The recently proposed $624 billion fund to overhaul healthcare presented by President Barack Obama proves that his administration is serious about healthcare reform, and universal coverage is the mantra both in Washington and within the healthcare system. But once universal coverage is achieved, who will provide care for these 47 million newly enfranchised Americans?
The fact is that we face a serious shortage of healthcare resources to care for the people who are insured. Hospitals are on the ropes with the current credit crisis. Virtually everyone knows there is a severe nursing shortage. But what’s less well-known is that there is a shortage of physicians, including primary-care doctors and physicians who specialize in hospital care, and it’s growing.
When the healthcare system is deluged by an influx of people, we’ll need strategies to manage them all. I urge healthcare leaders to consider the following solutions. Some will require government interventions and some are already in place, but need to be leveraged for larger populations.
One way to do that is to invest in cutting-edge medical technology, which is in keeping with Obama’s plan to “invest $10 billion annually over the next five years in health information technology.” Physicians need technology at their fingertips to help them ensure best practices, expedite tests and treatments, and communicate regularly with primary-care physicians, specialists, patients and their families. Technology is also critical in post-discharge transition management to keep tabs on patients when they return home to prevent medical setbacks and readmission to the hospital. We also need to make our physicians more productive with better practice management infrastructures. Additionally, the current work-hour guidelines in medical schools during residency training don’t prepare physicians for the real world. We need to change our attitude toward medical training, and better prepare doctors for dealing with crisis and stress.