Two Way Radios in Primary and Acute Healthcare

Communication plays a crucial role in healthcare. Timely dissemination and sharing of information is critical for acute healthcare providers. Similarly, primary healthcare can be easily administered by using practical and handy communication channels. However, there are several factors that need to be taken into account before deciding upon an effective mode of communication in both primary and acute healthcare institutions. Reliability, coverage and confidentiality of transmitted information along with the institution’s capacity in handling the equipment, play an important role. Healthcare institutions can largely benefit from a mobile clinical staff and two way radios can provide prolific results if used effectively for sharing information.

Functionality and Build of Two Way Radios

Two way radios allow only one function at a time – either receiving or sending the signal. This helps the users efficiently communicate without interrupting the interlocutor. These devices are helpful in exchange of crisp information, rather than constant communication. Two way radios are also known as transceivers or walkie talkies.

Two way radios are simple devices made of primarily six components: power source, receiver, transmitter, microphone, speaker and the crystal. This implies that running and maintenance costs for these devices are not too high. Two or more communicating devices operate on the same radio frequency and a push-to-talk button switches the device between receiving and transmitting modes.

Primary Healthcare and its Challenges

There is a growing emphasis to offer primary healthcare to one and all. This requires creating an environment where equal emphasis is laid on healthcare for all individuals. However, shortage of trained medical practitioners poses a serious threat to achieving this objective. Medical planners have to focus on the use of technology to make the maximum use of the available resources.

Isolation of patients is a big problem that surfaces in primary healthcare. Patients who need medical attention are usually dispersed, especially in rural areas and may not have access to medical facilities. The supply of drugs and medical tests are difficult to conduct and this defeats the very objective of primary healthcare. Lack of communication is another major problem in administering primary healthcare.

A quick exchange of information offers a suitable solution to meet all these challenges. Two way radios enable exchanging of crucial medical information and gradation of current medical practices. The absence of advanced technologies in many locations also increases the importance of two way radio communication devices.

Using Two Way Radios in Primary Healthcare Settings

The most important use of two way radio in delivering primary healthcare is in connecting local medical practitioners with hospitals in cities and more advanced areas. This is critical to diagnosing a patient as well as for prescriptive purposes. A timely decision whether the patient must be referred to a hospital with advanced facilities can be crucial in saving lives. The hospital can also monitor the condition of a patient at another location through two way radios.

How well two way radio technology is implemented for primary healthcare will be dependent on medical and health protocols. Doctors in some countries contact health aides and monitor the situation of the patient by use of two way radios. The medical structure of a community and the country determines how effectively the two way radio can be used for primary healthcare.

Emergency situations can also be addressed by using two way radio. Lack of good transportation and communication facilities can jeopardize a community in case of a medical emergency. Two way radios can be used to send news of such medical exigencies to hospitals or district headquarters and help save many lives.

In some countries, two way radios are used to connect fieldworkers with doctors who are constantly on the move. Use of airplanes helps attend to critical patients in a very short time as soon as the news is delivered by way of two way radios.

Two way radios can also help in training field workers who play an important role in primary healthcare. It depends on the level of existing competence of the medical workers and the desired levels of training. Moreover, field workers can listen in to the conversation of co-workers with physicians and learn by observing the standard medical practices adopted in different cases.

Using Two Way Radios in Acute Healthcare Settings

Clinical information in a hospital can be shared with the help of two way radios. A mobile unit of clinical staff will be more efficient in dealing with day-to-day problems faced by patients and in specific cases where a patient requires immediate attention. A patient who undergoes a complicated heart surgery may require constant monitoring for a few hours after the operation. However, it may not be possible for the doctor who operated on the patient to stay by his side all the time. Two way radios can prove to be a handy solution for helping healthcare institutions, solve such critical operational issues. A nurse attending on the operated patient can inform the doctor about the patient’s progress or whether the patient needs immediate attention, using two way radios. This will not just update the doctor on the patient’s condition but also help him take immediate decisions based on the available inputs. The healthcare industry has successfully tested and used two way radios for acute healthcare. Hospitals make wide use of two way radios for exchange of information among healthcare workers.

Two Way Radios: Advantages

Two way radios provide for a cost effective medium of instant communication. Healthcare industry requires rapid and extensive sharing of information in the most cost effective and efficient manner. A large healthcare institution can be brought under the ambit of wireless radio communication without running up high costs. Moreover, radio signals are quite reliable as compared to mobile networks, where one must depend on the network strength and connectivity. Also, issues of interference do not surface often. Maintenance costs for these devices are also considerably low.

Two Way Radios: Standard Practices for Operation

Some of the standard practices followed for using two way radios in healthcare institutions are:

  • The devices are used in “receive only” mode in patient areas.
  • Medical staff is advised to leave the patient area if the device has to be used for outgoing communication.
  • Two way radios must be kept at a distance from highly energized medical devices.
  • Lowest possible setting must be used to avoid any interference if the device so permits.
  • In case of malfunctioning of any medical equipment, the use of radio devices must be stopped immediately.
  • Unnecessary use of two way radios may distract a medical practitioner during surgery. Therefore, such devices must be used only when required to avoid any delay in patient care.
  • Using Two Way Radio Systems: Interference and Other Issues

Two way radios do not generally interfere with other medical equipment. Research studies have proved that hospitals can safely use two way radios for communication purposes. These devices can be safely used at a distance of 0.5 meters from most medical equipment. The reason is that these devices operate at high frequencies and do not cause any interference. However, the use of two way radios is discouraged in highly sensitive medical environments like the ICU.

Some of the other issues with two way radio systems include problems, like poor maintenance, lack of power, non-availability of spare parts and poor training of the medical staff regarding the usage of these devices. Any compromise with the quality of the device can prove disastrous and defeat the entire purpose of setting up two way communication radios.

Conclusion

Two way communication systems have been in use for more than seventy years in the field of healthcare. Even today, with the advancements in technology, radio systems play a vital role in setting up communication in healthcare institutions. This is because no other technology can adequately address all the needs of healthcare communication – little interference with medical equipment and immediate and hassle free communication. This establishes the fact that two way radios will continue to play a major role for communication in primary and acute healthcare as well as improve the provision of healthcare services.

Planning and Design of Behavioral Healthcare Facilities

Behavioral Healthcare Facilities: The Current State of Design

In keeping with most districts of healthcare, the marketplace has seen a boom in the construction of Behavioral Healthcare facilities. Contributing to this increase is the paradigm shift in the way society views mental illness. Society is placing a heavier value on the need to treat people with serious addictions such as alcohol, prescription and elicit drugs. A large percentage of people suffering from behavioral disorders are afflicted with both mental and addictive behaviors, and most will re-enter communities and either become contributors or violators.

These very specialized facilities do not typically yield the attention from today’s top healthcare designers and their quantity accounts for a small fraction of healthcare construction. However, Behavioral Healthcare projects are increasing in number and are being designed by some very prominent architectural firms such as Cannon Design and Architecture Plus. Many are creating state-of-the-art, award-winning contemporary facilities that defy what most of us believe Behavioral Healthcare design to be.

Changing the Way We Design Behavioral Healthcare Facilities

As with all good planners and designers, A+D (along with facility experts) are reviewing the direct needs of patient and staff while reflecting on how new medicine and modern design can foster patient healing rates, reduce environmental stress, and increase safety. This is changing the face of treatment and outcome by giving the practitioner more time to treat because they require less time and resources to “manage” disruptive patient populations.

The face of Behavioral Healthcare is quickly changing. No longer are these facilities designed to warehouse patients indefinitely. And society’s expectations have changed. Patients are often treated with the belief that they can return to their community and be a contributor to society. According to the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems (NAPHS), depending on the severity of illness, the average length of stay in a Behavioral Healthcare facility is only 9.6 days.

What has changed?

Jaques Laurence Black, AIA, president and principal of New York City-based daSILVA Architects, states that there are two primary reasons for the shortened admission period:

1. Introduction of modern psychotropic drugs that greatly speed recovery

2. Pressures from insurance companies to get patients out of expensive modes of care

To meet these challenges, healthcare professionals are finding it very difficult to effectively treat patients within the walls of antiquated, rapidly deteriorating mental facilities. A great percentage of these facilities were built between 1908 and 1928 and were designed for psychiatric needs that were principled in the belief to “store” not to “rehabilitate.”

Also impacting the need for Behavioral Healthcare construction is the reluctance of acute-care facilities to provide mental health level services for psychiatric or addiction patients. They recognize that patient groups suffering from behavioral disorders have unique health needs, all of which need to be handled and treated only by very experienced healthcare professionals. This patient population also requires a heightened level of security. Self-harm and injuring staff and other patients are major concerns.

The Report of the Surgeon General: “Epidemiology of Mental Illness” also reports that within a given year about 20% of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder and 5.4% suffer from a serious mental illness (SMI ) – defined as bipolar, panic, obsessive-compulsive, personality, and depression disorders and schizophrenia. It is also believed 6% of Americans suffer from addiction disorders, a statistic that is separate from individuals who suffer from both mental and addiction disorders. Within a given year it is believed that over one-quarter of America’s population warrants levels of mental clinical care. Even if these statistics were cut in half, it cannot be denied as a serious societal issue.

With a growing population, effectively designing in accordance with such measures is at the heart of public health.

Understanding the Complexity of Behavioral Healthcare Design

Therefore, like Corrections, leading planners and designers specializing in Behavioral Healthcare are delving deeper to better understand the complexity of issues and to be the activist to design facilities that promote treatment and healing – and a safer community.

The following is a list of key design variables that are being studied and implemented:

1. Right Sizing

2. Humanizing Materials and Color

3. Staff-Focused Amneties and Happiness

4. Security and Safety

5. Therapeutic Design Tenants

Right-sizing

Today’s Behavioral Healthcare facilities are often one-story single buildings within a campus size. Often debated by Clients due to costs, this design preference is driven by the demand for natural light, window views to nature for all patient areas, and outdoor open-air gardens “wrapped” within. All of this provides soothing qualities to the patient, reduces their anxieties, counteracts disruptive conduct and helps to reduce staff stress.

“When you look at the program mix in these buildings, there’s a high demand for perimeter because there are a lot of rooms that need natural light. Offices, classrooms, dining areas, community rooms, and patient rooms all demand natural light, so you end up with a tremendous amount of exterior wall, and it forces the building to have a very large footprint.” – James Kent Muirhead, AIA, associate principal at Cannon Design in Baltimore

These design principles are also believed to improve staff work conditions. Unlike a multi-story complex, at any moment staff can walk outdoors and access nature, free from visual barriers, and within a building that more accurately reflects building types that both patients and staff would encounter in their communities.

In addition to right-sizing for the overall building footprint, is right-sizing for internal patient and staff support area. Similar to the move we have seen in Corrections to de-centralize support spaces, Behavioral Healthcare is moving to decentralized nursing/patient units called “neighborhoods.” With mental health facilities there is a large concern with distances and space adjacencies in relation to the patient room and patient support areas such as treatment and social spaces. Frank Pitts, AIA, FACHA, OAA president of Architecture Plus, Troy, NY, advocates neighborhoods that average 24-30 beds arranged in sub-clusters, called “houses”, of 8-10 beds. Thus, each neighborhood consists of three houses. Often these layouts will include a common area where patients congregate and socialize, with a separate quiet room so patients can elect to avoid active, crowded areas. In addition Pitts states, “There’s a move away from central dining facilities. So, while facilities will still have a central kitchen, it’s a whole lot easier moving food than it is patients.” However, it is important for the facility to mimic normal outside daily life routines, so patients are encouraged to frequently leave their neighborhoods to attend treatment sessions, and outdoor courtyards.

Humanizing Materials & Color

In all facilities that play a role in rehabilitation, design strives to create spaces that humanize, calm, and relax. Behavioral Healthcare patients need to feel that they are in familiar surroundings; therefore, the architectural vocabulary should feel comfortable and normal. Since these facilities are about rehabilitation (when possible) and encouraging patients to merge back into society, the facility should feel like an extension of the community. Their spaces should reflect the nature and architecture of the surrounding region and thus so, no two facilities should look too much alike.

“Our approach to designing these facilities is to view the facility as an extension of the community where patients will end up when they’re released. Interior finishes also depend on geography because you want to replicate the environment patients are used to. You want to de-stigmatize the facility as much as possible.” – Tim Rommel, AIA, ACHA, OAA, principal with Cannon Design in Buffalo, NY.

Therefore, materials and colors within these spaces want to feel familiar to one’s region and everyday life. To soothe the psyche and rehabilitate, they want to feel soft and comfortable, yet visually stimulating. An interior that is overly neutral or hard in appearance is not appropriate. Materials should reduce noise, and colors should lift the spirit. This can help to create an environment in which the patient can learn, socialize, and be productive while easing anxieties, delivering dignity, and modifying behavior. As stated previously, behavioral studies advise the use of softer interior materials-like carpeting, wood doors and tile. Doing so translates directly to both patient and staff well-being, particularly staff safety, and makes for a nicer place to work. In addition, staff have more resources to “treat” instead of manage heated situations. When staff experiences are eased and satisfied, morale is boosted and life-saving rules and policies are more likely to be enforced.

Staff-Focused Amenities & Happiness

While reducing staff stress and fatigue through a healing supportive environment seems like an obvious goal, there are relatively few studies that have dealt with this issue in any detail. More attention has been given to patient outcomes. However, many leading hospitals that have adopted therapeutic tenants into their newly built environments have seen vast improvement through their “business matrixes” and financial reporting.

In one example, the Mayo Clinic, a national leader in implementing healing design in its facilities, has reported a reduction of nursing turnover from a national annual average of 20% to an annual 3%-4%. In another example, when Bronson Methodist Hospital incorporated evidence-based design into its new 343-bed hospital, they cited their 19%-20% nurse turnover rate dramatically dropped to 5%.

Now, both the Mayo Clinic and Bronson Methodist Hospital have had to initiate a waiting list for nursing staff seeking positions. This converts to better-trained and qualified staff, and a reduced error rate. Therefore, more health facilities are investing in staff support areas such as lounges, changing rooms, and temporary sleep rooms. Within these staff spaces and in the hospital throughout, facilities are also recognizing the need for upgrade materials, better day lighting, and an interesting use of color: One soon realizes that the need of patients and staff are interwoven, each impacting positively or negatively the other.

Security & Safety

Without debate, self harm and harm to staff is one of the biggest concerns mental health facilities manage. Often the biggest safety and security concern is the damage patients can do to themselves. “There are three rules I had drummed in me,” says Mark Hanchar; Director of Preconstruction Services for Gilbane Building Company, Providence, R.I. “First, there can’t be any way for people to hang themselves. Second, there can be no way for them to create weapons. Third, you must eliminate things that can be thrown.” Hanchar says that the typical facility is, “a hospital with medium-security prison construction.” This means shatter proof glass, solid surface countertops (laminate can be peeled apart), stainless steel toilets and sinks (porcelain can shatter), push pull door latches and furniture that cannot be pulled apart and used as a weapon. These are just to name a few.

Additionally, removing barriers between patients and nursing staff is a safety consideration. Frank Pitts, AIA, FACHA, OAA president of Architecture Plus, says what may be counter-intuitive for safety precautions, “Glass walls around nursing stations just aggravate the patients.” Removing glass or lowering it at nursing stations so patients can feel a more human connection to nurses often calms patients. There is also discussion of removing nursing stations altogether; decentralizing and placing these care needs directly into the clinical neighborhoods and community spaces. Pitt says, “The view is that [nursing staff] need to be out there treating their patients.”

Therapeutic Design Tenants

As medicine is increasingly moving towards “evidence-based” medicine, where clinical choices are informed by research, healthcare design is increasingly guided by research linking the physical environment directly to patient and staff outcomes. Research teams from Texas A&M and Georgia Tech sifted through thousands of scientific articles and identified more than 600 – most from top peer-reviewed journals – to quantify how hospital design can play a direct role in clinical outcomes.

The research teams uncovered a large body of evidence that demonstrates design features such as increased day-lighting, access to nature, reduced noise and increased patient control helped reduce stress, improve sleep, and increase staff effectiveness – all of which promote healing rates and save facilities cost. Therefore, improving physical settings can be a critical tool in making hospitals more safe, more healing, and better places to work.

Today’s therapeutic spaces have been defined to excel in 3 categories:

1. Provide clinical excellence in the treatment of the body

2. Meet the psycho-social needs of patients, families, and staff

3. Produce measurable positive patient outcomes and staff effectiveness

Considering the cost of treating mental illness, which is exceedingly high, and wanting facilities to have effective outcomes, a further practice of incorporating therapeutic design is increasing. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIM H) approximated in 2008 that serious mental illnesses (SMI ), costs the nation $193 billion annually in lost wages. The indirect costs are impossible to estimate.

The estimated direct cost to clinically treat is approximately $70 billion annually and another $12 billion spent towards substance abuse disorders. In addition to the increased need of care and the boom in Behavioral Healthcare construction, it becomes an obligation to make certain that we as facility managers, architects, designers and manufacturers therapeutically plan and design these facilities.

Notably, in 2004, “The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital for the 21st Century: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity,” published by Roger Ulrich P.H.D., of Texas A&M University, was released. In a culmination of evidence-based research, research teams found five design principles that contributed significantly to achieving therapeutic design goals.

The report indicates five key factors that are essential for the psychological well-being of patients, families and staff, including:

1. Access to Nature

2. Provide Positive Distractions

3. Provide Social Support Spaces

4. Give a Sense of Control

5. Reduce or eliminate environmental stress

Access to Nature

Studies indicate that nature might have the most powerful impact to help patient outcomes and staff effectiveness. Nature can be literal or figurative – natural light, water walls, views to nature, large prints of botanicals and geography, materials that indicate nature and most importantly, stimulating color that evokes nature. Several studies strongly support that access to nature such as day-lighting and appropriate colorations can improve health outcomes such as depression, agitation, sleep, circadian rest-activity rhythms, as well as length of stay in demented patients and persons with seasonal affective disorders (SAD).

These and related studies continue to affirm the powerful impact of natural elements on patient recovery and stress reduction. Thus, it is clear that interior designs which integrate natural elements can create a more relaxing, therapeutic environment that benefits both patients and staff.

Positive Distractions

These are a small set of environmental features that provide the patient and family a positive diversion from “the difficult” and, in doing so, also negate an institutional feel. These can be views to nature, water walls, artwork, super imposed graphics, sculpture, music – and ideally all of these want to be focused on nature and, when applicable, an interesting use of color. Therapeutic environments that provide such patient-centered features can empower patients and families, but also increase their confidence in the facility and staff. This helps with open lines of communication between patient and caregiver.

Social Support Spaces

These are spaces designed partially for the patient but mainly for the comfort and socialization of family members and friends of the patient; therefore, family lounges, resource libraries, chapels, sleep rooms and consult rooms all play a role. When family and friends play a key role in a patient’s healing, these spaces encourage families to play an active role in the rehabilitation process.

Sense of Control

In times when patients and family feel out of control, it is very healing for the facility design and staff to provide it back when appropriate. Although, this cannot always be done suitably in mental healthcare facilities. However, when applicable, these design features include optional lighting choices, architectural way-finding, resource libraries, enhanced food menus, private patient rooms and

optional areas to reside in. A few well-appointed studies in psychiatric wards and nursing homes have found that optional choices of moveable seating in dining areas enhanced social interaction and improved eating disorders. When patients feel partially in control of their healing program and that the building features are focused to them, an increased confidence of the quality of care enters and tensions lower.

As with all therapeutic design, this allows the caregiver to use their resources healing in lieu of “managing” patient populations.

Reduce or Eliminate Environmental Stress

Noise level measurements show that hospital wards can be excessively noisy places resulting in negative effects on patient outcomes. The continuous background noise produced by medical equipment and staff voices often exceeds the level of a busy restaurant. Peak noise periods (shift changes, equipment alarms, paging systems, telephones, bedrails, trolleys, and certain medical equipment like portable xray machines are comparable to walking next to a busy highway when a motorcycle or large truck passes.

Several studies have focused on infants in NIC Us, finding that higher noise levels, for example, decrease oxygen saturation (increasing need for oxygen support therapy), elevate blood pressure, increase heart and respiration rate, and worsen sleep. Research on adults and children show that noise is a major cause of awakening and sleep loss.

In addition to worsening sleep, there is strong evidence that noise increases stress in adult patients, for example, heightening blood pressure and heart rate. Environmental surfaces in hospitals are usually hard and sound-reflecting, not sound-absorbing causing noise to travel down corridors and into patient rooms. Sounds tend to echo, overlap and linger longer.

Interventions that reduce noise have been found to improve sleep and reduce patient stress. Of these, the environmental or design interventions such as changing to sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, are more successful than organizational interventions like establishing “quiet hours.”

Conclusion and Additional Information

The information contained in this excerpted report is intended as a guide for architects, specifiers, designers, facility planners, medical directors, procurers, psychologists and social workers which have a stake in providing improved facilities for behavioral healthcare patients. It is a portion of a report entitled “The Contributions of Color” authored by Tara Hill, of Little Fish Think Tank. Ms. Hill was commissioned by Norix Group Inc., in 2010 to research the role color plays in the safe operation of correctional facilities and behavioral health centers. More in-depth information specifically about the psychological influence of color and behavioral healthcare facility design can be found by reading the full report.

Funding Your Own Healthcare

Introduction

More folks including both individual adults and families are on their own to provide funding for healthcare. There is a growing trend of being your own freelance business owner, being a contract employee or being employed by a business that does not offer a health insurance benefit. Many people make the mistake of buying price instead of value in a healthcare funding plan. This article provides an overview of options for funding healthcare with both advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.

How Much does Healthcare Cost?

Understanding what healthcare costs is important to deciding the best strategy for funding your own healthcare needs. Buying based only on price and not value (price vs. benefits) is a common and very grave mistake. Some examples of what healthcare can cost will help illuminate the importance of value and risk transfer (insurance) in funding your own healthcare.

Routine Care: Having an ongoing relationship with a medical doctor is important value and can help you avoid much more costly illness and improve your overall health outcome. I am an example of the benefits of routine medical care with the goals of avoiding cardiovascular disease, diabetes and managing my sinus allergies. My recent doctor visit including blood test = $248 Well Baby Check (price from local pediatrician) = $160 Annual Physical = $500? Cost depends on how elaborate a physical you get.

Rx Drug: Prescription drugs are approximately 10% of total healthcare spending [1]. Prescription drugs can be a large component of treating a major or chronic illness. These are drugs that I take with the list prices from my local drug store. OTC Claratin (equivalent house brand) = $10 / month Crestor = $137.99 / month Astelin = $115.99 / month An example of a more expensive medicine that my wife takes regularly for her chronic migraines: Topamax (generic equivalent) = $566.99 / month

Diagnostic Tests: Diagnostic tests are an important part of most disease identification, management and treatment and are a large component of healthcare costs. My recent blood test (three panels) = $152 X-Rays = $100+ Mammogram = $150+ MRI = $1000+; a complex MRI can cost several thousand dollars

Emergency Care: ER Visit = $1000+; this is based on my experience – I have never had an ER visit that was less than a $1000 in billed costs

Hospital Admission About 30% of healthcare costs are for in-patient hospitalization. The average length of a hospital stay is five days [2] with costs highly dependent on treatment. Heart Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) – Example from one of my clients = $45,000 including an ER admission and then three days in the hospital

Major Illness: Cancer (Lymphoma) – My brother over two years of treatment = $500,000+; It is hard to tell the actual total but when I called to see if my brother was close to exceeding his $1 million lifetime limit the expectation was at least $500,000 in paid benefits to complete his cancer treatment.

Chronic Illness: A chronic illness is defined by a medical condition lasting a year or more that requires ongoing treatment. Examples are Diabetes, Asthma, hypertension and Depression. Approximately half of all Americans have some kind of chronic aliment [2]. Type 2 Diabetes – Average Annual Cost = $5949 [3] Asthma – Average Annual Cost = $3192 [4]

Put all of this in a gigantic pile and the average cost of healthcare in Texas according to the Texas Department of Insurance in 2006 was $7110 per person. That is $593 per month per person. Admittedly that includes a lot of unhealthy and high healthcare uses but it provides some perspective on what healthcare costs. If you have not had a close relative, family or friend with a serious illness or injury, it is hard to imagine the high cost of healthcare. Value in funding healthcare is more than helping with the cost of routine care. Value to me means grappling with the risk of a major illness or injury.

Choices for Funding Healthcare

Cash – Just buy it when you need it and pay what it costs out-of-pocket. The big disadvantage of the “Cash” or what I call the “If we are Lucky Plan…” is that you have no protection of the risk for a major illness or injury. We have over 24% of Texans uninsured for healthcare with a fourth of the uninsured on the “Cash” plan by choice — about 6% of the entire population.

Advantages:

  1. No Monthly Premium / Fees
  2. Ask for Cash discount from healthcare providers
  3. Available to all

Disadvantages:

  1. No financial protection from the risk of a major illness or injury
  2. Difficulty in accessing cares without insurance; some healthcare providers may require advance payment
  3. You pay the whole bill for medical treatment

Discount Health Card – Buy it when you need it and pay less with an “Affordable Healthcare” discount card. Essentially, you access contracted network rates without a Health Insurance policy for an annual or monthly fee. I look at this plan as a variation of the “Cash” plan since you have no protection of the risk for a major illness or injury. “The FTC and many states have found that although some medical discount plans provide legitimate discounts that benefit their members, many take consumers’ money and offer very little in return.” – Federal Trade Commission

Advantages:

  1. Low Monthly Fee
  2. Discounted care from some healthcare providers
  3. Normally available to all applicants

Disadvantages:

  1. No financial protection from the risk of a major illness or injury
  2. Difficulty in accessing care without insurance; Some healthcare providers may require advance payment
  3. After any offered discount, you still pay the whole bill for medical treatment

Limited Benefit Plan – Pay a monthly premium for a defined-benefit insurance policy. Also often marketed as “Affordable Healthcare,” these mini-med health insurance plans typically offer a set payment amount for a specific healthcare treatment and a maximum benefit limit under $100,000. These plans don’t meet the “my brother test” – would this type of plan coped with the healthcare costs of my brother’s lymphoma? – No, so I won’t sell them. The healthcare discount cards and limited benefit plans are aggressively marketed on the internet. Just Google “affordable healthcare” or “low-cost health insurance” and you will see bunches. There just is no free lunch in health insurance. If the plan is cheap, then the benefits are limited.

Advantages:

  1. Less expensive monthly premium
  2. Discounted care from some healthcare providers
  3. Limited insured benefit payments for medical procedures
  4. Improves access to care
  5. Few enrollment restrictions

Disadvantages:

  1. Incomplete financial protection from the risk of a major illness or injury
  2. Due to benefit limitations, some healthcare providers may require advance payment
  3. After any offered discount and benefit payment, you pay the remaining balance of the bill for medical treatment

Major Medical Policy – This is your “Traditional Medical Insurance” policy for individuals and families. You pay a monthly premium for an insurance policy covering a wide range of healthcare risks with a substantial benefit limit, often $1 million or more. Most Major Medical Insurance policies now sold use a network concept called a “PPO” or Preferred Provider Option. Most plans feature co-pays for doctor visits and prescription drug purchases which reduce the out-of-pocket cost of these routine healthcare expenses.

Advantages:

  1. Protection from the financial risks of a major illness or injury
  2. Provider discounts if “in network”
  3. Improves access to healthcare providers and treatments
  4. Encourages preventive health treatments
  5. Reduced out-of-pocket costs for routine healthcare

Disadvantages:

  1. High monthly premium costs
  2. Applicants must qualify based on health screenings
  3. Generally, no maternity coverage
  4. Must use “in network” providers for lowest out-of-pocket costs

High Deductible Health Plan (with optional Health Savings Account) – This is a “Major Medical Policy” to grapple with a major illness but only after an annual deductible is exceeded. An optional tax-advantage savings account (H.S.A., “Health Saving Account”) is available to set money aside for healthcare costs prior to reaching the deductible. A family insurance plan that qualifies as a prerequisite for a Health Savings Account in 2009 can have a deductible of no less than $2400 and no more than $11,900.

Advantages:

  1. Protection from the financial risks of a major illness or injury
  2. Provider discounts if “in network”
  3. Improves access to healthcare providers and treatments
  4. Access to optional Health Savings Account to save toward future medical bills with a tax advantage

Disadvantages:

  1. Monthly premium costs (lower than Major Medical Plans but still substantial)
  2. Applicants must qualify based on health screenings
  3. Generally, no maternity coverage
  4. Requires making more choices on healthcare
  5. Larger deductible and no expensive reducing co-pays

Additional Advantage of Optional Health Savings Account:

  1. Reduced taxable income by amount saved in H.S.A. account
  2. Use it or keep it — any funds not used are retained for future medical expenses
  3. Funds saved are available for broad range of healthcare expenses while retaining the tax advantage

What Are Healthcare Software Solutions And What Is Their Need?

The healthcare industry has seen tremendous change and growth in the recent past. With healthcare reforms implemented, the dynamics of the industry has seen volcanic change that drives the need of custom automated solutions for healthcare companies. Talk about insurance companies, hospitals, insurance agents, and government agencies: Everybody needs to leverage its effectiveness through various types of software solutions to cater to the needs of information dissemination, guideline compliance and being up-to-date for the consumers.

Healthcare industry comprising medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and allied health need automated healthcare software. Going by global healthcare industry’s standard classification, the healthcare has been classified including, biotechnology, diagnostic substances, drug delivery, drug manufacturers, hospitals, medical equipment and instruments, diagnostic laboratories, nursing homes and providers of health care plans.

Health IT will see a major boost with the implementation of healthcare reforms. Till now, there has not been too much investment in IT sector by the healthcare industry. But with the requirements asking for more focus and attention, Health IT will get increased funding.

It goes without saying that The IT departments of healthcare industry suffer from poor infrastructure. The need of custom automated software is there but the investment needs to be made. Without doubt, investment is made when there are some chances of return. But as the healthcare companies and entities would need to comply with the new healthcare standards, they will have to cut their costs in other areas and try to invest in this.

If you want to go for some statistics, let’s consider a report by Commonwealthfund. The report says that the adoption of electronic health records could produce efficiency and safety savings of $142 billion in U.S. physician offices and $371 billion in U.S. hospitals till 2020. But cost of around $156 billion over five years, with an additional $48 billion in operating costs is also associated with it. But this is something that can be pursued given the betterment it offers to the industry.

When we talk about Health IT, it could include, electronic medical records (EMRs), electronic health records (EHRs), personal health records (PHRs), payor-based health records (PBHRs), and electronic prescribing (e-prescribing). All these systems need to be developed in a robust manner to ensure that the dictums of healthcare reforms are fully complied to.

Some features of HIT include:

* Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
* Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
* Personal Health Records (PHRs)
* Payor-based Health Records (PBHRs)
* Electronic Prescribing (e-Prescribing)
* Financial/Billing/Administrative Systems
* Computerized Practitioner Order Entry (CPOE) Systems

Apart from these, healthcare software outsourcing could mean: cardiology software, clinical software, dental practice software, electronic medical records software, EMS software, health care software, health insurance software, healthcare case management, healthcare contract management, medical appointment software, medical billing, medical equipment software and medical staffing software, etc.

The healthcare reforms do not simply ask healthcare companies to comply with some norms but also the insurance companies, which provide financial stability and securities to consumers.

Healthcare reforms ask every state to build a health insurance exchange, which is a huge challenge, given its newness and wanted functionality. The states will be depending upon big or innovative healthcare software companies to come ahead and provide the solutions, set up systems who could sustain the operations of these exchanges and run them smoothly, and also provide customer care to the consumers who come and do business with these exchanges.

All this mean that the software companies could on a real big business opportunity where healthcare companies, health insurance companies, and state governments would be their clients. In professional terms, this opportunity would be termed as a B2B market.

The development of software for healthcare industry is pretty much custom based. It could vary according to some norms or law, or it could be state specific. At the same time, different healthcare companies could have their own software designed for specific purposes. All this generates tremendous business opportunities for software companies. The idea of tapping this opportunity can be harnessed by the software development companies for a good reason.

Without doubt, the emergence of healthcare software solution would mean work all around. The one who taps it or caters to it will get most of the benefit.