Jun 06

Health Reform Regardless of Supreme Court’s Decision

by Wayne Oliver – Healthcare Consultant
Originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on June 6, 2012

Legal experts and political pundits are filling the airwaves and newsprint with their thoughts on what will happen to federal health reform (ObamaCare) when the US Supreme Court rules later this month (NFIB v Sebelius). What will happen to the individual mandate? Will they strike down the entire law? What about insurance coverage for my 24-year old college student?

All that speculation aside, there are common sense reforms that are being implemented today — in the private sector — without 2,700+ pages of Congressional mandates.

Let’s pick three areas where we can make a difference NOW: 1) Accelerate a Patient-Centered Model of Care; 2) Support the migration to Health Information Technology (Health IT) by Physicians and Hospitals; and 3) Demand Disclosure and Transparency of Healthcare Quality and Price Measures.

We should accelerate the development of a patient-centered model of care. When providers put the patient at the center of the relationship and do what is in the patient’s best interest, incredible things happen. Just ask patients about their experience at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City or Geisinger Health System in Central Pennsylvania or the one of the Mayo Clinics nationwide.

And, there is a hospital coming to Georgia later this summer which embraces a patient-centered model of care. Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) has not only adopted this model, they have made it part of the cancer hospitals’ corporate culture. CTCA is opening a new state-of-the-art facility in Newnan, where they have spent countless hours training doctors, nurses, staff members and technicians about how to put the patient first. From providing locally grown, organic foods for their patients to help the body fight cancer to dynamic scheduling programs which minimize patient hassle and discomfort, CTCA has fully embraced a patient-centered model of care that focuses on the individual needs of the individual patient.

While adoption of health IT by healthcare professionals and hospital systems is growing, there is significant progress yet to be made. According to Surescripts, half of the prescriptions issued this year will be electronically transmitted. In other words, half of the prescriptions will still be written in a such a manner that only chicken scratch interpreters and some pharmacists can decipher.

Health IT makes too much such sense. Physicians who are using electronic health records (EHR) have access to clinical best practices which can improve medical outcomes. Additionally, EHR systems can reduce redundant tests like CT scans and x-rays and some can suggest alternative treatment plans for unique patients. Health IT not only saves lives and saves money, it can help prevent avoidable medical errors.

Back in March, in this space, we commended WellStar Health System in Cobb and Douglas Counties for creating teams of healthcare professionals who are dedicated to using data and performance measures to further advance patient safety efforts. (Read column.) This dedication to driving quality through health IT has resulted in zero errors in the each of neonatal intensive care units … systemwide.

Lastly, we should demand transparency in healthcare services … both in terms of price and quality. As patients, caregivers, and concerned taxpayers, we should know which healthcare providers are performing well and which facilities are excelling at certain procedures. Similarly, we should which doctors and which hospitals to avoid.

It is a little known but sad, dirty secret that medical device manufacturers prohibit hospitals from disclosing the price of artificial knees and hips … even to Medicare or Medicaid. Transparency in price and quality is important to competition … which something the medical device manufacturing industry does not want.

Regardless of what the Court decides to do, we should begin implementing common sense health reform. We should accelerate the development of a patient-centered model of medical care.  We should support the migration to Health IT by physicians and hospitals. And, finally, we should require disclosure and transparency of healthcare prices by providers including medical devices as well as the quality of care being provided by physicians and hospitals.

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