Earlier this year, all sorts of experts and health care reform watchers offered their observations about the future of health care in this country. Some were way off base – we are neither cruelly tossed overboard with no hope of rescue by the changes, nor have we been magically beamed into a Tomorrow Land of free medical miracles and radiant fitness.
Change, of course, is a step-by-step process, often a painful one. And while some of the ideas put forward about reforming the health care industry were just plain silly, or way too expensive to even think about, some of the rising trends are not bad, especially when considered as part of the quest to develop a system that delivers better, safer, and more effective care to all its patients.
The medical home. The idea here is to develop a style of care that allows for more interaction between doctor and patient. This is not about a building or a place. It’s about finding a way to see a patient as a whole person, whose health and well-being entails more that just a drive-by consult with a harried doctor. Patients are brought into the conversation; nurses carry out standing orders (lab work, diabetic foot exams, flu shots and so on), while the primary care doctors have more time to spend with their patients. The medical home idea fosters a team or community approach, supporting a place to build a doctor patient relationship that understands health care means much, much more than disease treatment and prescription writing.
Individualized medicine. We aren’t there yet, but researchers are making great strides in this area. As they identify and formulate therapies directed at a specific type of disease that a specific person has, individualized treatment is coming closer and closer. We already have some genetic tests that help determine an individual’s chance of getting certain illnesses; there are some tests for a gene mutation that increases the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It’s an interesting, promising field.
Telehealth. Here we use computer and telecommunications technology to provide health care and support for a patient at home. Patients are far happier at home. Today’s telehealth candidates have everything from diabetes to heart disease. And the approach is growing. It is very useful to help manage an illness, once the patient is diagnosed and undergoing treatment. It also helps prevent re-hospitalization and saves money, too, as it improves patient care and promotes positive outcomes.
In a typical telehealth setup, patients answer health assessment questions every day on a computer with a touch-screen monitor. Vital signs are checked via medical devices – blood pressure cuffs or a pulse oximeter, for example – attached to that monitor. Results are transmitted to a secure website and reviewed by health care professionals. Care is continued or adjusted based on the findings. The doctor and staff are no more than a quick phone call away.
Integrative medicine. Sometimes, conventional medicine just does not work. In fact, more than 38% of Americans have tried alternative treatments when traditional Western medicine did not provide the relief sought. Integrative medicine is a combination approach, blending both Western medicine and alternatives – acupuncture, botanicals, dietary supplements, and stress and tension reducing techniques such as yoga or meditation. Many doctors like the approach since it addresses a whole person; consumers are certainly asking for it. It might just be the best of both worlds, and it surely is a big part of health care’s future.
Electronic health records. We have discussed this particular subject more than a few times, here. Electronic health records involve storing a patient’s medical history, medications, recent tests and lab work on a computer that will facilitate record sharing among all the health care professionals involved in a patient’s treatment. In theory, this will improve patient care and safety, and save money, too. There are kinks. Information needs to be super secure and – this is important – accurate. Computers fail; software has glitches; data entry is not without errors. And sometimes a doctor spends more time scanning a screen than talking to the patient – never a good thing. But all in all, as a tool to promote better health care, a great use of technology.
Time will tell which trends comes and which trends go – keep looking!