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What Changes To Health Care During The Past Ten Years Have Had The Most Profound Impact

by William DeMarco, October 28, 2009

MCOL asked me to answer the following question for their current issue of their Thought Leaders e-newsletter: "As this first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, what change(s) to health care delivery, financing or structure that have occurred during the past ten years have had the most profound impact, and why?"

My abbreviated response appears in the newsletter, but what follows if my expanded thoughts on this matter.

To review the entire decade I think would fill a library of changes but to get it down to a few changes I would have to say first that moving physicians groups from the small cottage industry of one and two man practices into multi-specialty groups that share a model of care would be something few would have thought necessary or even possible.

In the days of early medicine many physicians worried more about the patients and the noble calling of medicine. There was an entrepreneurial spirit that led many practioners to brave the lack of equipment and resources using their diagnostic skills accumulated over a life time.

Teaching medicine still focuses on watch one, do one, teach one but now we have a narrower funnel of certainty we deal with trying to use diagnostic tests, many of which we are finding have a high false/ positive outcome, and relying on larger complex hospital, clinic and university centers that in the words of medical students “made medicine into a business”.

Driving much of this was a change in reimbursement when insurers and the government stepped in between the patient and the physician offering to handle the payment and coding review and many doctors thought this was great as patients often time did not pay on time if at all and now we can bill these service bureaus claims processors for more and more volume.

That allowed practices to purchase equipment that here to fore was a hospital revenue stream. When Medicare A and B separated the fight between hospitals and doctors turned into a turf war ending with hospitals buying doctors as a bonding strategy. Integration disintegrated except for many providers who owned their own health plan and therefore could control with some precision the model of care and the type of care provided.

Our physician friends and advisors often comment on their observation of new graduates being technically savvy but unwilling to be that entrepreneur to start a practice or work 7 days a week to build a following. Instead working three days a week and having family time is a priority and it often takes 2 doctors to make up one FTE.

This same outline applies for hospitals getting bigger. Hospital systems offering tertiary care even in smaller hospitals is driven to a great extent by reimbursement where more income per patient and high volumes of complex patients are the keys to success according to many managers.

Hospital networks formed to squeeze even more reimbursement out of HMOs and Insurance companies and have succeeded in many markets to chase insurers away or demand 250% above Medicare fees for specialty care as the sole commodity in a given geographic area. This morning I heard the argument that many of these community based not for profit hospitals would eventually have to become for profit in order to survive the health reform legislation. Right now 70% of our nations hospitals are not for profit and although there is a solid economic argument to take equity out of the hospitals to refinance growth and sustainability the opposing argument is that will a for profit hospital focus on the needs of the patients or the needs of the financial enterprise that the hospital would be based upon.

Many not for profit hospitals already act like for profit hospitals forcing projects to have a economic ROI but not really be able to measure their investments in Human return on investment. Do we need tertiary care in every community? Can we even staff these needs with newly minted doctors? Are we driving our own costs up by looking at revenue gain instead of expense of this care? Will our community trust us as the local hospital? Will our physician see us as part of the noble mission or just a workshop and bank?

One only needs to look at the transition of the trusted HMO movement of the early 70s when most plans were built around a community need to inject competition and offer better benefits at traditional major medical insurance plans. Then the government allowed insurers to become HMOs and also the government stopped funding HMOs so many went to the for profit side of the equation. We see more and more consolidation of Blues plans and provider based plans as premium income and utilization go opposite directions. Over time the physician and many consumers lost faith and trust for these plans as money people took the reins of these health plans and the social entrepreneurs left to build medical management and disease management companies.

Consider then the largest single issue that has followed this evolution is the trust of the patient, well or ill, the trust of the community that helped fund and support the not for profit an the fact that as insurance executives bonuses could fund the deficits of a small country that this lifecycle in medicine of moving towards a for profit mindset has eroded peoples respect for insurers perhaps the continuous move by hospitals and even for profit physician structures is not , in itself, a solution but could be the biggest change in a decade that will erode confidence in the healing profession, reduce mutual respect for the leaders of hospitals and insurance companies and stifle the very innovation we now need to carry out the re engineering of our health system to emerge as the admired system of the future.

So loss of some levels of trust is the trade off for moving to an exclusively for profit model too quickly. I fear this more than government run insurance because it is the worst form of rationing that will eventually discriminate between profitable patients and those who restrict earnings per share.

Reader Comments (1)

Health sector was good earlier. Now there has been a change. Changes in the policies the dedication of the doctors. What the major change is the dedication of the doctors which was earlier an important thing has now come under the hands of insurers. So i think if there wouldn't be a change now then after implementation of the major Obama care there will be a problem in the major reforms.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Smith

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