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The Cost of Care

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costThe challenge: to expand services, improve outcomes and control costs

While presidential candidates and lawmakers heatedly discuss the future of health care in America, hospital administrators are exploring innovative ways to provide more accessible and affordable medical care to the communities they serve. 

Much of their focus has centered on reducing expenses in an industry where cutting-edge procedures, technology and medicines are being introduced every day, driving up the cost of treatment. 

The development of new drugs and complex specialty pharmaceuticals — along with advancements in implants, including knee and hip prosthetics, pacemakers and cardiac stents — are improving patient outcomes, but at a hefty price tag. 

Hospitals also must upgrade their technology to stay at the forefront of medicine. For example, the state-of-the-art TrueBeam radiotherapy system, used in the treatment of cancer, can cost $7 million.

One way that hospitals try to control costs is to create levels of care under the umbrella of the hospital. This provides patients with more affordable medical options when appropriate. Depending on the severity of their illness or injury, patients can choose to seek treatment online, at a primary care practice, at an urgent care clinic or the emergency room. Offering a variety of options has been successful for Beaufort Memorial Hospital, officials say.

“Since we started offering video visits and opened our first walk-in clinic, we’ve seen a decrease of 100 to 150 ER visits a month,” said Russell Baxley, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer.

“People were going to the ER because they had no other choice if it was after hours or they couldn’t get an appointment with their doctor,” he said. “By providing less expensive options for care, the ER can be reserved for the truly emergency cases.”

Baxley predicts telemedicine will increase by 25% in the next five to 10 years, allowing busy physicians to treat more patients and reach underserved communities. He also sees the American health care system shifting to valued-based care and disease prevention in an effort to slow the growing epidemic of chronic conditions.

“The current health care system is unsustainable,” he said. “We’re going to have to change the way we deliver care.”