Is This Chelmsford Doctor A Model For The Nation?

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Dr. Damian Folch runs his first half-marathon.
Dr. Damian Folch runs his first half-marathon.

Do you think Dr. Damian Folch, a primary care doctor in Chelmsford, is a model for the nation? You can vote on that here at The Los Angeles Times.

Oh, wait, you want to know how he might be a model? Well, he definitely has my vote when it comes to practicing "Lifestyle Medicine," tackling his patients' unhealthy lifestyles and getting them to exercise more. (Check out that story from earlier this year here.) But now The Los Angeles Times features Dr. Folch in "A shift in how care is paid for." It's an excellent explanatory piece about the shift away from "fee for service" medicine — paying doctors for each bit of care — and toward "global payments" that pay doctors for a patient's overall care — and rewards them for keeping the patient healthier and costs lower. That shift is happening more systematically here in Massachusetts than anywhere else, the piece says.

It begins:

CHELMSFORD, Mass. — It's hard work being one of Dr. Damian Folch's diabetic patients.

If a lab test shows high cholesterol, Folch is quick to call or email. No patient can leave the office without scheduling an annual eye exam, a key preventive test. A missed exam or an appointment leads to another call.

"We are a real pain in their necks," joked Folch, a primary care physician in suburban Boston. "We track them down."

That kind of attention has always been good medicine. For Folch, 59, it's now good business. He is among thousands of physicians in Massachusetts whose pay depends on how their patients fare, not just on how many times they see them. If patients stay healthy and avoid costly medical care, he gets more money.

This simple shift in how healthcare is paid for — long seen as key to taming costs — has been occurring in pockets of the country. But nowhere is it happening more systematically than in Massachusetts, the state that blazed a trail in 2006 by guaranteeing its residents health insurance. Now Massachusetts, a model for President Obama's 2010 national healthcare law, may offer another template for national leaders looking to control health spending.

"There have been few greater periods of change in American medical history … and this is the epicenter," said Dr. Kevin Tabb, a former chief medical officer at Stanford Hospital and Clinics in Northern California who now heads Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of Boston's leading hospitals. "It is striking how different Massachusetts is from the rest of the nation."

Read the full story, then let us know how you voted....

This program aired on December 17, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.