Few industries are driven more by innovation than the health care industry. New drugs, treatments and technology not only save lives but decrease both access to and cost of care for patients. Access to affordable and convenient health care has become increasingly difficult and costly over the past decade. New products and technologies have emerged to help fill this gap, three prominent examples are telemedicine, direct primary care and retail health clinics.
Telemedicine, which is the use of information technology in the diagnosis, treatment, or monitoring of patients’ conditions, can dramatically lower health care costs while increasing access for patients, especially those in underserved areas. Telemedicine has existed for years at a basic level, but the technology has now advanced to the point where the full process of diagnosis, analysis, and prescribed treatment can often be done remotely.
Telemedicine can provide health care services to more people who need it at a lower cost. It is hampered by government regulations, not by inadequate technology or a lack of demand. The government should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers. Instead of enabling blatant cronyism, state legislators should work to encourage telemedicine by reforming licensing standards to allow physicians to treat patients across state lines and to work to streamline credentialing.
Current primary care doctors face myriad regulations and a reimbursement system that is both slow and costly; creating overhead that can eat up to 60 percent of a typical primary care practice’s revenue. Direct primary care (DPC), also known as “retainer medicine,” is one health care provider model that has become increasingly popular for doctors and patients alike and could serve to revitalize the U.S. primary care system.
Under a direct primary care program, patients pay a monthly membership fee, typically ranging from around $50 to $80. As part of the membership, the patients receive a more generous allocation of appointments than under traditional plans, even allowing in some instances for same day appointment or house calls. DPC eliminate burdensome insurance approvals and paperwork, which require a large staff to navigate. Federal requirements also lock doctors into certain treatments to receive reimbursement; DPC’s allow doctors more freedom to treat each of their patients based on their concerns and observations. Costs across the board would decrease as emergency room, hospitalization and specialist visits decline.
Another innovation has moved health care out of doctors’ offices and into retail locations which are often far more convenient for consumers. The new model utilizes retail health care (RHC) clinics to simplify the distribution of basic health services and provide needed care at a lower cost, which improves the convenience of receiving care for patients. Retail clinics, which operate in shopping centers, pharmacies, or multipurpose stores, offer basic acute and preventative care services for patients.
RHC clinics provide an affordable, transparent service without the heavy hand of government to guide it. Laws and regulations governing the safety and transparency of retail health clinics are appropriate, necessary, and already in existence.
State legislators need to be careful not to hinder innovation the growth of an industry that has brought affordable and convenient basic health care services to millions by imposing more regulations.