The changing face of healthcare

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By Dr. Stephanie McGannDMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

You know what they say… all good things must come to an end.   Nothing is more true than when we look back at the good old days of family healthcare.

Recently, I was attacked with a bout of spring cleaning.  I took a few minutes to clean out a very overstuffed desk drawer.  I found a lot of things that I thought at some point I needed to keep and yet haven’t looked at in 15 or more years. Most of those items were trash.  Tucked in the back was a tattered folder labeled “nice” and it has been my depository of nice messages received from patients over the years. 

A reminder of some of the notes and items given to me over the years by patients.

Inside were thank you notes, kids crayon masterpieces, a banner with handprints of the all the children I met when visiting a pre-school  and on and on as I flip through this folder.  I still get thank you notes and other thank you gifts that don’t fit in a folder. A wonderful patient used to bring me hot fresh baked banana bread each time she came to the office.  I can honestly thank my patients for the 20 pounds I gained from all yummy baked goods and candies that somehow managed to find their way to my desk. Life is sweet.

In my 31 years of practicing I have touched the lives of many many people. They have also touched mine. I remember the hugs from satisfied patients,The tears of joy when a new smile is unveiled and of course too many smiles to count.  It’s true, no one can please everybody but I have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful experiences during the course of my practice.

In my wonderful trip down memory lane I discovered some notes that were a bit sad.  Essentially saying how much they loved my care and wanted to stay with me but alas their loyalty to their insurance carrier was greater. This was a sad revelation about the state of our healthcare system. I understand, when choosing health insurance for my family I always make sure our providers are in-network. Times have changed.

As a child my family went to the same physicians and dentists for the most part until they retired or died. We went to gatherings at their homes, weddings and they were invited into our home for many occasions.  That kind of doctor-patient relationship has taken a beating these days.

This shift is part of the change in our healthcare system. No matter how great your provider, how much or little time they spend with a patient, the insurance company network is the driving force of the relationship.  The incentive for providers to spend time with their patients, has been replaced by a requirement to take 40-70% cut in reimbursement and see as many people as you can in an hour just to keep the status-quo.

I know this may sound a little bit like sour grapes, I assure you it’s just a matter of perspective. In a day and age when all of healthcare is  evaluated by their interactions with patients, providers are given Google stars for spending time with patients, yet the provider is financially penalized for not speeding up.  It’s a behind the scenes struggle waged by every healthcare practice in America.

What can you as a consumer of healthcare do to help make this a win-win scenario?

  1. Be on time for appointments, that means showing up prior to the appointment to fill out any paperwork  that is necessary.  This allows your provider to spend time with you and the patients scheduled after you.  One late patient can make for a late provider for the rest of the day.
  2. Have questions organized.   Asking the doctor to come out the front desk because you remembered one more question is complicated.  Privacy laws limit this and takes away time from the next patient.
  3. Have co-pays ready. Offices that participate with plans are required to collect co-pays at the time of service as part of the plan contract.  This is usually non-negotiable.
  4. If the office offers online-forms to fill out ahead of time, do it. It’s more comfortable for you and often more efficient for the office staff.
  5. Be nice to the staff. They have a very difficult job.
  6. Respect the rules, some practices have instituted rules to keep their providers on time. Such as if you schedule an appointment for one issue, you can’t “pile-on”.  Not because they office doesn’t care but because they scheduled a short appointment and to lengthen it will inconvenience all of the patients scheduled after you. Be respectful and work with the office staff to keep everyone happy.

All of that being said, American healthcare is undergoing transformation. Even in dentistry we now have more help. Expanded function assistants, and other licensed professionals can help the dentist much like a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner can in medicine.  Many of these changes will allow a new doctor patient relationship to develop.

We are facing a change in our healthcare system, new practice models will adapt to the changing needs of the patients. Insurance companies will need to re-evaluate their policy costs so as not to price themselves out of the market.  Through all of the changes yet to come, your providers will be there, for you.

Heading out for vacation?  Check out my next column on vacation and travel dental tips.

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, practice at The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann also owns a practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a past President of the Chester/Delaware Dental Society and she is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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