Checking Up On Health: September 4, 2012

Health Policy Briefs

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

Benita M. Dodd, Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

On common ground: The Galen Institute held a forum at last week’s Republican National Convention; the panel that included Georgia’s two physician Congressmen, Tom Price and Phil Gingrey. Medpage Today reports that there was agreement that there could be bipartisan consensus on a health care approach. People from both parties can agree on some health care principles, said U.S. Rep Tom Price of Georgia, an orthopedic surgeon. “We agree that health care needs to be affordable for everybody, accessible for everybody, it needs to be of the highest quality and there absolutely must be choices for patients. That’s the common ground.” Source: Medpage Today

Physician shortages: The United States has 15,230 fewer primary care physicians than it needs, and that could grow to 130,000 by 2025, Bloomberg reports. Among the reasons: The federal health care law known as Obamacare, which will increase the number of people with insurance coverage, will put additional strain on the physician population. On top of that, 75 percent of medical school residency programs are paid for by Medicare, and the number of accepted students has been capped at the same number for 15 years. Also, the cost of training residents continues to grow. Quoted in the report, Georgia Congressman Tom Price said, “The training programs know that they are not now able to train the numbers of physicians that are going to be needed.”

Growing the ranks: Georgia ranks 41st in physicians per 100,000 population and residency programs, Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial hospital reported recently, citing the Association of American Medical Colleges. Most residency programs in Georgia are in the Atlanta area. Southwest Georgia has just 15 residents, all in family medicine. Now, Phoebe Putney is among five southwest Georgia hospitals that hope to bring 150 residents to the region, beginning accreditation this fall, through the new South Georgia Medical Education and Research Consortium, according to a news release. The others are hospitals are Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie; John D. Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville; South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta and Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton.

Taking telemedicine to the next level:  In 2007 pediatrician Jay Parkinson, fresh from a Johns Hopkins residency program, rejected a traditional private practice model in developing his own approach to providing health care. To cut down on overhead costs and staff, Parkinson created a public Google calendar on his site for patients around his neighborhood to request a time and date for appointments. He would make house calls and request payment via PayPal. The ensuing interest took his Web site to 7 million hits the first year. Now, he and his business partner have a Web-based service for New Yorkers called Sherpaa that attempts to streamline the diagnosis process for patients. Users can reach two full-time doctors 24/7 through e-mail and the phone. Doctors either prescribe medicine and treatment or refer patients to a network of 100 other doctors in the city. Source: Kaiser Health News

A bone to pick: Researchers in Scotland have revealed plans to create a revolutionary new hip implant that will use the latest stem cell technology to allow patients to grow their own bone, removing the need for regular replacement surgery. Currently, implants are commonly made from materials such as polyethylene, stainless steel, titanium or ceramic and tend to require replacement every 15 to 20 years. The new technique follows a breakthrough last year by a team at Glasgow University, which succeeded in creating a special plastic surface capable of controlling what stem cells become – a technique that was previously impossible. They hope to have a prototype ready within 10 years.  Source: Herald Scotland

Good news, bad news: Many older Americans are delaying retirement and being added to the workforce in record numbers, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nearly one in five Americans ages 65 and older are working or looking for jobs – the highest in almost half a century. Senior employment has jumped 27 percent in the last five years, surpassing 7 million in July, while adults ages 35 to 54 with jobs has fallen 8 percent during the same period. Having more older workers in the job market helps the country’s precarious fiscal situation; by working, they’re paying Social Security and other taxes rather than drawing public retirement and Medicare funds. But there is a trade-off: In this lackluster economy, that means fewer jobs for their younger counterparts.

Convenience, quality, drive consumers: Molly Gamble offers five lessons that health care can learn from other industries, but one lesson in particular provides interesting data in her article, published in Becker’s Hospital Review. Gamble points out that some of America’s most prominent hospitals are expanding into suburban malls and drugstores, and for good reason: The number of patients visiting retail clinics rocketed from 1.48 million in 2006 to 5.97 million in 2009. That’s more than a fourfold increase. Along with retail clinics, patients recognize the value in alternative health care delivery, like telemedicine. One company called HealthSpot is even rolling out a combination of retail care and telemedicine in its Care4Stations, which have been described as “ATMs for health care.” As patients are offered more choices in how, when and where they receive care, they’re prepared to walk away from hospitals that don’t meet their expectations, including expectations of convenience. In fact, in a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 34 percent of consumers said they would change their habits based on their health care experience.

Quote of Note:

“I think for the time being, assuming that things are as they currently are, I would not have any intention of advocating expanding our Medicaid rolls. The reason for saying wait until November is to see whether or not there are going to be legislative changes at the federal level. And we do have a time frame for making the decision that I think, especially on the exchanges, we have just a few days after the election in order to make a final determination on that.’’ – Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia



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