Demetrio Aguila III, MD, FACS, wants surgeons to provide world-class care that doesn’t saddle patients with crushing financial debt, and ensures buy-in from the patient as well as moral and financial support from friends, neighbors and the community at large. That’s the mission of his M25 Program, a revolutionary concept that gives patients the option to pay for surgical procedures through volunteer work within their local communities. For example, patients who undergo a surgery that costs $5,000 out of pocket are offered the alternative of investing 250 hours of service through the program.
It’s the culmination of Dr. Aguila’s lifelong quest to solve the healthcare debt problem that has vexed him since his medical school days and came to a head while he was providing humanitarian care during his Air Force deployment in Afghanistan. “In many cases, I was able to provide better care in a more efficient manner for individuals living in mud huts than I could for patients living in our nation’s capital,” says Dr. Aguila.
At Virtual OR Excellence, Dr. Aguila will describe the inner workings of the M25 Program, which was featured on CNN’s Champions for Change, and hopefully inspire facility leaders to come up with creative solutions of their own to the sometimes prohibitive cost of life-changing surgery. “We need to find better ways to help those who are hurting,” says Dr. Aguila. “Give yourself permission to think outside of the box or, better yet, throw the box away altogether.”
While the M25 Program does allow patients to use an unorthodox payment method to cover the cost of their surgeries, Dr. Aguila doesn’t want it viewed as charity care. “We’re not simply giving surgeries away,” he says.
The volunteer hours patients and their friends, family and community put into the program allow them to retain their dignity, the impact of which can’t be understated. “Time and again, patients will say, ‘Doctor, thank you for allowing me to participate in my care and not just giving me a handout,’” says Dr. Aguila.
The M25 Program is currently part of Dr. Aguila’s Healing Hands of Nebraska Clinic, which is a for-profit entity that comes with certain inherent limitations. That’s why he recently formed Healing Hands of America, an organization that will become a national non-profit pending IRS approval. That non-profit status has the potential to transform the reach of the M25 Program from a regional scale to a potentially global one.
“We already have partners in Fort Collins (Colo.) and Chicago, in addition to our original partners in Nebraska,” says Dr. Aguila. “Hopefully, we’ll soon have Healing Hands of Texas and Healing Hands of California and, maybe someday, programs established in Canada and other countries throughout the world.”
During his presentation, Dr. Aguila hopes to educate and motivate attendees on what surgical professionals can do when they look beyond the confines of the current healthcare system. “My ultimate hope is to inspire other doctors and facilities to find more innovative ways to help patients pay for surgery,” he says. OSM