Transforming American health care may come at a cost

Transforming American health care may come at a cost

The U.S. health care system is in need of an overhaul.

With the demand for U.S. health care services increasing, our nation is facing a physician shortage, particularly in the area of primary care, and the solution may be to change the way physicians practice.

The U.S. ranks first in the world in the proportion of specialists to primary care physicians, but nowhere near the top in measures that deal with quality results, despite being the country that spends the most on health care.  Primary care physicians are the first point of contact for people with undiagnosed health concerns and provide continuing care for certain chronic medical conditions, but their skills are often underused.  Relying more on primary care physicians who are practicing at the top of their training can improve health outcomes, lower hospitalization rates, and reduce overall health care costs.

Income disparities between specialists and primary care must be addressed, as there is waning interest in the primary care field by new physicians.  Primary care physicians currently must maintain their incomes by seeing immense numbers of patients every day, which results in lower quality of care, reduced patient satisfaction, and physician burnout.  Using teams of licensed and non-licensed staff to support the physician in treating the patient results in higher quality, with more time for the physicians to focus on the aspects of care that only they can provide, but patients may be resistant to being treated by a team as opposed to “the physician.”

In a rapidly advancing technological society, health care lags far behind other industries. Readily available health technologies – like video consultations and mobile services – offer the potential to support primary care services and provide immediate specialty consultation at a reduced cost.  Today, this approach proves difficult to implement since most physicians – primary care and specialists alike – are required to see the patient in person to be paid for their services.

If we are serious about raising the quality of American health care and lowering the cost, everyone will have to participate and drastically change the way medicine is practiced.

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