Remember that big sweeping healthcare reform act that turned into law last year? How couldn’t you? It took more heat than a derelict battleship during an A-Bomb test. But between “death panels” and fierce debates over the inclusion of a public option, people quickly lost sight of all the potential improvements the nearly $1 trillion over ten years law is set to put into place. Many of the immediate changes were talked about, but while we wait for 2014 when the majority of the law goes into effect most people are sitting around unaware that big changes to medical coding and other down-to-earth aspects of healthcare are about to occur.
In fact, changes to the way patient data and medical records are handled will be underway by the beginning of 2012. Starting in January of that year, hospitals are going to be expected to start making the big switch to digitized records. As of right now, the majority of healthcare providers in America stick with paper-based record keeping, which takes up excessive amounts of space and provides plenty of opportunity for error. Not to mention the transfer of patient data is slow, often involving the participation of people manually fetching records at every turn. Once hospitals embrace 21st century health informatics per the new law, medical record keeping will become much more efficient.
But that’s not all. Another big change nobody ever bothers to mention is the mandatory 50% discount for name-brand prescriptions for those in the infamous Medicare “donut hole”, which is gauged by retirement earnings and can wildly affect whether or not seniors can afford their medicine. When will this take effect? Surprise – it already has! The stipulation to close the donut hole became law in January of this year.
Yet bigger changes are yet to come, and few are made aware to the general public. In fact, one revolutionary change that won’t directly influence patient care yet could save the country billions over time will be the drastic expansion of prevention awareness. Right now, we’re used to doctors offices being littered with posters that tell us how dangerous it is to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Think of that, but expanded into detailed info-graphics and other simple means of communication meant to provide the public with advice on how to prevent easily preventable diseases such as diabetes. It might not seem like a big deal, but currently these easy-to-prevent diseases are costing us millions every year. If people can become more informed as to ways to prevent them, these costs can be significantly reduced over time making healthcare more accessible for everybody.
An interesting inclusion in the healthcare reform bill that many won’t know about is the requirement for companies that conduct clinical trials to cover those that participate in their studies. Currently, those who take part in clinical trials do so at the risk of long-term effects to their health with no way to afford the cost of these potential complications. With the economy the way it is and more people turning to trials for money, this is going to be incredibly important.
But perhaps the biggest change of all will occur in the arena of doctor pay. Currently, it’s centered on the volume of patients a doctor receives: the more people you treat the more money you make. Obviously, this can lead to less care per individual. Instead starting in January of 2015, doctors will be paid based on the value of their care: those that provide cheaper healthcare access to patients will be paid more. It’s a simple change, but surely something that will make a huge difference in the lives of the unwell for years to come.
In the interim between now and when healthcare reform takes effect it’s easy to forget the changes ever happened. But they have, and are continuing to happen every year. By the middle of the decade, American healthcare will be complete different. For once, it seems the patient will become the priority.