The U.S. government finally has announced intentions to become involved in our $2.2 trillion healthcare system. Now everyone wants to say something. Most longtime players in healthcare indignantly rebut any new input and opinions with “How dare you! … You stay away from my holy cow of entitlements (insured patients), or salary (doctors), or bonuses (insurance companies), or profits (pharmaceutical companies), or the ability to sue (lawyers.)”
I join my voice to President Obama’s statement that the single most important problem to solve in our healthcare systems is cost. The tidal wave of catastrophe rushing towards America is the expenditure of healthcare dollars doubling every 7-10 years.
Few will argue against the ideal of universal health coverage, yet this noble ideal comes with an enormous price tag and many less than honorable behaviors by all players in the system. The wasted and misallocated money lost every year in healthcare makes Madoff’s Ponzi scheme look like child’s play, and yet it continues. We finally have awoken the dormant giant of politicians to do what no one else says they will do, and the government’s intervention in the form of healthcare reform seems imminent.
Doctors were captains of the healthcare system until 1980s. They were dethroned because health care costs had doubled every seven years since 1945. Then insurance companies gladly took the helm. Guess what? After 20 year of their leadership, the price of healthcare has continued to double on average of every 10 years. Now the government is positioned to step in and fix it.
Big Brother might “force” each of us healthcare players to be held accountable including all of us as patients. This fear of change leads to finger pointing, name calling, blaming, grandstanding, and claiming, “Oh the ridiculous price healthcare … it’s not my fault and I shouldn’t have to change or fix it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We all have to fix healthcare, and never forget, it’s about the price.
How do we create a health care system that provides the widest access, the best bang for the buck, the fairest distribution of money, and inflates at the same speed as the rest of the economy?
For primary care, two pathways are clear: the career path or the professional practitioner path. With the career model, doctors can work for someone else (like Kaiser, Medicare, an insurance company, or a hospital), and can expect a salary and benefits. In return, these employers oversee and influence how career doctors do their jobs, their hours, their interactions with patients, how they communicate with patients, and often what medications should be prescribed. We have 20 years of experience with the “career pathway.” We allowed others to interfere in the doctor patient relationship, help us ”manage” our patients, and decide what’s “reimbursable.” The soul of our work and the trust of our patients evaporated. Many believe this pathway will spell the extinction of the primary care “specialist.”
The other pathway is the primary care doctor as a professional, with a mission that focuses on the patient not just for quality, but for trust and price, and following these key objectives:
- Restoring the soul and viability of the doctor patient relationship,
- Delivering the highest quality care, and
- Restoring a pricing integrity which reduces cost.
This professional primary care doctor will restore the patient-doctor relationship with a modern office that is mobile, can be reached anywhere and anytime, has virtually no staff, minimal overhead costs, transparent pricing, and is powered through a customized software that finds the patient chart, instantly looks up any pharmacy or radiology center, can contact any specialist, can instantly look at differentials, drug interactions, gets notifications when patients have something “due,” has a large number of patient education resources that can be emailed to the patient including articles from the medical literature and refereed internet sites that can educate patients, and does all the billing from the same platform the moment that the note is closed.
An individual’s day-to-day health is not “best managed” under third-party payers. We need insurance or government to manage expensive problems or catastrophe, like cancer, serious injuries or ongoing health problems. Yet sixty years of conditioning has left most unable to see the obvious: extract the day-to-day care cost from the insurance model and return these funds to all Americans (about $700 billion/year), stop holding the consumer hostage, make doctors compete again for the consumer on price, quality, knowledge, access, convenience, relationship — just like every other service industry. Finally, bring an end the $20 co-pay mentality for the patient and “the funnel” for the doctor.
This is possible, and is being done today with the practice I founded, doctokr Family Medicine, (www.doctokr.com). Our patients pay out-of-pocket for all the primary and urgent care healthcare services they receive. We charge on a transparent time-based fee basis, where five minutes of the doctor’s time costs around $25. Our patients can contact or see us anytime, day or night, and consult with us via phone, email, in our offices or by house calls, with over 50% of all of our patients’ healthcare issues being resolved by phone or email. About 75% of our patients pay less than $300 per year for all of their primary and urgent care needs. We’ve built a relationship with each patient and spend as much time as they want with us.
In the weeks ahead I invite all readers and colleagues to consider the road less traveled. Consider primary care doctors standing-up, reclaiming their profession, embracing and being embraced by the American population. And imagine happier patients and doctors, healthier patients and that the delivery of that care costs 50% less than now.
Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,
Alan Dappen, MD