A physician responsibility for the financial health of patients

Much as war begets both high-profile losses and the unsung wounded, two ranks of casualties lay fallen, rent financially by medical treatment.

First are those of headlines, injured mortally, or nearly so, by insurmountable debt.  Such wretched tragedy serves notice to all that a singular turn of fate may lead one swiftly to financial ruin.

Less-celebrated are members of the second order, surviving but spending more than requisite for their care.  In contrast to the former select assemblage, this legion enlists most everyone else.

How might I know? Well, I have a salient vantage point.

I am your family physician.

Each day you entrust me with your most personal burdens, frequently attended by accounts of formidable healthcare expense.

Odds are that you have not suffered medical catastrophe, nor are you victim to defensive medicine or conspiracy of the insurance or pharmaceutical sort.

Simply, the cost of medical treatment is not modest–it will unlikely ever not be so. And we each, it being unreasonable to expect otherwise, ultimately pay for the care we receive.

Passively accepting our lot, we bide hopefully for the arrival of an advocate to lighten our load.

But we need not wait.

How might I know? Well, I proved it.

An experiment

For precisely one month following September 7th I paused momentarily in scrutiny of the cost of care for every patient before me.  Theretofore fairly cost-attentive, I sought opportunities for savings beyond my usual practice, careful not to make concessions in the quality of care.

This month-long cohort, nearly 500 strong, unanimously embraced all discoveries and suggestions.  Few declined occasions for cost reduction, whether by elimination of unneeded services and medications, or by selection of inexpensive alternatives.  All welcomed samples and savings promotions.  Time constraints left many opportunities unrevealed, but each day found several good works in my bag of tricks.

Roll call

Completion of the trial allowed appraisal of total savings foreseen.  Although one-time maneuvers proved advantageous, projection over time made known the cumulative significance of benefits which recurred.

The results were impressive.

In aggregate, these individuals can now expect to save an estimated $16,751 in out-of-pocket expenditure over the coming year alone.  Even greater, overall healthcare spending should drop by an estimated $35,602. Not just an imaginative exercise, these savings will take place—the redress is done.

Notably, this represents only one month in the practice of a single physician–the broader potential for savings is staggering.  Similar efforts over the span of an entire year by the nation’s 350,000+ primary care providers could save individuals $70+ billion and the entire health care system $150+ billion.

All from simply paying attention.

Falling short of formal scientific study, the individuals I saw and the savings realized are merely anecdotal.  My particular actions and final estimations may be debated, but exactitude was never the intent.   The exercise simply draws notice to the potential for enormous savings in the outpatient setting alone.

Call to arms

It is not merely the most severely indebted who stand to benefit from remunerative attention, as we most all spend more on our care than need be. Fortunately, meaningful impact is within our grasp, and we each can play a part.

My role as your physician is evident — to moreover embrace cost-awareness in my everyday practice, as should every medical professional.  We must fully understand our influence over both the medical and financial health of those we care for.

Your role?

It requires not a medical degree to disarm the Costeopath.  Nearly every savings opportunity I discovered could easily have been identified by the individuals themselves. A little knowledge goes a long way–one only need know the appropriate questions to pose.

There is much valuable intercourse today of patient empowerment for the advancement of safety and quality of care.  Yet, attention is young as to how the individual alone can sway the medical cost equation.

Now, more than ever, patients and their healthcare providers must exercise the command each holds in the battle to control the cost of care.

I did it.  You can, too.

Stephen Meyers is a family physician who blogs at The Med Savings Blog.  He is also the founder of SmartMedSavings.com and the CHASM Project to assist people in reducing their health care expenses.

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