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Changes in your health care are coming to Manatee County, say experts

BRADENTON -- Wider use of advanced technology. Greater emphasis on preventive care. More communication among different providers.

Those are in health care’s future in Manatee County as the system continues undergoing transformative change, two doctors and a industry executive told more than 100 people at the Manatee Tiger Bay Club’s monthly luncheon Thursday.

“I have witnessed a huge change in health care delivery in the last 10 years, especially the last five years,” said Dr. John Lourie, a Bradenton cardiologist. “And more’s coming.”

Technology will drive many of those changes, said Dr. Scott Clulow, a family practitioner and the Manatee County Medical Society’s vice president. Electronic medical records and prescriptions, health information exchanges and “smart” pill bottles that track medication usage are just a few, he said.

But the new technology will be used in conjunction with a greater emphasis on improving preventive care and patient education, he said.

“There’s not enough providers in the area to take care of everyone in the county, so we have to get the patient involved” in their own care, Clulow said.

But a major obstacle must be overcome: Improving health care access for the 30 percent of Manatee residents who have inadequate health insurance or none at all, Clulow said.

Manatee County Rural Health Services is their “safety net,” said Walter “Mickey” Presha Sr., the agency’s president and chief executive. The agency served 86,000 patients last year, helping keep health care costs down, he said.

“Imagine what this county would be like without Manatee County Rural Health,” he said.

Addressing those and other issues, such as physician recruiting and a shortage of registered nurses, is the goal of the newly created Manatee Healthcare Alliance. The group has been meeting regularly for several months and its members include Manatee’s three hospitals, Manatee Glens, Rural Health, the medical society and the Manatee County Health Department.

“There are a lot of issues in Manatee County that are unique to Manatee County, and we think the alliance is a step toward addressing them,” Clulow said.

In response to an audience question, Presha again said his agency’s board will not open its meetings to the public.

That stance has drawn heavy criticism after a Bradenton Herald investigation that found numerous conflicts of interest in the board’s business dealings.

“We are a private, not-for-profit company,” Presha said. “There’s no reason for me to allow the press or anybody else to come in to a private meeting.”

The speaker and audience questions touched on a variety of other subjects during the 90-minute forum.

Among them were Florida’s prescription painkiller epidemic, declining Medicare reimbursement rates and federal patient privacy laws.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.