“November 1, 2004 Intelligence: Late Breaking Lab News”

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At a steady rate, healthcare is evolving toward a fully-electronic, Internet-based informatics environment. Here are some noteworthy mile-stones that illustrate this progress. During 2003, consumers’ use of the Web to access their health insurers’ Web sites increased 94%! So reports the Manhattan Institute of New York City in a report titled “Hospital and Health Plan Segmentation.” Consumers are using the Web this way because they like the ability to save time in accessing the information they need. Another milestone is the fact that high-speed Internet access eclipsed dial-up access for the first time this July. Nielson NetRatings reports that 63 million people used high-speed connections in their home that month, versus 61.3 using narrow-band connections.

MORE ON: Web Growth

In July, 58% of consumers used high-speed connections in their home, versus only 38% in July 2003. Lab directors and pathologists should recognize this continued advance in Internet adoption and develop more sophisticated Internet services for their patients and physicians.

CONSUMERS IN PA OPT FOR SURGERY CENTERS OVER HOSPITALS

In Pennsylvania, growing numbers of consumers are opting to use free-standing surgery centers and diagnostic clinics over hospitals. The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Council (an independent state agency) recently reported that 19% of patients in that state choose to be treated in settings outside the hospital. It also noted that, between July 2003 and May 2004, 48 new ambulatory surgery centers (ASC) opened, giving the state 161 ASCs. Between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2003, patient visits to ASCs jumped 80%, from 279,335 to 501,781.

ADD TO: PA Outpatients

This is rapid change over a three-year period and should be a warning sign to hospitals, hospital labs, and hospital-based pathology groups. As the trend towards consumer-directed healthcare picks up momentum, the Pennsylvania experience is powerful evidence that a growing number of patients want to be treated in non-hospital settings. In this study, it was also reported that the Pennsylvania ASCs were profitable, with an average operating margin increasing from 12% in fiscal 2002 to 16% in fiscal 2003. From a market share perspective, hospital laboratories and pathology groups need a business strategy that enables them to reach outside the hospital and offer diagnostic testing services to these free-standing surgery centers and the growing numbers of patients they serve.

BLUE CROSS OF NC TO TREAT OBESITY

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina will cover the cost of treating obesity. Experts call this a bold move for a major insurer. Coverage will include four physician visits annually, needed diagnostic tests, and counseling by dieticians. The insurer stated that 1.1 million of its beneficiaries will be eligible for this program.

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