A Bronze Bullet for Health Care Costs?

We often say there are no silver bullets to control health care costs, which are always at the top of the list among manufacturers’ concerns. That lingo means that there is not just one single thing we could do to make a huge difference in these ever-rising costs.

But that’s not to say that there may be several bronze bullets that, when used together, can have some significant cost impacts. I was reminded of one of these bronze bullets yesterday with the column in the Wall Street Journal about nurse practitioners working in easily-accessible clinics, driving down costs.

This article, by Grace-Marie Turner, president of the nonprofit Galen Institute, is an excellent roundup of the benefits that nurse practitioners bring to the health care field. Maybe best of all, they are private sector solutions to rising health care costs and they slash the bureaucracy that plagues so much of today’s health care by keeping electronic records so they can be easily transferred to a doctor or hospital if necessary.

The nurse practitioners handle mostly common ailments like sore throats, ear infections, skin rashes, diabetes testing, allergy care and vaccinations. Many of the clinics are housed in drug stores where a patient can get a prescription filled right away. According to Ms. Turner, 90 percent of patients say they are satisfied with the care they receive. Prices charged are lower than a typical doctor’s office visit and way below emergency room charges.

Nurse practitioners are not new and it seems the health care industry is turning to some successful manufacturers who found some time ago that nurse practitioners are important in the battle against rising health care costs. About five years ago, we issued one of our most popular publications, Health Care At the Crossroads. Even then, my favorite page in our book was about the nurse practitioner at Pine Hall Brick Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This 80-year old company has a nurse practitioner visit twice a week and reduces costs by providing an alternative to expensive emergency room visits and cutting down on the time employees have to be away from work to see a doctor about routine health concerns. The nurse serving Pine Hall Brick’s employees also provides annual, state-mandated physicals for the company’s 45 truck drivers, saving the company thousands of dollars just on this kind of health care.

Read Ms. Turner’s op-ed if you wonder about what direction health care should take. And if you want to read the short piece about Pine Hall Brick, click on the link above and go to page 27 for a look at the future.