As we entered the new year, I reflected on my experience in the healthcare industry as a professional and as a patient. Specifically, I thought about not only how the industry can address the challenges we face in healthcare today, but also how we as patients can help with a solution.
In my post at the close of 2015, I claimed that every healthcare system is facing the same three issues, or as I like to call them, the three absolutes:
- Treating more patients
- Reducing costs
- Improving quality of care and outcomes
All providers are either facing these challenges now or will face them in the near future.
How can we cut costs while also finding the resources to treat more patients and improve their outcomes? Well, the connection between these absolutes actually allows providers to address them as a whole. Because they are so interrelated, we can’t discuss one of the absolutes without discussing how it relates to another. Let’s start with treating more patients and look at how each absolute relates to the next.
Treating more patients
As the patient population continues to increase, providers globally will have more people to treat, especially as the baby boomers enter the most costly era of their healthcare needs. Additionally, in the U.S., millions of previously uninsured people are now insured under the Affordable Care Act. Providers will need to be prepared to treat all of these patients.
On the surface this appears to be a daunting task; however, there are several steps that we can take to move toward a solution. Before I get into these steps, let me provide some context.
Older generations will tell you their idea of healthcare involves a visit to their doctor’s office or a trip to a hospital for a battery of tests or possibly a procedure. Today the younger generation leans toward using a variety of outpatient facilities and resources including telehealth. Because they approach healthcare this way, younger people don’t need to wait days or even weeks to see a physician. The result? Providers can treat patients in a more efficient and effective way that can reduce their costs and their patients’ costs.
Providers can cut costs by educating patients on the importance of seeking care in the most appropriate clinical setting and seeking care promptly. When patients go to the most appropriate setting, clinicians can practice at the top level of their license instead of performing duties that could be handled by others.
For instance, if a patient decides to go to the emergency room to seek treatment for a simple illness like a sore throat, the provider risks incurring the cost of paying an overqualified, highly specialized clinician to treat an illness that could have been treated for less by a clinician at a walk-in clinic. Or if a patient gets sick on a weekend and waits to go to the clinic until Monday, the illness has a chance to progress and ultimately cost more to treat. When patients get the right level of care at the right time, providers can not only cut costs but also improve patient outcomes.
Providers will also need to focus on what they should do as opposed to what they can do. They can give the most aggressive treatment or do extensive tests on patients by default, but should they? Doing that certainly won’t cut costs, and sometimes it doesn’t provide the best quality of life and best outcomes for patients.
Prevention is a key way to improve outcomes. Even when given good instructions, some patients don’t follow their treatment plans. If we can find new ways to make treatment plans easier and more convenient for patients to follow, their care will be managed and they won’t need additional medical intervention that increases providers’ costs and patient loads. And now we’ve come full circle and related improving outcomes to reducing costs and finally to treating more patients.
Of course, addressing these challenges won’t be easy. Each one is very complex. Providers, governments, payers, and suppliers will have to work together with a long-term vision to solve the challenges of the three absolutes.
How do we continue to provide value to patients and those who serve patients?
What steps do you think we can take this year to start overcoming these challenges?
David Reed is currently Vice President of Operations, Vice President of Healthcare Business Solutions for Cook Medical Incorporated. With over 30 years of life science industry expertise Dave holds an MBA from California Miramar University and serves as a member of the Indiana University Kelly School of Business Supply Chain and Global Management Academy Advisory Board.