Industry Voices—Technology alone won't save healthcare. We must revisit our primary care roots

Strong primary care needs to be the focus in improving healthcare. (Getty/Milkos)

People are standing by today’s disastrous status quo healthcare system, and quite frankly, it’s nonsensical.

Rather than defending something that is clearly broken out of fear that change will make things worse—though it’s hard to imagine how—it’s time to stop seeking security in tradition and enact change.

But change does not mean exclusively introducing new technologies to an old system and hoping that by piling on something new and shiny, all is well with the world. Technological innovation is essential, however, speaking as the CEO and co-founder of a system that streamlined clinician and patient access to health information, there is a time and place for everything.

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Even if the technology is revolutionary, cutting-edge, top-of-the-line and every other buzzword out there, its full potential and effectiveness will not be realized if brought into a flawed system.

If we want to truly fix the healthcare problems we continue to be plagued with (unnecessary emergency room and urgent care visits because people don’t have time to wait for a primary care appointment, physician burn out, etc.) we need to start by revisiting the foundation of our primary care model, implementing creative strategies as we move upwards.

RELATED: Regulatory changes and technology demands will drive physician practice mergers and acquisitions in 2018

Who must take that first step forward? Employers.

It’s important that employers trust their benefits brokers, but comfort can lead to complacency and wind up costing them and their employees financially and physically. Brokers can be salespeople, provided incentives to sell clients certain plans even if they are not in their clients’ best interests. A misaligned broker may present an employer with some sort of whiz-bang technology demo, but no matter how impressive that technology may be, employers are often spending 20% to 55% more per capita than necessary, with fewer benefits.

To save money and also ensure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck, employers need to keep an open and ongoing dialogue with highly aligned benefits advisers, plus keep the system in check with their own research.

Once this is addressed, the foundation for establishing quality primary care will be set and enhancements, like telehealth, can be added. Presently, telehealth, which would prevent a doctor from needing to have face-to-face appointments with patients to get paid, is being treated as its own entity. Looking to the future, it should be incorporated into an existing value-based primary care model alongside virtual primary care, which takes more of an ongoing approach. With virtual primary care, a care team continues to work with a patient, likely one who doesn’t actually need to see a doctor.

Two-thirds of the time, doctors don’t need to see their patients in person to provide insight into their afflictions.

It’s these unnecessary visits that contribute to full waiting rooms of people who think they need to see a doctor but don’t. As a result, those that do need a doctor are forced to wait, worsening pain, potentially life-threatening conditions and, in turn, demanding more time from providers.

Time is something that is already in short supply for a number of reasons: many doctors who initially went into primary care settings have since left primary care due to the miserable nature of the day-to-day, and those that have stayed are not only fewer, but are forced to spend two hours satisfying insurance bureaucracy demands for every hour they spend with a patient, on average.

RELATED: Focus on advanced primary care improves success of ACOs, study finds

Once the bureaucracy is removed, not only will existing primary care doctors have more time to see patients, but medical professionals who have gone into other specialties may be more inclined to move into what was once a pained primary care setting.

The importance of proper primary care is so vital, all options should be on the table. If there isn’t an influx of medical professionals wanting to move into primary care, all hope is not lost because other health professionals—nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and paramedics who visit homes between calls to check on people with ongoing needs—should also be able to play a part in the primary care process. Already, modern primary care directly incorporates other health professionals such as physical therapy, pharmacists, chiropractors, dieticians, behavioral health and health coaches.

And even still, if demand persists, we have at our disposal a wealth of experienced international primary care physicians wishing to practice in America, but who are unable to do so even if they are already in the United States because of re-licensing difficulties.

All of these things—employers doing their research and looking critically at what their brokers propose, then enhancing the system using proven strategies like telehealth, remote health monitoring, removing insurance bureaucracy and tapping into the multitude of other health professionals—will turn today’s disastrous status quo healthcare system on its head and enable a much brighter future.

Dave Chase is Founder of The Health Rosetta, LLC. 

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