Next Things First

Everything but Touch and Smell by charlottegee
October 2, 2008, 9:57 am
Filed under: finance/revenue cycle, health it, wellness | Tags: , ,

The Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune had an article yesterday titled “If you think HMOs were different, just you wait.” The author brought up some of the recent trends (“experiments” they are called) going on in the health care industry — ones that specifically impact health care consumers. None of these are new, but it’s interesting to see that these ideas and practices have indeed reached the mainstream. Sort of like when you hear Cat Power cover David Bowie for a Lincoln car ad.

First, the article discusses telemedicine, and, how with CMS reimbursements changing in January, people are taking another look at its benefits:

Dr. Thomas Harman has been caring for some very sick patients for the past two months. Including some he’s never met.

From miles away, the Mayo Clinic family doctor listens to their hearts — instructing patients at home to hold a stethoscope to their chests while Harman dons headphones to listen via a computer.

On a special touchscreen, they answer his questions about how they feel and input their weights, temperatures and other vital readings. Some have diabetes or chronic lung disease or are obese. …

The devices are made by AmericanTeleCare of Eden Prairie. Its devices have been used by astronauts on space missions and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in remote corners of the world. There are about 3,000 of the devices across the country, about one-third used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“You can do pretty much everything except touch and smell the patient,” said Dr. Randall Moore, chief executive of AmericanTeleCare.

Also discussed are the now ubiquitous employee wellness programs, including onsite clinics that conduct screenings and coordinate care with worker’s primary care doctors (“a shift from illness treatment to wellness treatment”).

And then there are the machines that act like ATMs, but dispense meds instead of moolah:

InstyMeds Corp. of Eden Prairie makes a refrigerator-sized machine that dispenses prescriptions. Doctors give patients a prescription and a personal identification number to punch into the machine, usually located in the doctor’s office, an urgent care clinic or emergency room.

The drug “ATM” dispenses common pain medication and antibiotics, “things that help people right now,” said Robert Bang, InstyMeds director of sales and marketing. The bottles are prepacked, and scanners check the bar code three times before the drugs are dispensed.

Finally, the upfront payment trend is mentioned, with a warning to consumers to get ready to pay upfront for care.

Now some doctors are looking at installing kiosks and other devices to swipe a credit card upfront — just like at hotels and car rental companies. The card is charged only after a service has been performed and the insurer clarifies how much is owed.

We’ve already seen the backlash against upfront payments. How will these other “experiments in efficiency” pan out? Any change in procedure, especially with something as personal as health care, is often looked at with wary eyes. But my guess is that if these experiments actually save the patient precious time and prevent the frustration of, say, standing in line at the hospital pharmacy for half an hour after you’ve had a procedure and just want to go home, they might be welcomed with open arms.

Posted by CharlotteGee