By Dr. Wright Lauten, Retina Specialty Institute (Hattiesburg, Mississippi)
As a physician in Mississippi, I am acutely aware of the health care challenges facing our state. Mississippi has one of the highest morbidity and mortality rates in the US while also being handicapped by the lowest saturation of doctors per capita in the US.
Together, this means that Mississippi has some of the sickest patients and fewest doctors. This is an incredible burden for the provider community.
However, it is also a call to action for physicians in Mississippi to work together. Coordinating care is important no matter the circumstance, but in the demanding environment Mississippi providers face, it also becomes essential to deliver high-quality, cost-efficient care.
Let me give you an example in my own practice.
As a retina specialist, one of my primary focuses – perhaps surprisingly to some – is diabetes. Diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in Americans under the age of 70, and Mississippi has the second highest rate of diabetes per capita in the nation.
As a result, I work closely with primary care physicians to help manage chronic conditions like diabetes. A key part of this, are the often overlooked – but highly preventive – diabetic eye exams, which I perform daily.
When primary care physicians and eye doctors work together, we can save people’s eyesight, improve their health, and prevent skyrocketing costs. Moreover, since blindness severely affects not only patients’ lives, but also those of their friends and family, this type of care affects the entire community.
When I coordinate care with primary care physicians – like those in the Aledade ACO – I also report back to them what I see in my exams. For instance, eye exams routinely reveal the first signs of a patient’s risk for conditions such as vascular disease, kidney disease, and even a heart attack or stroke. When I see these signs during a patient’s eye exam, I can relay my observations to their primary care physician and recommend additional care or tests. At its best, it’s a two-way street of information between primary care doctors and specialists, and when that happens, those that benefit are the patients.
By coordinating care, we are easing the burden providers face, while ensuring our patients receive the highest quality, most cost efficient care possible.