By Donald Robinson
The Institute of Medicine recently released a study that found the U.S. health care system wastes $750 billion per year. Reasons include uncoordinated care, unnecessary medical tests and procedures and inappropriate use of health care resources.
This past summer, a group of 140 local primary care physicians and Independent Health forged a new physician-led, patient-centered alliance called the Primary Connection. Our goals are to help achieve the “triple aim” of better quality, improved patient satisfaction and affordability. We share Independent Health’s belief that better care will ultimately cost less.
The Primary Connection is about using health care resources the right way in caring for patients. When all of the components work together, the result is better coordination, improved collaboration and better outcomes.
The Primary Connection physicians are working with Independent Health and other providers on different, more-effective options to treat patients. In a recent case, a physician arranged his patient’s treatment for a serious skin infection at a nursing facility close to the patient’s home. In the past, this patient would have been admitted to a hospital, most likely through the emergency room. Working together, we were able to coordinate the necessary care and rehabilitation the patient needed. The result was a satisfied patient, better, more-appropriate care, and a lower cost than hospital treatment.
The Primary Connection is also building stronger connections with specialists. We have had eye-opening meetings with several specialty groups that are uncovering communication gaps. We are also building more-efficient processes so each doctor is aware of the care we provide to the same patient. This eliminates unnecessary duplicate testing, conflicting medications and redundant care. For example, new communication channels allow us to speak directly with specialists prior to, and sometimes in place of, a formal referral to that physician. Together, we can exchange important clinical information, co-manage the patient in real time and establish the patient’s treatment plan.
The Primary Connection has begun to change how patients interact with their primary physicians, too. They’re realizing that the emergency room may not be the right answer for their fever. Patients facing a serious diagnosis are asking their primary care physicians for advice, to help them weigh treatment options and help navigate a part of the health care system they may never have had to experience before.
These steps toward improved coordination and use of resources will put us on a path toward better care while also helping to reduce the wasteful spending highlighted in the IOM report.
Donald Robinson, M.D., is a family practice physician in Hamburg and chairman of the Primary Connection Leadership Council.