House calls may return through tech

By CHARLIE DUNAGIN,

A telecommunications company’s venture into home health care brings to mind a day when physicians made house calls, and there was no Medicare or Medicaid to pay for it.

It also is a reminder that too many working poor people in Mississippi are without the means to pay for adequate medical care.

So far, the Republican dominated Legislature, as well as Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have thwarted any effort to expand Medicaid to working families earning below a certain amount as provided by the Affordable Care Act.  It has cost Mississippi millions of dollars in economic benefits, not to mention the human toll on individuals and families without the means to pay for all the health care they need.

Reeves successfully won the governor’s race against opponents who advocated some kind of Medicaid expansion in both the Republican primary and the general election, and he has made no indication he’s softening on the issue.

However, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican who was elected lieutenant governor, takes a more moderate view on the subject. Maybe there are some reforms in the future, but that’s a story for next year.

Meanwhile, there are some innovations and efforts to improve access to medical care in the state for those who do have the means, Medicaid or otherwise, to pay for it.

One is a program announced a few months back by C Spire, a Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services company, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. They are partnering to offer visits with nurse practitioners via smartphone for the treatment of 20 common ailments such as colds, the flu, sore throats and insect bites.

C Spire chairman and CEO Hu Meena, in a recent newspaper column, wrote that once consumers download the C Spire telehealth app and register for service, they will be able to make an appointment and connect via their smart- phones for live video sessions with a licensed UMMC nurse practitioner.

The nurse practitioner can visually evaluate, diagnose and prescribe treatment unless the diagnosis indicates a more serious condition and the individual is directed to a physician or emergency room.

Video appointments cost $59 a visit, payable online by credit card.

As Meena notes, telehealth can be especially beneficial to the poor and elderly in rural areas who may be miles away from a doctor or emergency room.

You’ve got to be an early baby boomer, or a “Silent Generation” person like me, to recall when physicians regularly made house calls. It was some time after World War II when my younger brother and I both had pneumonia.

We lived about 10 miles from town, but Dr. Harry Fridge of Hattiesburg came to our home, diagnosed us and prescribed treatment which was administered by our mother who was a registered nurse.

Even , the in-home doctor visits were phasing out. I don’t know how many house calls Dr. Fridge was making 10 miles from his office. The fact that he and my father went to high school together, or that he was invited to quail hunt on our property, may have had something to do with it.

Less than two decades later, in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was president, Congress enacted Medicare to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history, and Medicaid for the poor.

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