Posts Tagged ‘uninsured patients’

Americans See Access to Trauma Centers Decline

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Approximately 25 percent of Americans had to travel farther in 2007 than in 2001 to access their nearest trauma center, published in Health Affairs.

In the 15 years between 1990 and 2005, nearly 339 or 30 percent of trauma centers closed, compared with just 66 closures between 1981 and 1991.  The majority of the centers closed because of financial problems resulting from treating too many uninsured patients and the cost of making life-saving resources available 24/7.  The study determined that the average increase in travel time to a trauma center was about 10 minutes, but that about 16 million people saw travel times increase by more than one-half hour.  Researchers found that residents of rural areas and communities with large minority populations, low-income and uninsured residents were most likely to be impacted.

“We’re not saying that we should build a trauma center on every street corner. But we do have evidence that access for certain populations is already pretty bad, and it’s getting worse,” Renee Hsia, lead researcher and emergency department doctor at San Francisco General Hospital.

When looked at in a different way, the study determined that 69 million Americans now have a longer trip to their closes trauma center than they did just 10 years ago.

The researchers studied longitude and latitude coordinates for every trauma center in the United States.  Next, they measured driving distances and times between trauma centers and area ZIP codes, factoring in population data.  They compared the results for 2001 and 2007, the most recent year for which data was available.  Hsia said the results surprised the researchers.

Designed to handle complex injuries, trauma centers are different from emergency rooms.  Someone with a broken leg should go to the emergency room; a person with multiple fractures should go to a trauma center.  A patient with a concussion can be treated in the emergency room, while someone with a brain injury should be taken to a trauma center.  Time is all important.  Medical experts agree that a severely injured victim’s chances of survival and returning to a normal life are optimal if they can get the right treatment within an hour.  It’s called the “golden hour,” derived from military medicine during the Vietnam War and still guiding medical units in Afghanistan and Iraq.  “A 30-minute increase means half that time is wasted on driving,” Hsia said.  “A quarter of the population is significant.”

“We’re not saying that we should build a trauma center on every street corner. That would not be cost-effective,” Hsia said.  “But we do have evidence that access for certain populations is already pretty bad, and it’s getting worse.”

Shop Online for Your Next MRI

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

An Ohio physician is working with his peers and an online marketing firm to cut the cost of expensive diagnostic and laboratory tests so uninsured patients get the care they need.  Spearheading the effort is Dr. Doug Lefton of Fairlawn, OH, a former newspaper reporter turned physician.  After a story appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal highlighting the plight of these patients, Lefton was contacted by Tom Patton, CEO of PrePaidLab LLC, an Ohio online marketer of laboratory tests.  Coordinating with the Summit County Medical Society, Lefton made an arrangement with LabCorp., one of the nation’s largest testing companies, as well as with PrePaidLab.

The arrangement lets patients get their lab tests done for a fraction of the typical cost if they order them through the medical society’s website.  “These people that would ordinarily not be able to afford lab work are paying almost identical the amount the government pays for Medicaid,” Patton said.  “(The prices) are spectacularly low for something you can get on the market yourself.”  By way of example, a lipid panel test for cholesterol normally costs as much as $148 in Dr. Lefton’s practice area.  The same test costs just $18 via the website.  “It’s like using to buy your lab tests,” Lefton said.

Jeff Hughey, an Akron information systems technician – who has employer-paid healthcare insurance – used the online lab for a metabolic profile, a lipid panel and a hemoglobin test for blood sugar.  The three tests would cost him $400 if performed in a hospital diagnostics lab.  “Insurance doesn’t kick in until you have paid $2,000 out of pocket,” Hughey said.  “I just couldn’t afford $400 for three simple tests.”  Using PrePaidLab, the tests cost Hughey a total of $50.45, including a $9.50 service fee.  PrePaidLab created a physicians’ portal so patients who don’t have access to a computer or a credit card can order the tests and pay cash.

Recession Hits Healthcare Hiring

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Although healthcare has long been perceived as a recession-proof industry, the pace of employment growth has slowed,  with just 17,000 jobs added monthly during January, February and March for a net gain of 51,000 new positions. That’s less than half the 2008 numbers, although hiring is likely to improve later this year because of pent-up demand.  More than 16 million Americans – one in eight – work in healthcare.  Employment in the industry has grown by 500,000 since December of 2007, a time when 5.1 million jobs vanished from the overall economy.

Even the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, which employs 35,000 people, is feeling the pinch.  The destination hospital has frozen salaries for physicians and senior administrators, reduced travel and overtime expenses and cut 2009 capital spending by $150 million.  Standard & Poor’s downgraded Mayo’s debt in March, citing the institution’s large, unfunded pension liability and break-even operating margins.

In the words of Robert Fogel, a Nobel laureate and professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, “It’s a long-term shift reflecting changes in technology and what consumers want.  Healthcare is the growth industry of the 21st century.”

As 78 million baby boomers march towards retirement and old age, the need for healthcare professionals will only grow.  The current slowdown in job growth is a temporary blip on the healthcare radar.