It is a new week and marketing people all over the country are waiting to see the weekly prescription report. Everyone crosses their fingers, holds their breath and hopes that things ticked up just a little. Excuses are ready just in case. We all know that the results are a function of market share and the size of the market. Other than DTC do we really think enough about growing the overall healthcare market?
Kaiser reported on a study last week that is really quite shocking. We all know that doctor visits have been down for the last two years, but the results of this study should be quite troubling to everyone involved in healthcare. One in five (20%) of adults with an “unmet medical need” are not going to the doctor because of cost issues. This number has almost doubled over the last decade! The scary part is that many of these people actually have insurance and just can’t afford the co-pay or deductible.
As bad as the numbers are for the unmet needs reported by the patient, as a marketing person I am sure you recognize that this is just the tip of the iceberg. You see, to have an unmet need, you need to know it is there. How many people have diabetes, lipid problems, hypertension, undiagnosed skin cancers, HIV or a wide variety of other “silent” issues? What a boost this could be to our industry if people started to go to the doctor on a more regular basis.
The high deductible insurance programs and programs that have high co-pays may be setting the health system up for, dare I say, a “bubble-like” situation. The concept for these type of plans is solid in that you do want to stop abuse in the system and asking patients to play a greater role in their health management is a positive. But the system may have a crack. Everyone agrees that early detection and prevention are the two keys to driving down health costs long-term and these shared costs may be preventing this from happening.
Who would not call the gas company if you smelled gas in your house? If there was a puddle of oil under your car you would rush to get it serviced rather than having to replace an engine. Why aren’t we smarter about healthcare? Why aren’t those that are going to spend the massive amounts of money for hospitalizations and intense medical care, the payers, not putting in systems that push for early care? The good news from this study is the tremendous job we seem to be doing with our children, who do seem to be getting frequent and adequate care. The system is quite different for children, but that is the subject of another blog.
There has been a lot of things in the news this week about different things being tried to address this issue. Telemedicine is getting a lot of press where you can see a physician over the phone or Internet rather than in person. Companies are pushing for greater use of the retail clinics at discounted prices rather than going to traditional offices where access and cost may be an issue. There is a push for giving pharmacists greater say in continuing refills for chronic diseases. There was an article talking about trying out three year medical schools to help put more PCPs into the market. All of these have their drawbacks and predictable opposition from those that think care might suffer. But when you consider the 20% number perhaps we should go for improvement rather than perfection.
How about everyone getting together for a two month healthcare stimulus package where the government, private insurers, pharmaceutical companies and even providers give a little with a goal of having everyone with problems see a doctor this summer or next fall? With everyone talking about accountable care, now might be the time to really push for something “out of the box” like a holiday on co-pays and even waiving deductibles for one office visit. How about a program that mirrors sports physicals where doctors and nurses all go to a high school gym and see everyone in one day.
Just imagine how some big thinking like this could help stimulate that part of the economy that deals with healthcare. More important, perhaps a two month simple program like this could let off some of the pressure that is building in the “bubble” and prevent the huge costs down the road. I would love to push for stimulation of some type and in some way jump start the system again. It could only help.