Experiment Could Change Healthcare

There is a big experiment currently underway in the Arizona desert. No, it does not involve the testing of the latest stealth aircraft, but it does involve two giants in their industries and the results could change the way we manage healthcare in this country.

The New York Times reported that I.B.M. and giant insurer UnitedHealth Group is testing a new model of health care that many policy experts say holds great promise but has yet to prove itself.

According to the Times:

“The new approach, which is also being tested in various guises by other insurers around the country, is known as the “medical home” model of health care. Many experts hope it will prove one of the best ways to rein in the nation’s runaway medical costs, while making people healthier. The theory is that by providing a home base for patients and coordinating their treatment, doctors can improve care, prevent unnecessary visits to the emergency room, reduce hospitalizations and lower overall medical spending.”

The Medical Home Model is intended to return the practice of medicine to an earlier model when the family physician coordinated a patient’s care even when they were consulting a specialist or were in the hospital.

The Times article points out that the model being tested by United will “move away from paying doctors solely on the basis of how many services they provide, and will start rewarding them more for the overall quality of care patients receive.”

If this experiment proves to be successful, we may be witnessing the birth of the latest in a long line of healthcare financing models intended to help drive improvement in the quality of medical care that American’s receive, while controlling cost by eliminating redundant testing and more closely monitoring patient outcomes.

What, if any impact the medical home model may have on addressing the issue of expanding access to health care to those who are uninsured or underinsured is yet to be seen. However, it stands to reason that if healthcare can become more effective and more affordable, it will also become accessible to greater numbers of Americans.

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