Costs drop under 'Doctor on Call' program

Tuesday, October 26th 2004, 11:54 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is reviewing a program that could reduce medical costs by providing Medicaid patients 24-hour telephone access to doctors.

The Oklahoma City-based program allowed South Carolina to reduce both emergency room visits and medical claims among Medicaid patients.

Karl Nigg, chief executive officer of Doctor on Call, said Monday that most of the telephone calls were from South Carolina mothers who had serious concerns about a young child with a fever and cough.

Company findings after the pilot program in South Carolina showed Doctor on Call averaged about 40 calls a day in both English and Spanish.

An analysis showed emergency room visits in the South Carolina area covered by the program dropped 24 percent and medical claims decreased more than 13 percent.

Robert C. Dauffenbach, associate dean for research at the University of Oklahoma's Michael F. Price College of Business, reviewed the findings.

Dauffenbach said the drop in medical claims indicates that, if offered to Medicaid recipients nationwide, the Doctor On Call program would be well-received and would save the government money.

``In light of the apparent success of Doctor On Call in South Carolina, I am intrigued by the implications this program could have for health care elsewhere,'' Gov. Brad Henry said in a prepared statement.

``We have serious challenges in health care as a result of large numbers of uninsured and underinsured. As the uninsured crowd our emergency rooms and subsequently trigger higher health costs, it is important for us to examine how best to improve access to health care and reduce costs. Doctor on Call appears to hold promise in that regard,'' Henry said.

Doctor on Call uses 243 nationwide physicians -- family practice doctors, internal medicine specialists and emergency room doctors.

``Our goal is to help educate the caller on the best usage of scarce health care resources. We believe that an informed consumer of health care will make better and more cost-effective decisions about their health,'' Nigg said.

About a dozen Oklahoma companies use the Doctor on Call program as part of their medical benefits plans.