How Can the US Health Care System Do Good

The US population is aging rapidly, and health care costs are escalating. Furthermore, the health care costs of the elderly are so great that they consume the lion's share of all provided medical care. There is a critical need to increase the quality of care provided even as we decrease the cost of providing these services. A higher standard of living and ever-increasing quality of medical care has made it so that people currently enjoy an unprecedented life expectancy -- and often require intensive medical intervention and/or support in order to take advantage of it. Currently, there are a number of list of accountable care organizations that have been proposed and that are taking shape with the single goal in mind of providing more, for less.

There are important dynamics at play beneath the surface of this looming health care crisis. One, a great deal of people's poor quality of health in their older years are directly determined by unhealthy habits established in their younger years -- habits such as cigarette smoking, illegal drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, poor dietary choices and lack of exercise leading to obesity, and the like. While there might be little to be done to affect the current population of patients' health, it is worthwhile to consider measures that might be taken to improve the health of future generations of seniors. Two, it is imperative that we slow the rate of today's runaway spending on health care. Questions such as, "Does just because we can mean that we should?" deserve to be asked and answered. Not all patients desire to live to take another breath, at any cost, particularly when their quality of life is likely to be poor.

Third, it is essential to use the resources that are currently available in a more efficient manner -- in layman's terms, to get "more bang for the buck." Health care providers must work with what they have, and today that comes in the form of accountable care solutions. It needs to be recognized that by voluntarily working together in concert, everybody gains, including the patient. The first thing that happens is a reduction in the duplication of services, which in turn saves every agency time and money and the patient, the bother of being disturbed. This is a simplified picture of an accountable care organization (ACO) at its best.

What is an ACO? There are a number of different models, but in general, it is a voluntary health care community made up of groups of similar patients, called populations, doctors, nurses, home health care workers, insurers, hospitals and the like that work with one another to provide the best possible patient care without overlapping services and thereby saving costs for all involved. It is believed that the patient will especially benefit from ACO care transitions, as this is often the area where a patient "slips through the cracks." It is the goal of every ACO to spend its resources more efficiently and to give each patient exemplary care.