Healthcare technology powerhouse Healtheon Corp. is teaming up with another Internet company to connect the nation's 43 million uninsured consumers with physicians who are willing to discount medical services.
The catch: Many of the nation's 43 million uninsured consumers are uninsured because they simply cannot afford to pay for insurance, yet this new service will cost them $10 each time they use it. And they will need access to the Internet to tap into the database.
The scenario is not as paradoxical as it seems, says Steve Curd, Healtheon's chief operating officer. Curd says access to the Internet is growing among all segments of the population, and the $10 service fee is nominal compared with money users will be saving by receiving discounted services.
Curd expects many "underinsured" consumers to use the service to find discounted rates for procedures not covered by their insurance, including plastic surgery.
Hmmm . . . discounted nose jobs will surely help solve the growing crisis of uninsured Americans.
Funny money. Times are tight for IPAs, and many are having trouble paying their physicians on time. In September, a Colorado IPA sent member physicians photocopies of their checks, promising the real deal would be mailed once the IPA was flush.
In retrospect, sending out the photocopies may not have been the best idea, admits a spokesman for Aurora Associated Physicians.
"The thinking behind it, which we have re-examined . . . was to let physicians know that we've received their claims and the books are up to date, but the organization is short on cash right now," spokesman David Scott says.
Aurora obstetrician Kenneth Manfre, M.D., who says the 250-physician IPA owes him about $25,000, was not amused or pacified by the "virtual" check. Manfre terminated his contract with the IPA last month.
Listening, part 1. From the seemingly obvious section of advice comes this: The C.E. Koop Institute offers tips to practitioners on improving listening skills.
"Based on actual physician/patient interviews," the Web site reports, "these techniques reinforce with patients the fact that you care and can be trusted."
- Don't interrupt.
- Don't put words in your patient's mouth.
- Think of words from the patient's perspective vs. your own.
- If you have trouble understanding, let the patient know you are trying to understand him or her.
- Listen attentively. Try to avoid distractions.
Listening, part 2. Maybe he's been reading Koop's pages . . . Zeev Neuwirth, M.D., says he knows what's wrong with the healthcare system: Patients and doctors can't (or won't) communicate.
Neuwirth, a faculty member at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, outlines his thoughts in the October issue of United Airlines' inflight magazine. He says that "physicians must learn to listen to patients and that patients must be given an active and autonomous role in the healing process."
He proposes that physicians need to get to know patients as real people, not just a collection of diseases and disorders. "It lets patients know I have time for them and not just for their disease," he says of his approach.
Neuwirth, who says physicians improve their communication skills after an eight-hour training session, blames "the system," not the patient or doctor for poor communication.
Kinda makes you wonder who's been in the exam room all this time.
Calling all suckers. The financial situation of many healthcare companies is so bad, New York-based conference planning company Fulcrum Information Services put on an entire conference last month devoted to "Lending to and Investing in Troubled Healthcare Companies." Maybe the conference should have been called,
"Picking up the pieces of others' financial disasters."