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When Faster, Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Published February 29, 2016 9:02 AM by Silas Gossman

[Editor’s Note: this blog was originally written by Matthew Jacobson, President and CEO, SignatureMD ]       

The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented healthcare shift as Baby Boomers age. This shift is delivering a one—two punch, namely this aging population requires more and more healthcare, while the boomer physicians that deliver it are retiring at record rates.  So, what does this mean? Simply put, a dangerous physician shortage and out of control medical expenses.

Our aging population exacerbates the situation, generating more incidences of chronic disease, with Americans 50+ years of age experiencing more multiple chronic diseases than any other age group. Indeed, 86% of the $3 trillion spent on healthcare last year in the U.S. was spent on people with one or more chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC.

As a result, both employers and employees have to pay more for healthcare. Healthcare premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage have increased by 87% since 2000. Healthcare coverage costs for people with a chronic condition average $6,032 annually—five times higher than for people without such a condition.

The great irony is that many of the chronic conditions that plague Americans are largely preventable, including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, alcohol and drug addiction and, to a significant degree, arthritis and cancer.

To state a familiar refrain, the U.S. spends 50% more money on healthcare per capita than any other developed nation, yet has the lowest life expectancy and the worst overall health.

Now for punch number two:  primary care physicians are retiring at record rates, but new medical school graduates are not going into primary care because the economics do not work. This shortage has forced society to look for other delivery systems for primary care, like urgent care clinics utilizing non-physician medical providers. These new delivery systems provide disjointed care and poor patient service.  

Clearly, something is wrong with our current healthcare system. Now, if you have been to a doctor in the last few years, you’re likely to already have experienced the problem. Medicine today has become a business where speed and efficiency are valued as the endgame, in effect marginalizing the wellness of the patient. This assembly line approach to delivering services works well on scores of things like fast food and building automobiles. But healthcare demands a certain degree of personalization, and this is where the assembly line approach fails not only the individual, but also society as a whole.

So, what do we do? One approach is to bring medicine back to the basics where developing a patient-doctor bond is more important than ordering a myriad of diagnostic tests. A movement is afoot among primary care doctors (GPs, family doctors, internists, pediatricians) to re-focus health care on preventing chronic diseases in the first place rather than merely treating their symptoms. It’s called different things—concierge medicine, direct primary care, slow medicine—but doctors who practice it all share the common belief that there’s no substitute for time in attending to an individual patient’s needs.

Now you might think it costs more to obtain this kind of care. But industry studies have demonstrated that patients who receive a personalized approach to medicine have fewer hospitalizations, and it’s especially effective with Baby Boomers and others who have multiple chronic diseases.

The need to rethink and re-evaluate the shifting healthcare landscape is more critical than ever, starting with the fundamental concept of paying proper attention to patients’ wellbeing. 

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posted by Silas Gossman

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