Source: White House on
Don't look now, but Obamacare's open enrollment period for
2015 is scheduled to open in just five weeks, shortly after
mid-term elections are over.
As you might imagine there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding
the open enrollment period this year considering what happened
last year. If you recall, IT-architecture problems bogged down
the federally run health care exchange Healthcare.gov for the
first two months, putting estimated enrollment figures behind by
more than 1 million people at one point. Luckily, a late surge of
enrollment by procrastinators in March allowed Obamacare's
enrollment figures to find the mark and surpass estimates.
Obamacare uncertainty prevails
But, this year is a lot different than last. For starters, the
open enrollment period is a mere three months (Nov. 15, 2014 to
Feb. 15, 2015). Additionally, the "easy" enrollments are out of
the way, meaning insurers and the Department of Health and Human
Services will need to work together to educate and encourage the
remaining uninsured to sign up for health insurance.
Yet, as we
examined last week
, it could also be a challenging time for consumers looking to
get preventative care. Based on a report from the Physicians
Foundation, which is released every other year, four out of every
five doctors view their current patient docket as full or
overextended. Furthermore, 44% of all physicians polled noted
that they would actively look to reduce the number of new
patients they take on. This creates quite the dilemma considering
that 2015's enrollment estimates project that 5 million to 6
million new people will enroll on the exchanges in addition to
the 7.3 million which were still paying members as of
So, how does America solve its doctor shortage problem that's
effectively being caused by the Affordable Care Act's individual
mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance?
Ironically the answer can be found by looking within the ACA and
its ability to promote cutting-edge technology as a means of
reducing doctors' burdens.
Technology leads the charge
To be clear, it was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
passed in 2009 that provided the impetus for health care
companies to begin their switch from physical health records to
electronic health records, or EHRs, not Obamacare. This
transition, while it may seem trivial in nature with regard to
reducing physical paper in the workplace, was the green flag for
technology to take on a big role in the health care sector.
Obamacare, though, has provided a channel with which
medical-based technologies can shine (as you'll see below) and
lighten the load of physicians to the point where they may be
able to handle an influx of new patients caused by Obamacare.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture via
Telemedicine: the answer to solving our nation's doctor
Telemedicine, or the idea of videoconference with your doctor
from the comfort of your own home, had been considered taboo by
health insurance companies prior to the adoption of Obamacare.
However, as privately held telemedicine pioneer Teladoc has
noted, insurance companies have recently been eager to jump on
board with covering these virtual visits. Teladoc has signed
agreements recently with
and Blue Shield of California, run by
, to cover telemedicine visits, while also landing agreements
with large corporations such as
According to Teladoc's sales figures, as
, the company doubled its revenue in 2013 and is on pace to again
double its revenue this year. As CEO Jason Gorevic noted with
regard to the Affordable Care Act, "It's certainly an accelerator
for us." Funding has also been flowing into Teladoc like water as
lenders see a potentially lucrative opportunity unfolding in
telemedicine. A survey conducted by Towers Watson and the
National Business Group on Health also noted that 52% of large
businesses plan to introduce telemedicine as an option for their
employees, up from 28% in 2014.
Why telemedicine you ask? First, telemedicine allows patients
and doctors to meet on their own terms without time being a major
factor. It's not uncommon for doctors to fall behind schedule
during their day treating patients, or patients to run late
because of traffic heading to the doctor's office. These time
constraints can be largely eliminated with the use of
Secondly, telemedicine can prove to be extremely
cost-effective over the long run. Being able to connect with a
physician over the web can reduce unnecessary hospital or doctor
visits, which can add up rapidly, as well as quickly combine the
knowledge of multiple doctors via a video conference in order to
efficiently expedite a diagnosis.
Finally, telemedicine could improve outcomes by leading to
speedier diagnoses. It's not always convenient for people to
travel from rural areas to a doctor's office, so telemedicine
could wind up easing this concern.
These gadgets could play an important role, too
But, telemedicine alone won't alleviate doctor shortages. A
number of other technological wonders are expected to step up and
play a big role.
's Health app, for starters, could be a major tool used by
doctors to aid with, and expedite a diagnosis. Right now,
admittedly, Apple's Health app is in the infancy stage. Following
the release of its latest operating system iOS 8, Apple Health
can only aggregate information from other health apps onto an
easy-to-read single screen; but even then not all other health
apps are compatible for Apple Health at the moment. In the
future, however, as the Health app evolves it could become a
hub for you basic medical information
which your physician may rely on to get an accurate picture of
There are other well-known companies and devices that have
been working toward connecting patients with their doctors beyond
the boundaries of a doctor's office for years.
, for example, launched its Medtronic M-Link cellular accessory
in 2010 which allows its cardiac device patients to have the
information stored on their devices downloaded and securely sent
to their doctor via the CareLink network. The idea here is
regular observation of the data could improve a patients' overall
health if changes needed to be made, and that it would ultimately
reduce unnecessary visits to the doctor.
By a similar token the king of wireless technology
has also focused at least a portion of its future on the health
care sector. Qualcomm's Life division, for instance, is working
with its customers to develop devices that can wirelessly
transmit data that goes into a cloud accessible by clinic
computers, as well as a doctor's mobile device such as a
smartphone or tablet.
Ultimately, these are just three of a growing number of
health-connectivity devices either on the market or under
The sky is the limit
The reality is that we haven't even touched the tip of the
iceberg yet on technologies' potential to help doctors manage
what's expected to be a large influx of patients. Will it work?
Over the long run I suspect so, but there's certainly a trial and
error period that tech-based health care providers are only now
beginning to wade into. Could doctor's availability get worse
before it gets better? I'd suggest that to be plausible
considering the rapid influx of new patients from the ACA, but
over time I view wireless devices and telemedicine playing a key
role in allowing doctors to see more patients.
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The Obamacare-Inspired Solution to America's
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