"It needs work."
It's how Renee Frazier with Healthy Memphis describes local healthcare.
She, and many other local health groups, say the center where the problems are seen: Emergency Rooms.
"We see a high use of our emergency rooms for non-urgent visits. That's very telling of having a primary care system that's not effective," said Frazier, "We see a lot of potentially avoidable hospitalizations; that's not insignificant. It's very costly to our system, well over $125 million of what I would call ‘wasted' health dollars."
Toothaches, sore throat, back pain: A Healthy Memphis study states nearly 58-percent of ER visits are "non-urgent," but Frazier adds that nearly 80-percent of these ER visitors are insured.
Cristie Travis, CEO of the Memphis Business Group on Health, was one of those, as she calls it, "chronic ER users" going to the emergency room for cold symptoms and one time an eye concern.
"I work all day long like most people do. I'm a very busy person and I probably don't take good care of myself," she said, "Then when I got sick, I got really sick so I would just go to the ER because I didn't have an ongoing relationship with a physician."
She's not alone. Local health groups say many in the Mid-South do not have a physician. A study by the University of Tennessee Health Science found that many patients go to the ER for health care because there is not convenient access to a primary care physician.
Travis said she finally stopped using the ER after receiving a hefty bill for one of her quick trips.
"On my health insurance I ended up having to pay a $250 deductible to go to the emergency room if it was for a "non-urgent" reason," she recalled, "And I said to myself, ‘Why am I going to pay $250 when I could pay $25 to $50 to go see a doctor?'"
Employers are starting to adjust their health plans to keep employees from using the ER every time as a way to pushing people to find a primary care doctor.
"That's something you're going to see employers redesign their benefit package to better translate to their employees, ‘You know what, you should not be using the emergency room for a sore throat,'" said Frazier.
By having a regular primary care physician and building a relationship with that doctor, they come to understand any history of chronic disease and special needs patients have. Travis said it's not the kind of care provided at an emergency room.
"Your doctor ought to be your partner in helping you develop an exercise plan, making sure you're eating right, making sure you're dealing with stress," said Dr. G. Scott Morris, CEO of the Church Health Center.
Morris said it is this kind of preventative care that will help solve some of the problems in the local healthcare system.
Primary care physicians are improving their preventative care, delivering the necessary regular screenings. Frazier said, "The physician community in primary care improved doing things like pap smears by 18-percent, which is a good preventative technique, 49-percent increase in how they do breast cancer screenings; early detection is very important."
She added that there is a 37-percent increase in diabetes screenings and a 63-percent improvement in LCL screenings for heart disease since Healthy Memphis began evaluating primary physician care.
Morris said Mid-Southerners must understand that not every cure and prevention method comes in a pill. He adds that it is up to the patients to keep up a preventative care routine with the assistance of the healthcare system.
"Exercise, diet, engaging in the spiritual elements of life," said Morris, "We can do these things and I think this is one of those things that Memphis could actually lead the country in. It doesn't cost a lot of money to do prevention."
As health groups try to transform traditions of patients going to the emergency room for all ailments, Travis adds that maybe the local healthcare system should also change its traditions.
"Being able to really think about how can I be of most help to my patients, how can I help them where they are with what they had and in this new world," she said, "Not just think of things the traditional way."