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How Efficient is the Current Healthcare Model?

Woman with wrist injury visiting doctor

In a recent article, we highlighted the expected rises in healthcare costs in 2012, citing that experts estimate approximately a 7% hike in costs for the upcoming year. This statistic reflects the sense of urgency for us to rethink the way that we as a country define healthcare.

Healthcare is expensive. We are clearly not the first to arrive at this conclusion. However, Robert Kocher, M.D. and Nikhil Sahni, B.S. of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) recently published an article with some eye-opening statistics that should push readers to evaluate the way that we use the healthcare system.

According to the NEJM article, Americans spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare in 2010. That number may not surprise you, since we have come to expect healthcare costs to be an astronomical figure. But what may surprise you is that 56% of those costs, or about $1.45 trillion, were attributed to workers’ wages.

“Labor is by far the largest category of expense,” say Kocher and Sahni. “Health care, as it is designed and delivered today, is very labor-intensive.”

This premise comes as no surprise, particularly to those who have spent a few hours waiting in the doctor’s office during an appointment. But what experts point to is the lack of progress that the healthcare industry has made in terms of productivity and efficiency.

“The 16.4 million U.S. health care employees represented 11.8% of the total employed labor force in 2010,” the authors added. “Yet unlike virtually all other sectors of the U.S. economy, health care has experienced no gains over the past 20 years in labor productivity.”

Moving Forward

So now that we have identified an obvious flaw in the system that has been backed by experts in the field, what is the next step? Are there too many workers in the healthcare industry? Are they being paid too much?

“If the health care sector is to achieve even the average improvement in labor productivity seen in the overall U.S. economy, we will need to redesign the care delivery model much more fundamentally to use a different quantity and mix of workers engaging in a much higher value set of activities,” the NEJM authors say.

The current healthcare system does provide effective care for those with macro traumas; e.g. lacerations, broken bones, etc. But micro traumas – sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal disorders – should be dealt with in a much more productive, efficient way.

What if you could walk into a treatment center at your jobsite and receive care for your low back problems? What if that same center had a staff of trained and certified professionals dedicated to not only reducing your current pain, but also to improving your strength and fitness so you don’t find yourself in pain in the future?

Employee maintenance centers (EMCs) are becoming an increasingly popular trend for addressing pain and injuries in the workplace – no matter if the injury was sustained at home or on the job. They are particularly effective for employees in high-risk industries, where workers’ compensation and absenteeism costs really stack up, and are proven to increase productivity as a result of improved health.

But perhaps the benefit that makes these programs so efficient and effective is that they come as a flat rate to employers, and are therefore of no cost to the end-user.

“The efficiency of the employee maintenance centers’ care delivery model is distinctly different from the traditional rehab or physical therapy setting,” says Ben Harris, MDT. “The specificity of care ensures that encounters in the EMC are brief yet effective. Additionally, the EMC offers workers an easily accessible alternative to a healthcare system that has become increasingly cost-prohibitive to access.”

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