Archive for

What to Look For in an Online Medical Scheduler?

When your practice is busy, even the smallest tasks that can be outsourced or automated can make the difference between an environment of “controlled chaos” and an environment rife with headaches and short fuses. Such is the case when a doctor or health professional decides to use the services of an online scheduler, or a solution designed to alleviate some of the routine demands placed upon the front-desk staff of a medical practice.

However, when you, as a doctor or a private practice owner, decide to acquire appointment scheduling or reminder services, what is it exactly that you should be looking for in order for you to get the most out of your investment? Here are five things that you should look for when you’re thinking about investing in an online scheduling service.

An online scheduler should be customizable for a variety of health professions

Not all medical or health professions revolve around providing treatment for sore-throats and sprained ankles; dentists, chiropractors, psychologists, psychiatrists and spa treatment / massage service business owners all provide services that cater to the health and well-being field. Thus, these health professionals should be able to use an online scheduler in the same way that a traditional M.D. can, while providing a way to customize the scheduler to suit their particular needs.

Online scheduling systems should provide privacy and abuse protection

When a medical or health practice allows patients to set their own appointments through an online scheduler, they should only use a system that is designed to offer protection against abuse and protects each and every patient’s privacy so as to comply with HIPPA.
Moreover, the doctor or authorized office staff should be able to set access restrictions for each of the patients.

Choose an online scheduler that acts as an appointment reminder

When you’re looking to make an investment in a scheduling service, it only makes sense to choose one with the best features. When an online scheduler acts as an appointment reminder service, such as sending out email and telephone appointment reminders to existing patients, doctors and health professionals not only can work to boost productivity within their office during business hours, they can significantly cut down on the costs accrued due to no-show appointment revenue losses.

Backups are important with an online appointment scheduler

Even with the best methods in place, technology is sometimes unreliable. While web-based scheduling systems are highly sought after because of their efficiency regarding use and overall cost, having the assurance that you can receive a hard-copy backup of the day’s appointments is a necessary measure, even in today’s world of deep technological advancements.

Online scheduling software should track statistics

While if an online scheduler has the ability to make callback appointments and send out appointment reminders it’s considered beneficial; online schedulers that allow for statistics tracking, such as no-show appointments and cancellations can help you, as a medical business owner, to pinpoint problematic areas in your practice so that you can address them and improve your financial bottom line.

Web-based medical scheduling software can, indeed, be an asset to your medical or health practice. By using these five criteria to identify an online scheduler that will work for you, you’ll not only be improving the efficiency of your practice, you’ll more than likely be adding dollars to your businesses bottom line as well.

Senior Health Care Insurance

Health Insurance For Seniors On The Net

When a good friend of mine inquired where he could obtain information about medical insurance for his out-of-state, elderly mother, I told him to try the Internet.

He reported back to me about a week later, in desperation: “I am giving up, I am too confused.” He had taken on an overwhelming project with his widowed mother, living in another state. As the only child, and following the sudden death of his father, it was his responsibility to care for his mother.

In this world of technology, the family unit is often living in different geographical areas and the family members are usually quite involved with their own lives, careers, and families. In addition, when both parents are alive, often one or both parents are quite independent and do not require a lot of assistance. As time goes on things, of course, change, and sometimes change very suddenly. There can be a crisis, with regard to the health care needs of one or both aging parents.

With our baby boomers facing this problem in ever increasing numbers, and with the information highway in full bloom, there is a definite need for planning.

Protecting your parent’s assets and health is a huge and daunting undertaking, which requires a tremendous amount of education and practical application. Our seniors face many diverse responsibilities upon reaching age 65. To name just a few: Estate planning, taxation, Medicare, social security, wills, insurance, and various other legal and financial matters. All of these different areas require expertise from accountants, lawyers, estate planners, insurance agents, home brokers, financial advisors, and others.

The Internet is a good starting point for most people to find resources for questions and solutions for your problems. There is, however, no replacement for good solid intelligent advice from an expert.

Twenty years ago, insurance for elders was sold by “senior insurance specialists”, with just a handful of companies in each state. The programs were most often Medi-gap or Medicare supplemental policies, which covered the expenses not covered by Medicare, including hospital and doctor deductibles, durable medical devices, and non-approved Medicare costs. Ironically these specialists did not sell a lot of nursing care policies, even though Medicare paid a national average of less than 2% of these expenses. With the advent of “financial and estate planning” and more insurance companies entering this market, a more broad and diversified product line became available to agents, brokers, planners, and seniors.

Part of this new diversification was the “home health care plan”, sold by itself, and in conjunction with senior health insurance products. The appeal of the “home health care policy” was that a senior could stay at home and still receive medical and custodial benefits, allowing a person to recuperate in the comfort of their own home.

This was the answer to a huge problem. The last place an older person wanted to go was a “retirement home”, or “rest home”, or, God forbid, the “nursing home.” It appeared that seniors could now rely on this new innovation without worry of having to move out of their home environment in the event of a health problem.

As with most things,” if it is too good to be true”…. The home health care policy is no exception. The problem is, there is not enough coverage for a lengthy illness or recuperation time. The fact is, the new trend is toward an “all in one” type facility, allowing for a variety of levels of care all in one location. In other words a senior could start off with little or no health care concerns in an independent, less expensive area, and then go to an assisted living, or nursing care facility, all within the same compound.

A “nursing home” requires a nurse on the premises 24 hours per day, assisted living is just eight hours. The advantages to this are financial. The patient or senior is only charged according to the care level required during the time he or she is admitted to that facility. Another benefit is it alleviates a lot of planning because the care is delivered, as it is needed. The medical attention is available to all residents regardless of their current health.

Some people are offered a lifetime package, which covers their care for the rest of their life, regardless of their current age. It also allows for social outlets to an otherwise somewhat isolated group. On-line shopping services have become a huge business. It is definitely here to stay and many insurance policies are purchased from Internet quotes and on-line applications.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of insurance agents and brokers advertising on the Internet. Most of them will provide instant on-line quotes and even applications for the potential insured. I highly discourage a layperson to purchase insurance in this fashion. A little knowledge can be dangerous.

The federal government has mandated to all states through legislation, the standardized senior health insurance policy guidelines, which are governed and regulated by each state insurance department.

There are plans for almost every level of health. Some are designed and priced for a less than healthy individual. Others are for a person with minimal health concerns. . The whole concept of insurance is to provide protection for “unanticipated” sickness or injury, especially catastrophic expenses, which would devastate a person’s net worth. The more small expenses a person is willing or able to pay (self-insure), the lower the rate. I recommend this strategy when evaluating your insurance options.

Another consideration when reviewing various insurance plans is to look at the company itself. How long has the company been selling this type of insurance? Do they have a lot of complaints filed with the local department of insurance? Are the rates stable? Does it pay claims on time? Service? Most agents talk about the rating. These ratings are as follows: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, or “not rated”.

Do not be fooled by rating alone. It is good to have a high rating, but it is far better to have a company that has longevity, stability, innovation, service, and expertise. The problem is that some companies enter into a market and quickly leave without explanation. This does not give security to the policyholder.

The most important consideration should be a review of the profit/loss ratio for that product. This will establish stability, and longevity in the market. An insurance company with a moderate profit in a particular line of business will remain in that market. On the other hand, a company with losses will make changes and possibly even withdraw. This is information not normally available to Internet users.

Before entering into an insurance contract, the senior person, the family, and other advisors must be realistic, and a careful evaluation of the entire picture must be examined. The age, the health of the senior, the financial resources, the personality and attitude of the senior, and most importantly the desires of the senior, should all be considered.

Early planning is important, as qualification becomes increasingly more difficult as the applicant’s health declines. The senior health care market is complex. I will offer some words of advice to attempt to alleviate potential pitfalls.

*Choose a well-informed, seasoned, and service oriented agent or broker to assist your decision making process. The professional can offer invaluable information, but do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions and even get a second opinion.

*Do not wait until your parent or loved one is sick, or injured. Plan ahead and take the time needed to cover all the options.

*Choose an experienced insurance company. A Company that has been in the marketplace for a significant time and has maintained a balance of rates and benefits and sound risk selection with moderate rate increases over time is your best bet.

*The plan should be flexible, with a broad range of options and benefit selections to the insured. There should be no tricks, or complicated language for the coverage. An incredibly low rate is a red flag for trouble in the future.

*Do not rush or be rushed by an over aggressive sales person.

This policy will not be inexpensive and will need to be read and reviewed for a clear understanding of the contents. This is one advantage to the Internet. You are allowed to read indefinitely before you act.

A long-term care program, with or without insurance coverage, will only work if the senior has input into the care selection process. If there are any questions about the accreditation of a facility please call the “Continuing Care Accreditation Commission at 202-783-7286.

Landmark Study Shows Americans Aren’t Very Healthy But, No Worries: We’ve Got the Best Medical Care

TIME TO RETHINK HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE

Introduction: A Wake-Up Call

In late January, the Institute of Medicine’s committee of medical experts under the auspices of NIH issued a comprehensive report on the health of Americans. Based upon data from 13 developed countries in Europe plus Japan, Australia and Canada,
the report concluded that other high-income countries outrank the United States on most measures of health. The basic finding? The U.S. is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest.

This report should be read by every hospital CEO and public official in this country. It should be studied by everyone interested in quality of life. I believe it demonstrates a need to rethink the nature of health. This is important because how we view health has consequences for the way we organize health systems – and much more.

Just think for a moment about this one-sentence summary from the NIH expert panel: People living in the United States die sooner, get sicker and sustain more injuries than those in all other high-income countries.

The Sorry Details

In no fewer than 9 out of 11 categories, health status is worse in America than the other 16 leading industrialized nations. In the other two categories, we’re doing better: We’re only next to worst.

Anyone who considers Americans healthy might be shocked to discover that the Institute of Medicine/NIH report indicates just the opposite. The fact is we are in the bottom rank among our peer nations. We are last in life expectancy; we have the highest rates of obesity, infant mortality, low birth weights, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The chairman of the study panel, Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, said:

We were stunned by the propensity of findings all on the negative side – the scope of the disadvantage covers all ages, from babies to seniors, both sexes, all classes of society. If we fail to act, life spans will continue to shorten and children will face greater rates of illness than those in other nations.

If all this does not seem akin to a mass die off of proverbial canaries in a coal mine, then consider this statement in the report:

Advantaged Americans – those who are white, insured, college-educated, upper income – are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries. Even Americans who do not smoke or are not overweight have higher rates of disease than similar groups in peer countries.

It’s Not About Hospitals, Doctors or the Health Care System

Dr. Woolf correctly writes in the report that these key measurements are not directly related to the quality of health care:

On the contrary, health outcomes are determined by much more than health care. Much of our health disadvantage comes from factors outside of the clinical system and outside of what doctors and hospitals can do.

The NIH report offers no sweeping answers or simple solutions. Our poor health status ranking is due mostly to lifestyle-related dynamics, such as dreadful diet and exercise levels. The report devotes a lot of attention to our unprecedented obesity rates, our dependency on a physical environment built around the automobile rather than the pedestrian, the fact that tens of millions are without access to proper medical services, many adverse economic/environmental and social conditions and dysfunctional values and misguided public policies.

The bottom line, as expressed by one panel member, is that we are not preventing damaging health behaviors.

Just so. The report was designed to alert the American public about the extent of the nation’s health disadvantage and to stimulate a national discussion about its implications. Therefore, we might ask what role might health system leaders play to address these kinds of problems, while continuing to offer high quality medical care?

More specifically, can leading hospital systems and business leaders, public officials and concerned citizens do more to educate Americans to live more wisely? Can these leaders be more effective at promoting health (not just delivering quality medical care) so as to increase citizen chances of staying healthy while becoming truly well and remaining that way much longer than most manage to do at present?

Promoting health, in my view, warrants as much priority as delivering high-tech, costly care for chronic medical conditions. The situation is dire. How dire? One expert (well, me) has suggested it might be time for a Marshall Plan-level commitment to REAL wellness to get Americans back on track to become healthier as well as properly medicalized.

What to Do? Look on the Bright Side and Shift Gears

In recent years, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has devoted entire editions to forums about the need for and paths to an expanded, more functional definition of health. The latter always focuses on building the capacity of the individual to pursue a full life – and to do it proactively.

Step one usually entails is a reassessment and reawakening of the public to the stark reality that there is no chance that anyone can realize, at least not for very long, the old WHO definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. It sounds good but it’s impossible. We have pains and aches, little disabilities, colds and all manner of hopefully minor ailments nearly all the time. Human flesh is heir to countless troubles.

Step two must involve a needed shift from treating symptoms and consequences of mediocre lifestyles to better ways to organize healthier societies.

Step three is getting it right, understanding the situation. It’s easy to misread the situation. In a Wall Street Journal essay, Sally Pipes, president of a health systems research institute, gets it all wrong. She writes:

Sustaining a superior level of medical innovation will do far more to improve Americans’ health than adopting the health-care policies from overseas.

(See Sally C. Pipes, Those Misleading World Health Rankings, Wall Street Journal – Opinion, February 4, 2013.)

Wrong! No it won’t! Medical innovation is always welcome and it can save lives, cut costs and bring other beneficial outcomes within the sickness care system. But medical innovation will not make people healthier or boost the quality of their lives. People must do that for themselves. The way to do so is at hand – its called living well.

One philosophy for living well is called REAL wellness.

Real Wellness

While we spend far more on medical care than all the rest, we are far less healthy. In what is arguably the ultimate measure of consequence, namely, quality of life, we are the Mississippi of advanced nations.

What are the prospects for American health in times to come? To paraphrase Lewis Pasteur, chance favors prepared minds and fit bodies. Thus, at present the odds are long against Americans. Too few of us even recognize that there is more to health than not being sick. Those of us who embrace REAL wellness or anything like it have a mission, though most of us are too modest to mention it: to influence everyone we can. Influence how, you ask?

To beg the question for a moment, I’ll answer my own query thusly: In any and all ways that seem to offer any promise at all to improve the chances that more Americans will somehow manage to bend high level health status odds in their direction. For too many, the chances at present for even thinking about, much less realizing, REAL wellness lifestyles are comparable to their lottery prospects.

Doing so requires an appreciation of the reality that there is a state of exuberant well-being. That is, there is more to health than most think. A better state of well being can be approached and enjoyed, not by continued dependence on medical ministrations and even wonders but on lifestyles guided by accessible skills – including but not limited to effective decision-making, joy in living, athleticism, perspective and personal freedoms.

A Better Way of Thinking about the Nature of Health

Dr. Dean Ornish and others believe that at least 75 percent of the $2.1 trillion dollars spent on health care costs last year were for chronic diseases that are largely preventable. Most are also reversible just by diet-focused lifestyle reforms, but few seem able to manage even this much of a shift from the normal and customary American way.

Health reform even with the Affordable Health Care Act will fail if the emphasis remains on who is covered rather than on what is emphasized by doctors and others and what is covered by insurance. We need less health insurance reform, more human being reforms. We need to focus on how the nation can become a healthy society. Not healthier! That implies we’re already healthy. We’re not.

Make no mistake. Those of us with sufficient access health care enjoy good medical attention if and when we really need it. But, so much has to be done in order that most Americans will not need so much medical attention. This applies to normal care in the early and middle years of life, as well as later when super-duper institutional and medicinal resources are brought to bear on chronic conditions that have set which limit quality of life possibilities.

REAL wellness promoters and all who seek a healthier society (beyond a well-medicalized one) might want to adopt a bold new goal – guiding Americans toward healthier outcomes.

Naturally we need medical care on occasions throughout our lives, no matter how wisely we live. But we need to live wisely all the time, throughout life, before we eventually die as healthy as possible.

We know that the fundamental causes of chronic diseases are primarily related to lifestyle choices expressed daily. We can’t avoid these problems with drug and other health care interventions; medications and surgery are palliative remedies for symptoms of failed lifestyles.

Bottom Line

In plain language, we’re in a fix. What must be addressed if we want to change? Here’s a partial starter list:
* The kind of foods and liquids we consume.
* The emotions we generate.
* The feelings we endure.
* The irrational and toxic chemicals we process through our lungs/blood and important organs – and all organs all important.
* The discipline to exercise every day.
* The artfulness for successful relationships.
* The social supports that can reinforce good choices, and
* The discovery of practical ways to help people find more fulfilling pursuits of happiness.
And so on. There are many more.

These lifestyle factors are examples of initiatives that could boost American health – REAL health, quality of life-enhancing well-being styles of health. These elements of REAL wellness are more consequential than the most skilled and expensive ministrations of fabulous teams of doctors and nurses, more important to health status than the world’s greatest medical institutions. They count more for quality of life than all the wonder drugs designed by chemical geniuses.

It’s not an either/or situation. Leaders in the medical system can emphasize the nature of health beyond the work they do helping the injured and sick recover from physical and mental adversity. They can do this while providing excellent medical care for illnesses, accidents and chronic failures.

Evidence-based medicine is good, far better than the dominant reimbursement – based medicine. Yet, medicine will not change the dismal reality of lowly health status for Americans. Only REAL wellness lifestyles will do that.

What will turn things around? What will it take to realize needed changes, including ways to motivate and support people willing to learn better skills to self-manage life’s challenges?

Who is better positioned to figure it out, little by little and bit by bit, than doctors and other medical professionals who work everyday with those who have ruined their health, as well as business and community leaders aware of the high costs of mediocre health status? The poor health quality of Americans is a condition of social, cultural, institutional and environmental factors that shape choices people make.

Ultimately, everyone must do his or her part, somehow, to live life wisely and well and find ways to help others do likewise.

I’ll end with a message somewhat presidential! Ask not what the medical system can do for you – Ask instead what you can do for your health, and what together we can do to enhance the health status of everyone else.