As we begin 2014 I want to have frank discussion and have Salus play a key role in helping to craft a transformation in the American healthcare system that results in better health outcomes, a more effective and efficient delivery model and improved access for undeserved populations, specifically those living in urban environments. This must include a dialog about changing behaviors both of how people access the healthcare system as well as how they act individually. In a recent OP-ED that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer I discussed the attributes of a Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) and how this model was being effectively deployed in the Military Health System. I mentioned how people enrolled in such a model tended to use the Emergency Room less frequently (in locations where a PCMH was established, ER visits decreased by approximately 30%) and health outcomes appeared to be better. I firmly believe that this model, where primary care providers to include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, optometrists, podiatrists, nutritionists, mental health specialists, etc. serve as the primary conduit into the care system should become a centerpiece for our national healthcare system. But even as we craft an improved delivery system, we need to take a very frank and candid look at ourselves as a society and address our expectations of the healthcare system, how we utilize and access healthcare and some of the underlying behaviors that are the subsequent causes of disease that cost us all so much.
First and foremost we need to change the culture of healthcare from one of being reactive to proactive. Prevention and the preservation of wellness must be front-lined and in order to do that, must be incentive-based. Stronger policies combined with new, innovative behavioral health programs that integrate specialties such as clinical psychology, nutrition, social work and specially trained counselors are needed to help people change lifestyles that contribute to poor health such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity. While many states are making efforts to reduce smoking, there are fewer policies to tackle the harmful use of alcohol in the U.S. than you would find in other OECD countries, such as higher taxes on alcohol or minimum prices.
The most commonly used measure of weight status today is the body mass index, or BMI. BMI uses a simple calculation based on the ratio of an individual’s height and weight. Research has shown that BMI provides a good estimate of being overweight and also correlates well with important health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and overall mortality. Healthy BMI for adult men and women is between 18.5 and 24.9. Overweight has been defined as a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9; and obesity, has a BMI of 30 or higher. Unfortunately, obesity rates have, for the most part, stayed constant since 2003, they have more than doubled since 1980. They remain the highest among all of the high-income countries in the world. Literature suggests that about two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69 percent) and one out of three are obese (36 percent). The American Medical Association has recognized obesity as a national epidemic and has declared it a disease to help change the way the medical community addresses the issue. This is also recognized by the American Public Health Association. While appropriate medical intervention is imperative, I believe we also need to incentive those stricken with the disease to be proactive in managing it. People need to have “skin in the game” if they’re going to change behaviors. Those who have the lowest risk factors would pay less while those with higher risk factors would pay more for health and other types of services. Since obesity is associated with so many chronic and acute diseases that cost society a fortune to manage, this requires attention now. My belief is that people who are obese must be both cognizant and accountable for the associated health ramifications and costs in order for many of them to change behaviors and lifestyles. Since more fuel is required to move more weight in airplanes, trains, cars, buses, etc., I’ve often thought that when one purchases tickets to fly on an airline or on another form of mass transportation, fares could could be adjusted based on a sliding scale of Body Mass Index (BMI). Only after people change their own personal behaviors will be begin to realize substantive changes in the overall health our the population; this, combined with appropriate medical and behavioral health supervision is one way to help move us in that direction.
Concurrently, we need to be working on how a PCMH model can be rolled out nationally. It's my sincere hope that we can help to validate this model at Salus, working with local partners and integrating our clinical programs in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. The opportunity to develop a Medical Home in an urban, undeserved area of Philadelphia will reap benefits from a broad health perspective as well as economically. As I mentioned earlier, data shows that when populations are enrolled in medical homes, emergency room and urgent care visits drop dramatically, thus saving valuable healthcare resources as well as improving the overall quality and continuity of care patients ultimately receive. We've got all the right players to model this and prove it’s efficacy at Salus working closely with our academic partners in Philadelphia.
So, that's my long-winded pitch for today. 2014 needs to bring about change in the healthcare delivery paradigm, by changing behaviors, making people accountable for their own health, and making primary care the centerpiece of our access model through a Patient Centered Medical Home.