As the nation struggles to cope with the staggering cost of health care, saving a million dollars might seem hardly worth mentioning.
But to paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, a million here, a million there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.
And if an investment of $250,000 can save four times that much just in the Lowcountry, it’s worth celebrating — especially since that same investment also saves time for hospital staffs and provides better service to patients.
The program, launched two years ago by the Carolina eHealth Alliance, allows emergency room doctors at the Lowcountry’s four hospital systems to share patient information. Doing so means that a doctor at the Medical University Hospital emergency room has immediate access to patients’ records from other local hospitals. So instead of administering expensive tests, he might find the information he needs in patient records at another hospital.
The Medical University determined that reducing duplication of testing, scans, X-rays and admissions also reduced hospital charges among the four hospital systems by $1,035,656 in a year.
“That doesn’t include any of the time savings” to doctors and patients, according to Dr. Dan Lewis, an emergency room physician and medical director of Roper Northwoods.
Nationally, only 120 programs like this operate successfully. There are more than 5,000 hospitals. It certainly seems worth replicating a program that improves health care and cuts costs, but first the local coalition of hospital systems must determine the best way for the annual costs to be covered. The dilemma is that the program results in hospitals performing fewer services — and hence taking in less income. And those same hospitals cover the $250,000 price tag to boot. Meanwhile, private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid reap savings.
All those players have been asked to discuss that issue next week at MUSC and find an answer.
Transferring vital health information and doing it efficiently has proven beneficial. Surely a group of people dedicated to improving people’s health will devise a fair way to bear the costs.