Imagine you suffer from both asthma and diabetes.

One day you're short of breath. You call your asthma specialist, but he's booked solid and can't get you in. So you head to the emergency room for treatment. The emergency room doctors adjust your asthma medications and put you on a steroid to ease your breathing. They may ask about your diabetes but won't adjust your medication. They tell you to see your doctor about it.

It's a costly scenario that unfortunately can happen over and over again. The ER is frequently used for non-emergency care. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that $18 billion could be saved annually if patients did not rely on the ER for non-urgent care.

Because our current health care system is so fragmented, all too often a patient's various doctors don't know the treatments the others have prescribed.

Patient-focused care is a new approach to more effectively manage patients' medical care. In the past, juggling the advice and treatment from multiple doctors was your responsibility. With this new approach, your primary doctor serves as the quarterback coordinating your care.

Your primary doctor knows about all the care you may be receiving from other doctors, what medicines you have been prescribed, and so on. He or she has a complete picture of your health. This promotes less conflicting advice and a simpler, more supportive experience. Best of all, this more seamless approach shows great promise to get people healthier with fewer hospital admissions, decreasing ER visits and preventing expensive future treatment.

So how would the scenario I described at the beginning be different under a patient-focused care approach? Let's take another look.

When you experience that shortness of breath, you call your primary care doctor. Your doctor's office makes sure you see the doctor that day. Once there, he gives you the same medicine to treat your shortness of breath that the ER docs did. But because he knows you and your complete medical history, he also changes your diabetes medicine because your shortness of breath has affected your blood sugars. The doctor's care coordinator calls you the next day to see how you're doing, makes changes to your treatment if necessary and instructs you to come back into the office if you aren't improving.

The patient-focused care concept works for people with complex chronic diseases and those in full health. Patient-focused care revolves around the fact that each patient's health journey is different and everyone needs a medical home where all aspects of their health are known.

Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.