Monday, June 8, 2009

Health Care in America, Part II

LILI SACKS, a primary care doctor in Seattle, says she began thinking differently about her work on the day she realized she was beginning each appointment with the words, “Sorry I’m late.”
The above is a quote from a recent article in the New York Times on health care... it is a perfect follow up to the New Yorker article I talked about a few weeks ago. Here's what follows that quote:

Scheduled to see as many as 25 patients a day at a large clinic, she lacked the time for thorough examinations and discussions. Because of this, she said, primary care doctors are often forced to order tests and send patients to specialists.

“Could I have helped some people without specialists and tests? Absolutely,” said Dr. Sacks. “Would it have saved the patient and the insurance company both money? Absolutely. Is the system set up for the best care and cost efficiency? Absolutely not.”

Dr. Sacks said she worried that seeing so many patients would lead to errors.
Much of this article talks about the "direct practice" model of medicine, which for many physicians translates to: each patient pays them a monthly fee, but then gets to see the doc for no cost, including many tests, pretty much as soon as and as often as needed. Dr. Sacks, in this article, switches her practice to a direct-practice model, and speaks very highly of it in the article.

Last year, she moved to a clinic that focuses on longer patient appointments, 30 to 60 minutes. This translates to 10 to 12 patients a day. Patients also communicate directly with her by phone or e-mail.

During those longer appointments, Dr. Sacks can perform basic lab tests and simple procedures, so patients see fewer specialists.
I've been skeptical of this kind of service - worried about an even further separation between the wealthy and the poor in the type of health care they receive. But here's an argument from this article that I think makes a great deal of sense (italics mine):
Dr. Sacks said the financial mechanics of the direct-practice model match her medical goals. When she was compensated based on insurance, she was paid every time she saw a patient. Now, if she can use education and prevention to reduce office visits, she and her patients benefit, she said.
One thing (among many) required to make this model work would be a welcoming atmosphere... a "we want to see you" kind of attitude... at the doctor's office. Preventative care requires a doctor be able to see patients before diseases strike or progress too far. However, I can imagine if I was paying $100 a month for health care out of pocket, on top of insurance, I'd want to feel free to walk into my doc's office anytime I darn well felt like it.

Is anyone using this model? Do you like it?

I'm all about reducing the cost of health care. Imagine if it came with better care too!

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