Low Healthcare Spending Linked to Poor Economy, Low Utilization

Monday, January 16th, 2012
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

The United States’ spending on healthcare increased by just 3.8 and 3.9 percent in both 2009 and 2010 respectively; these figures represent the lowest rate of increase in the entire 51 year history of the National Health Expenditures (NHE.) Analysts point fingers at the poor economy and low unemployment numbers, causing many Americans to skimp on medical care. A breakdown of the report is included in this issue.

The city that never sleeps could be getting just what the doctor ordered: expanded care facilities. Cigna and Weill Cornell Physician Organization have launched Manhattan’s first ACO between a health plan and a physician organization, in order to meet the
IHI’s aims to improve health outcomes, lower total medical costs and increase patient satisfaction. Crucial to the program’s success will be the utilization of RNs, employed by Weill Cornell, who will serve as clinical care coordinators and help patients with chronic
conditions to navigate their healthcare system. They will use patient-specific data provided by Cigna to identify patients being discharged from the hospital who might be at-risk for readmission, as well as patients who may be overdue for important health screenings or who may have skipped a prescription refill.

Job-hunting smokers beware: Geisinger Health Systems has joined the list of healthcare systems that will no longer hire smokers. As of February 1st, job applicants will be screened for nicotine as part of the company’s routine drug test. Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, even nicotine patches and gum will prevent an otherwise eligible candidate
from being hired; however, applicants will be given a chance to reapply for the job in six months’ time if they take advantage of the company’s smoking cessation resources and can quit smoking in that time. Non-nicotine hiring practices are currently legal in 20 states, including Pennsylvania, where Geisinger is based.

And Google’s Flu Trends Tool is proving to be a successful warning system for hospital EDs. Researchers from John Hopkins noted in a 21 month study that the rise in Internet searches directly correlated to a rise in ER patients with flu-like symptoms; the study was particularly effective when noting the surge in searches for flu symptoms and the
number of children entering the pediatric ER. In the past EDs, hospitals and other healthcare providers have relied on CDC flu case reports provided during flu season, October to May, as a key way to track outbreaks. The Google tool collects and provides data on flu search topics on a daily basis. While the medical and science community has
generally accepted flu search activity as a good indicator of impending sickness, this study, detailed in this issue, is the first of its kind to show the relationship between the data and an increase in ER activity.

These stories and more in this week’s issue of the Healthcare Business Weekly Update.

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