Blog | Friday, January 29, 2010

Patient-Driven Primary Care, A Cornerstone Of The Health & Wellness Movement?

This post by Alan Dappen, MD, originally appeared at Better Health.

Health and wellness go hand in hand; there is little question of this. I therefore ask why isn't primary care at the heart of the health and wellness movement? This, I feel, would make outstanding economic sense for all involved.

In an effort to survive these sour economic times, more and more companies are trying to stave off the escalating cost of healthcare by pushing for wellness. There is good reason for this. According to Buck Consultant's third annual global wellness survey which was cited on the Society of Human Resources Management web site those U.S. companies who measured financial outcomes of their wellness programs reported a 43% reduction in health care costs or about two to five percentage points per year.

At first 2% doesn't sound like that impressive a cost savings. Consider, however, the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and the fact that businesses often foot up to 80% of these costs, and 2% doesn't seem like such small peanuts anymore.

How would primary care and wellness programs partner to ensure the healthier wellbeing of people? Central to the concept are the delivery of services and affordability. First of all, all involved participants would have access to a primary care practitioner, round the clock, for any issue ranging run-of-the-mill primary care issues, to urgent care problems and to the management of ongoing chronic conditions, including smoking cessation, weight management, and the monitoring of diabetes.

A service like this costs our patients and corporate partners $25/month (or $300 per year) per employee, and guarantees our patients a face-to-face check and medical history and then 24/7 access to the a practitioner however the patient wants: by phone, e-mail, videoconferencing, same-day office visits and even house calls.

Imagine how much healthier corporate America would be if employers could guarantee their employees access to a doctor without the employees ever having to leave the office or waiting hours in a waiting room packed with sick people? If, when someone called her doctor, the doctor picked up the phone and talked to her directly, often times solving her problem within 10 minutes after the phone call started? Since we establish a patient-doctor relationship with a face-to-face visit first, our patients can be treated by telemedicine, and done so quickly that our malpractice insurance rates have actually gone down.

A benefit like this could easily be paid for by a company in numerous ways: by the employer either as an add-on benefit or by funding it from a health savings account. Employees, too, can pay for the benefit from their health savings account, if they have one, or from a flexible savings account as services are rendered.

If $300 per year per employee could save 5% of a company's health care costs, plus saving employees and the company hours of lost productivity and hassle--not to mention employee loyalty--isn't it worth it?

I now come full circle: Shouldn't convenient access to a primary practitioner be a core component of any health and wellness program? Wouldn't this save businesses--and all of us--millions of dollars, not to mention help to ensure our health and wellness?

This post originally appeared on Better Health , a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.