17% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP or economy) is from healthcare. This is 8% more than other developed nations. But we don’t have a population with better health then other nations. The U.S. is 26th in life expectancy. (This is information reported by the Peterson Center on Healthcare. More on them later.)
One reason we have such high expenditure on healthcare is we haven’t been the best consumers of healthcare. Insurance coverage has made it too easy to not take responsibility for our health. We are a “fast food” fix it quick society.
There are consumer advocacy groups that are trying to help people be better consumers of healthcare. From these groups, have come websites and apps that give costs for medical services in your area. Healthcare Blue Book lists “fair” prices for self-pay patients. New Choice Health will help you compare Healthcare Blue Book prices with the list prices for medical facilities in your area. VIMO provides average retail and discounted prices for hospital procedures. You will see the average full list price or detail price a self-pay patient is likely to be billed. And you will see the “negotiated national average price” or what insurers pay. This amount can be as much as 70% less than ‘retail’ price.
With knowledge of pricing, you can better negotiate your costs or where services are provided.
Another reason our nation has a higher expenditure on healthcare is a lack of response by the industry to lower costs. Again another reason consumer advocacy groups are springing up. They are trying to bring transparency to the medical field in costs and access to your own medical information.
However it was the Dow Jones, the parent company of Wall Street Journal that went to court to challenge a 1979 injunction prohibiting the disclosure of payments made to doctors under the Medicare system. The Dow Jones wanted to see transparency of where our tax payer dollars are going. 2012 was the first release of such information.
While there was some “sensationalism” that doctors experienced; there was also exposure of some doctors that were “outliers” in their billing. Appropriate medical boards reviewed costs and procedures for specific patient cases. This “transparency” has allowed for better self-policing of medical practices.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in medical costs will come through technology. Not just any technology, but technology in the hands of the consumer i.e. smartphones.
Already, smartphones can take blood pressure, do an electrocardiogram. The smartphones take the data and interpret it. The patient can send the information to the doctor to get directions or just add to your records. This has been approved already by the Food & Drug Administration.
With a smartphone, you can take a picture of a rash and an app will process it through its database and give you a diagnosis and treatment recommendation. That recommendation may include seeing your dermatologist.
There are attachments being developed to help diagnose and monitor a patient’s condition. For example, evaluate a child’s eardrum and make recommendations avoiding a trip to the pediatrician. Apps are under design to perform many lab procedures.
You can have a secure video consultation with a doctor on your smartphone for the same cost as your insurance co-pay. Deloitte & Teusche predicts that virtual physician visits will soon become the norm.
More breakthroughs will come as medical data gets stored in the cloud. This is going to provide integration and analysis of data that can lead to prevention and cure of diseases. Computers can process information more effectively than humans.
Yet technology can’t completely replace the human component. It can help reduce costs and help patients have better access to their own medical information. How do you improve the quality of medical care and lower the costs? Several foundations and organizations are studying this.
Peterson Center on Healthcare is one organization looking for ways to improve the delivery of healthcare. The Peterson Center is looking at healthcare organizations across the nation that are touted for providing quality care and with lower costs. In other words, Peterson Center is doing what Ray Kroc did when he franchised McDonalds. How do we get consistent results and deliver the same quality product each and every time?
What Peterson Center found is high performance brought better results. Better outcomes for the patient. This ultimately results in lower costs. What Peterson found as a pattern among high performing medical providers were three ways these providers differed from others:
- The provider was more connected to their patient. They were aware of the patient as a whole person. Many providing home visits as that revealed information you didn’t receive from patients responses to questions.
- A sense of doctor relationship with other doctors. There was a co-ordination of information, awareness of all medications the patient was receiving.
- Providers did not try to do it ALL themselves. The focus was on the well-being of the patient. What did the patient need and who could provide that.
With organizations like Peterson Center on Healthcare and technology advancements with smartphones, the consumer will have an easier pathway to good health at lower costs.