Tag Archives: emergency room

free clinic

What New Delhi’s Free Clinics Can Teach U.S.

Rupandeep Kaur, 20 weeks pregnant, arrived at a medical clinic looking fatigued and ready to collapse. After being asked her name and address, she was taken to see a physician who reviewed her medical history, asked several questions and ordered a series of tests, including blood and urine. These tests revealed that her fetus was healthy but that Kaur had dangerously low hemoglobin and blood pressure levels. The physician, Alka Choudhry, ordered an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital.

All of this, including the medical tests, happened in 15 minutes at the Peeragarhi Relief Camp in New Delhi, India. The entire process was automated — from check-in, to retrieval of medical records, to testing and analysis and ambulance dispatch. The hospital also received Kaur’s medical records electronically. There was no paperwork filled out, no bills sent to the patient or insurance company, no delay of any kind. Yes, it was all free.

The hospital treated Kaur for mineral and protein deficiencies and released her the same day. Had she not received timely treatment, she may have had a miscarriage or lost her life.

This process was more efficient and advanced than any clinic I have seen in the West. And Kaur wasn’t the only patient; there were at least a dozen other people who received free medical care and prescriptions in the one hour that I spent at Peeragrahi in early March.

The facility, called the “mohalla” (or people’s) clinic, was opened in July 2015 by Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal.  This is the first of 1,000 clinics that he announced would be opened in India’s capital for the millions of people in need. Delhi’s health minister, Satyendar Jain, who came up with the idea for the clinics, told me he believes that not only will they reduce suffering but also overall costs — because people will get timely care and not be a burden on hospital emergency rooms.

The technology that made the instant diagnosis possible at Peeragarhi was a medical device called the Swasthya Slate. This $600 device, the size of a cake tin, performs 33 common medical tests including blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, blood haemoglobin, urine protein and glucose. And it tests for diseases such as malaria, dengue, hepatitis, HIV and typhoid. Each test only takes a minute or two, and the device uploads its data to a cloud-based medical-record management system that can be accessed by the patient.

The Swasthya Slate was developed by Kanav Kahol, who was a biomedical engineer and researcher at Arizona State University’s department of biomedical informatics until he became frustrated at the lack of interest by the medical establishment in reducing the cost of diagnostic testing. He worried that billions of people were getting no medical care or substandard care because of the medical industry’s motivation in keeping prices high. In 2011, he returned home to New Delhi to develop a solution.

Swasthya Slate is a mobile kit that empowers front-line health workers with usable technology for prevention diagnosis care and referral of diseases. The Swasthya Slate kit was launched in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Ministry of Health in 2014. (Swasthya Slate)

 

Kahol had noted that, despite the similarities between medical devices in their computer displays and circuits, their packaging made them unduly complex and difficult for anyone but highly skilled practitioners to use. They were also incredibly expensive — usually costing tens of thousands of dollars each. He believed he could take the same sensors and microfluidics technologies that the expensive medical devices used and integrate them into an open medical platform. And with off-the-shelf computer tablets, cloud computing and artificial intelligence software, he could simplify the data analysis in a way that minimally trained front-line workers could understand.

By January 2013, Kahol had built the Swasthya Slate and persuaded the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in Northern India, to allow its use in six underserved districts with a population of 2.1 million people. The device is now in use at 498 clinics there. Focusing on reproductive maternal and child health, the system has been used to provide prenatal care to more than 22,000 mothers. Of these, 277 mothers were diagnosed as high-risk and provided timely care. Mothers are getting care in their villages now instead of having to travel to clinics in cities.

A newer version of the Slate, called HealthCube, was tested last month by nine teams of physicians and technology, operations and marketing experts at Peru’s leading hospital, Clinica Internacional. They tested its accuracy against the Western equipment that they use, its durability in emergency room and clinical settings, the ability of minimally trained clinicians to use it in rural settings and its acceptability to patients. Clinica’s general manager, Alvaro Chavez Tori, told me in an email that the tests were highly successful, and “acceptance of the technology was amazingly high.” He sees this technology as a way of helping the millions of people in Peru and the rest of Latin America who lack access to quality diagnostics.

The opportunity is bigger than Latin America, however. When it comes to healthcare, the U.S. has many of the same problems as the developing world. Despite the Affordable Care Act, 33 million Americans ,or 10% of the U.S. population, still lacks health insurance. These people are disproportionately poor, black or Hispanic, and 4.5 million are children. They receive less preventive care and suffer from more serious illness — which are extremely costly to treat. Emergency rooms of hospitals are overwhelmed by uninsured patients seeking basic medical care. And even when they have insurance, families are often bankrupted by medical costs.

It may well be time for America to build mohalla clinics in its cities.

Why Healthcare Costs Bleed Firms Dry

“It is impossible to prove something to someone whose salary depends on believing the opposite.” – Upton Sinclair

Today’s overpriced healthcare system is hurting American businesses and job creation, eating into profitability and, quite frankly, bleeding companies dry. What’s worse, the lack of cost control and price transparency have created a culture of helplessness and even resignation.

But employers have had enough. Many are rising up and demanding change. They want lower costs and better care for their people and will no longer tolerate the status quo.

In 2007, I made it my mission to put an end to overpriced healthcare when my own companies’ healthcare costs were cutting dangerously into the bottom lines. At the time, I operated numerous healthcare clinics throughout the Phoenix metro area. We found our best hourly employees were leaving us for jobs at larger corporations with better health insurance, and we couldn’t attract replacements with the same level of training. Productivity and efficiency plummeted. It was an absolute mess, and I felt like a failed CEO.

But we discovered a secret that no one else seemed to know – or at least nobody seemed to be saying aloud. It’s a secret we uncovered when we started doing something I had never heard of anyone doing: writing our own checks for our employees’ healthcare.

See Also: When a Penalty Is Not a Penalty

It seemed strange that the cost of giving birth at one hospital was $6,000, while the cost at a neighboring hospital was $17,000 – even though the same doctor had attended both births! Strange that an ankle X-ray could cost $1,200 in a hospital emergency room but only $35 at my own clinics. Stranger still that a simple antibiotic could cost $900 at one pharmacy when Walmart sold the exact same drug for only $12.

Those observations helped lead to the secret to not overpaying for healthcare.

Controlling PLACE OF SERVICE is all that really matters

In the vast majority of cases, my employees could receive the right level of care in a setting that provided the same service (with the same or even better quality) at a much lower cost than in another setting.

Of course, sometimes a hospital emergency room visit is absolutely necessary. On occasion, an urgent care is the right option. But qwe saw that many medical expenses were needlessly incurred in hospitals and other expensive settings. MRIs, X-rays, blood tests, specialists consultations and other common procedures were costing my companies five to 20 times more than the exact same services performed across the street in an imaging center, lab or doctor’s office not owned by the hospital.

Why would someone choose to get a $3,600 MRI or $1,200 X-ray at a hospital instead of going to an imaging center across the street for an equally good, $400 MRI or $35 X-ray? Why would anyone get a procedure at one hospital instead of paying 40% less for an identical procedure at another hospital around the corner? It’s not that people don’t care. THEY DO! The answer is that they simply don’t know – and the system is designed so that it is very hard for people to uncover this truth.

It seems crazy, but this sort of thing happens systematically all the time. When employer health plans work well – when prices are transparent and employees are protected and guided away from overpriced services – then common sense prevails and costs stay in check. But if people are part of a health plan that benefits from keeping costs hidden – and most do – business owners and their people simply don’t know they’re being duped.

Why is this is happening? 

  1. Hospitals with the greatest market share negotiate much higher reimbursement rates from insurance companies. A December 2015 study by researchers from Yale, University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University analyzed billions of hospital clams paid by commercial insurance companies to hospitals. The study concluded that costs at hospital systems with significant market share were as much as 12 times higher than other, smaller hospitals – with no difference in quality. It was an important and revealing study, yet it failed to evaluate the even bigger differences in price for routine procedures performed at a hospital vs. outside a hospital – procedures that never needed to be done in a hospital in the first place. These price differentials and subsequent overpayments are even more shocking and have the biggest impact on overall healthcare cost.
  2. Hospitals are “buying” doctors so they can fill beds and price excessively. Even though hospitals lose approximately $165,000 each year for every primary care doctor and about $300,000 for each specialist they hire, this strategy has proven effective; it increases market share and allows hospital systems to negotiate higher prices with insurers. What’s more, these doctors are obligated to refer their patients for services or specialty care in an exorbitantly overpriced hospital setting. Of course, emergency procedures are occasionally necessary, and of course hospital infrastructure costs are always higher and will need to be taken into account when assessing fair pricing. But when millions of dollars are used to market elective services that are arbitrarily priced much higher than what is fair – well, this just shouldn’t feel right to the unknowing business owner and employee. After all, they trust the healthcare system to guide and care for them.
  3. Urgent care centers are now owned by hospitals. It’s no surprise, then, that urgent cares are owned by hospitals, providing a perfect entry point for funneling services and profitable patients to hospitals and the doctors who are employed by those hospitals. Following this same line of thinking, urgent cares also help hospital systems gain market share, negotiate higher rates and “mine” the sickest people from among those patients.
  4. There are huge price differentials in prescription drugs. This problem is rampant in the healthcare industry, even extending to runaway prices in common prescriptions. The costs of medications vary dramatically depending on the pharmacy, the insurer and the way the doctor writes the prescription. The cost of a simple generic antibiotic can range from $12 at a grocery store to more than $50 at a widely known national pharmacy – and to more than $900 for the brand name that legally gets substituted when the pharmacy chooses. You might think the answer is obvious – just stop overpaying – but many people simply aren’t aware of the pricing tricks.
  5. High-deductible health plans partner with hospital systems. Often, such plans require that services be performed exclusively at a particular hospital’s health centers or affiliated urgent cares, imaging centers, doctor’s offices, etc. In other words, the hospital system that has negotiated higher rates with insurers now requires health plan participants to use their overpriced services. They say they have negotiated lower prices, but we see that costs are much lower when a patient pays cash outside the hospital.

In the case of high-deductible plans, it’s employees who get stuck with much of the bill. The premiums are cheaper upfront, but employees and their families are charged for services until their deductibles are met, often paying inflated prices for procedures performed in a hospital or affiliated setting. When they can’t afford to pay the deductible, employees often direct their frustration at their employers for providing this sort of coverage. And, sadly, many low-wage people will decide to forgo needed care.

See Also: Why Healthcare Costs Soar (Part 6)

What if brokers could help their small business clients by providing the negotiated fee schedule with the hospital system employees will be required to use? Or at least educate them about the dangers of using hospital facilities for services that could be performed outside a hospital? This is especially important for people with high deductibles.

Though it’s not common to request the price list – and insurance companies won’t grant the request – it’s certainly common sense. Shouldn’t employees understand the costs before choosing a doctor or facility? Simply providing the fee schedule would at least give them and their doctors a fighting chance to make care decisions based on both quality and value.

Increased transparency in an industry of hidden costs and unexpected medical bills would be a powerful step toward saying “NO” to the overcharging that the biggest healthcare facilities get away with every day.

The Importance of Data

Educating and guiding employees to the best places for service will have a huge impact on moving the cost needle. And, using data to identify the sickest employees and understand where they are getting their healthcare services is a great multiplier that brokers can use to help their business clients achieve more cost savings.

If an insurance company will not agree, in writing, that all of the company’s data belongs to the business owner – regardless of whether they’re certain to renew – the business owner should walk away.

Most traditional insurance companies will tell business owners they can’t give them this data because of privacy laws or HIPAA. The real reason is that they don’t want their clients to share the data with competing insurers and potentially lower their healthcare costs. In reality, business owners can own their data. Nothing in the law says otherwise. (Employers should never directly look at employees’ personal health information. This is just common sense.)

We encourage business owners to push harder and challenge the status quo way of thinking. We want them to demand cost transparency so they can control their own costs and still take great care of their people. Owning their employees’ data will enable the employer and their broker to negotiate fair pricing and educate their people about place of service more effectively. Brokers who rise to this challenge will find great opportunities to grow their business and create undying loyalty among their clients.

Status quo healthcare costs are bloated with unnecessary administration, waste and overpricing, but businesses and brokers who understand how to choose the right place of service can save money and easily fund healthcare. The worst thing we can do is pay more.

How End of Life Is the Real Healthcare Crisis

To contend with ever-escalating healthcare costs, Americans will need to come to grips with the cost of end-of-life care. Right now, it’s my reality. I am seeing, first hand, rampant and seemingly uncontrollable costs of sustaining life in a system that lacks any semblance of common sense.

My mother is 90 years old and, other than some spending on five healthy sons, has expended very limited healthcare dollars in her lifetime. That is, until now. Suffering mild dementia, she is a resident in a very pleasant assisted-living facility on Long Island. The facility takes good care of her creature comforts, but, medically, she appears to be a case study in why we are all facing a cost crisis. Two of my brothers are medical professionals, and we have a concerned, knowledgeable, family that oversees her care, but we are not with her all the time to manage treatment, and that’s where things break down.

At the first sign of an issue, the facility phones an ambulance and ships her off to the nearest emergency room — three times in the past few months. The first was because of the flu. She weathered the illness but, because of scarcity of resources, was bedridden for a week. As a result, she needed more than a month of inpatient rehabilitation to restore her ambulatory skills. I am guessing that this episode cost in excess of $50,000. The doctor believes that the next two episodes – which occurred in the past 10 days – relate to an allergic reaction, and he has been trying to rule out possible culprits. He took her off Prilosec, and soon thereafter she complained of chest pains, which turned out to be indigestion. So the hospital sent her home. She burned through about $3,000 in costs to figure that one out. Then, after some tinkering with her medication, her blood pressure spiked to 200/113. This has resulted in another in-patient stay. We are planning to keep her moving to avoid another costly rehabilitation; so, for this one, Medicare and her supplemental insurance will probably spend less than $20,000.

The medical expenses she has experienced could have easily been reduced. The problem is that our Medicare system pays for services rendered and not for care management. Care management would have resulted in a much better outcome for my mother, for our family and for U.S. taxpayers.

I am convinced that the Affordable Care Act is not the answer to solve the healthcare crisis, which can only be fixed if we change the way we deliver care at the end of life. And those who lobby for Medicare for all can consider my mother’s experiences. That’s certainly not the answer.

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid on Opt-Out

Former President George W. Bush infamously said in 2005, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

Opt-out supporters and proponents repeat over and over again that opt-out is better for employees.

They forgot to tell that to Rachel Jenkins.

Jenkins, a 32-year-old single mother of four, was injured while working a double shift at a disabled care center in northwest Oklahoma City owned by ResCare, the nation’s largest privately owned home healthcare agency. Jenkins was injured on March 31 attempting to break up an assault of her disabled client by another patient. The incident was witnessed by Jenkins’ supervisor.

After her shift, Jenkins went to the emergency room, where she was administered medication and sent home to rest. Her employer sent her to a company doctor the next day. He provided medication and ordered physical therapy.

But ResCare’s opt-out contract with its employees requires claimants to call a designated toll free number to report accidents within 24 hours, and Jenkins did not call until the 27th hour. Her claim was denied.

Three hours late on a phone call, and Jenkins is on her own.

Bob Burke, her attorney, just filed a case in the District Court of Southern Oklahoma seeking declaratory judgment, saying the state insurance commissioner has obviated his responsibilities by approving ResCare’s opt-out plan and others that don’t give workers at least a one-year statute of limitations to report their injury, as required by Oklahoma law.

“Every opt-out plan I have seen so far has a 24-hour requirement that bars benefits if notice is not given,” Burke wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Journal-Record newspaper. “Even though state law requires opt-out plans to have the same one-year statute of limitations as regular workers’ comp, the insurance commissioner continues to approve the plans, and the legislature, in House Bill 2205, is trying to remove the plans from public inspection under the Open Records Act.”

This case demonstrates the true intent of at least THIS opt-out participant: to stick it to the worker.

The employer cannot claim lack of notice – the injury was witnessed by her supervisor, and Jenkins was sent by the company to its doctor!

Burke says the insurance commissioner approves the 24-hour limitation because it is a notice requirement only. Apparently that translation got lost in practice, because ResCare and its administrators clearly are using the provision as a statute of limitations.

I’m sure there’s another side to the story. Opt-out proponents will have to spin that other side to preserve credibility. In the meantime, the wheel in the opt-out PR repetition machine has a broken cog.

Opt-out had me semi-convinced that it was a valid alternative to traditional workers’ compensation with its promises of less bureaucracy, better injured worker care, greater efficiency, competition and improved outcomes.

Proponents kept repeating the benefits over and over and over again…

The propaganda almost got catapulted, and I nearly drank the Kool-Aid.

Not now. It smells poisoned.