking quality boxes and following the latest guidelines. Initially, I felt as if I was rationalizing my delivery of suboptimal care and began to doubt myself.
However, the quality reports I receive each month do not capture the complexity of many patients’ lives.4 These reports fail to reflect the individualized and shared decisions made between a patient and her physician who have known each other for 15 years; the proprietary quality score calculation formulas do not adjust for the healing power of relationships.5 Amid the mounting evidence that primary care saves lives,6 our health care system does not (yet) have a population health analytics tool that captures and tracks the progress that she and I have made together in more than a decade. When will we create better systems with capabilities to measure the emergency department visits that were prevented, the stable housing that was obtained, the increased resiliency she has built into her life, her feelings of empowerment to be a better parent, the reduction in her self-destructive behaviors, and the trusting relationship we have built over time?
“I am often asked if the free market can work in health care. My quick reply is: That is the only thing that works. At least, it is the only thing that works well.
Show me a health care market where there is no Blue Cross, no Medicare and no employer. I’ll bet it’s a market that works a lot like the markets for other goods and services.
In Overcharged: Why Americans Pay Too Much for Health Care (Cato: 2018), law professors Charles Silver and David Hyman make this same point in spades.
After several decades of trying everything from managed care to value-based purchasing, employers need to sit up and take note. The authors say the only thing that really holds down costs is giving money to the employees and letting them buy their own health care. “There is no health care cost crisis in the retail sector,” they write, and there “never has been.”
Atlas MD in Wichita, Kansas, for example, provides just about every service you can get at a primary care doctor’s office for $50 to $75 a month for adults (depending on age) and $10 for a child. Doctors are available by phone or email 24/7. Drugs cost less than what Medicaid pays. Medical tests are cheap. A cholesterol test is $3, a tiny fraction of the charge that the lab they deal with bills to insurers. An MRI scan costs $400 instead of the typical third party charge of $2,000.
What about expensive hospital care? That too can look like retail medicine if you know where to look. The Surgery Center of Oklahoma (SOC), founded by Drs. Keith Smith and Steve Lantier, posts prices for 112 common surgical procedures. They deal mostly in cash and they don’t take Medicare or Medicaid or negotiate prices with insurance companies. One of SOC’s competitors is Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. The contrast couldn’t be starker, as the authors note:
Integris charged $33,505 for a complex bilateral sinus procedure, which helps patients with chronic nasal infections. This bill covered only hospitalization; the fees for the surgeon and the anesthesiologist were extra. At SOC, the all-inclusive price for the same operation is $5,885. Not surprisingly, Integris’s bill was loaded with overcharges, including $360 for a steroid available at wholesale for just 75 cents, and $630 for three doses of a pain killer called fentanyl citrate, which altogether cost the hospital about $1.50.”
New developments in retail medicine are almost always the product of entrepreneurial thinking. Sometimes the entrepreneurs are medical doctors. Sometimes they are business types with a strong interest in eliminating the many inefficiencies in traditional health care.”
This week , another nail in the carbohydrate coffin as a small but rigorous study appearing in JCI Insight suggests that a low-carb, high-fat diet improves the metabolic syndromeeven when weight doesn’t change.
“…an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen…The one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.” ~ Frederic Bastiat
Treating Pain in Primary Care
“If there is ever a case for patient-centered care, it is probably the chronic pain patient, especially the older chronic pain patient,” Vega suggests.
He recalled the case of a 72-year-old retiree with chronic degenerative disease of the spine. “She also had stage IV chronic kidney disease, hypertension, and diabetes, all fairly stable and well-controlled. It would be a huge mistake to put her on chronic anti-inflammatory drugs; acetaminophen doesn’t do enough, and she has trouble accessing physical therapy,” he explained. “What really sets her free is tramadol once a day, which she takes in the morning. And then she uses acetaminophen the rest of the day. When I last wrote her the usual prescription, the pharmacy denied it, saying she didn’t have a chronic condition and was at risk for overdose. They didn’t notify me and she went 10 days without therapy. She finally called me, asking why I had withheld her medicine, and I didn’t know what she was talking about.”
Notes from a doctor with a laptop, a house call bag and a fountain pen
I thought to myself about how often specialists are in a position where they can simply declare “Not my department”, but primary care docs are then more or less obligated to pick up the ball again and do something.
Two weeks later, Red was a new man.
I’m sleeping through the night, and no pain”, he grinned.
I still don’t know exactly what this was, but it’s gone.
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