In case you hadn’t noticed, the delivery of healthcare is undergoing a “Wild West” transformation. Although it’s been several decades (circa 1970s) since physicians actually controlled the healthcare system, a law called “The Corporate Practice of Medicine” prevented non-physician owned entities from practicing medicine (or influencing the practice of medicine enough to affect your care). With the contribution of $2.7 trillion dollars to the U.S. Gross National Product (GNP), perhaps it was inevitable that corporations would find a way to control all aspects of healthcare and reconfigure it as a business. Indeed, perhaps the single biggest reason the Affordable Care Act took its final form was because of the clarion call to repudiate socialized medicine (read as “embrace our capitalist system of healthcare”). Undoubtedly, the prominence and influence of insurance companies combined with the satisfaction most of the population has with its current care (“You can keep your doctor if you want!) played a major role in this.
What wasn’t as predictable was the influx of new entrants into the healthcare market. Perhaps we should have seen it coming, because anytime you’re offering one-sixth of the U.S. GNP – almost $3 trillion – you should expect major corporations to seek a piece of the pie. An early notable hint could have been detected in Wal-Mart’s decision in 2006 to begin offering generic drugs for $4. This was initially thought to be a tool to get folks into the stores (e.g., come for the generics, stay for the shopping). However, the move has proven to be much more ingenious than that.
- If you’re a company as huge as Wal-Mart, you can make a profit off $4 items if your volume is high enough. They’ve proven that with many other products.
- Most physicians write for more than one prescription at a time. Odds are, money is being made on some portion of your total prescription.
- The innovation in offering transparency in pricing was a new and welcome development and created a level of trust and credibility to the Wal-Mart brand.
Let’s take a minute to explore that last bullet point. If you’re the world’s largest corporation, looking for new markets, have some credibility in healthcare and find barriers being torn down for healthcare delivery, wouldn’t the opening of one of the largest components of the American economy be an exciting opportunity? In short, it shouldn’t be a surprise when Wal-Mart begins providing some variation of medical clinics or some other means of providing healthcare.
However, this conversation isn’t limited to Wal-Mart and other chains that have already placed variations of treatment centers in their superstores or pharmacies. CVS pharmacies have stopped selling cigarettes. Telemedicine is becoming more and more prominent a part of healthcare. Healthcare is coming to your computers and smartphones. Prevention is expanding as a complement to the practice of medicine (www.sterlingmedicaladvice.com, anyone?). On another front, have you noticed there’s zero rush to replace the 45,000 shortage of physicians? Nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be your new providers and a major part of the new world order in healthcare, for better or worse.
Call it innovation, change, progress or whatever you like, but pay attention. This isn’t your parents’ healthcare anymore. Job #1 is for you to become more empowered and better stewards of your own care. Learn to find reliable, trustworthy sources for information and advice. This will get interesting.
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