Тhe Affordable Care Act: Checking In Two Years Later

December 2, 2014

It’s been a just over a year since the Patient Protections and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” or the ACA, effectively launched. October 2013 marked the first month for the online exchange marketplaces which have been set up throughout the states.

There have certainly been ups and downs with the program to date, but it's important to cut through the politics and understand how the law is influencing healthcare. Here’s a look at some of the changes we’ve seen so far:

Health Care Services Coordination

The Affordable Care Act has helped promote the existing trend of greater coordination of care, and has created new team-based care strategies for providing health related services to individuals. This coordination and communication is crucial to expanding healthcare access and helping to reduce duplicated work. That translates into saved time and money for both providers and patients, an enormously important element of the law.

But while those benefits seem likely to come about in the long term, in the short term the increase in the number of diagnostic tests carried out as a result of the ACA looks likely to bring costs up. Still, collaboration in healthcare delivery systems – including through primary care physicians and medical specialists, clinics and hospitals, and also long-term care facilities -- is key to streamlining the system going forward. This is especially important for elderly and low-income patients, as well as those suffering from chronic illnesses, as these demographic groups are set to grow dramatically in the coming decades.

What this means for today's generation of students is that it's going to be easier and more important than ever to communicate with your fellow healthcare providers, and you should keep in mind that this is a skill which needs to be developed early on.

Managed Medication Systems

A major aspect of the ACA is ensuring adequate access to medications by plugging the so called "donut hole" left by Medicare Part D, and to promote the correct use of prescription medications.

Innovations that have come online since the passage of the act have included systems to help pharmacists and healthcare providers track their patients' medication as they move through different healthcare settings. These new programs are improving prescription practices, adherence to medication plans, and are promoting better health results. But the other side of increasing access to medications is that pharmaceutical companies may end up passing along the additional costs of covering "donut hole" patients to consumers, furthering the problem of high drug costs for US patients.

Improved and Updated Training

Many initiatives in the ACA were designed to increase access to and improve training. Allied health specialists should be seeing the benefits of these provisions soon. There are programs underway in many states to increase simulation-based training for all healthcare providers. The provisions in the ACA directly funding these types of innovations are leading to new computer models and healthcare “dummies” which are able to accurately mimic real-life situations and give nurses, physicians, and even medical assistants the opportunity to hone their skills. The implementation of these types of training modules directly improves care, especially in emergency situations.

Digitized Medical Records Systems

A big focus within the ACA was the need to increase electronic medical records (EMRs). These EMRs have created major software innovations for everyone from the local primary care clinic in Anytown, USA to the major software developer in Silicon Valley. In addition to the process of digitizing records and making them easily shareable, there are improvements in encrypting and securing personal medical data. Safety and security is a huge concern with EMRs and a lot of funding is going toward ensuring that patient privacy is protected. Programs are being developed to create private “keys” associated with patient accounts, thus ensuring they can only be accessed or transferred by the individual and their specific health providers. These innovations are crucial to the ACA's push for EMR development.

Digitized medical records will go a long way towards bringing down costs thanks to the accompanying savings of space, labor, supplies, and more. In addition to cost savings, digitizing creates more efficient care for patients. Imagine no longer having to wait for the medical history of a patient – with permission and a few clicks of a mouse, a digital file can be immediately available. Unfortunately though, we're unlikely to see major strides in the field in the near-future as the enormous complexity and major privacy concerns of such systems have held their development back thus far.

Staying On Top of Recent Changes

Although the jury is still out on whether or not the Affordable Care Act will be able to meet its intended goals in the long-term, what's clear is that staying on top of how the law is changing the industry is vital for all health care professionals. Without an understanding of these developments, you risk getting lost or left behind as the industry evolves faster than ever before.

How do you envision the ACA affecting your medical career going forward? Leave us a comment and let us know!