Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Healthy High Tech

Universal coverage is the phrase on everyone's lips (pro or con) when the subject of health care comes up. As Alan Katz points out in his most recent post on The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog, the cost of coverage is a highly important and and often overlooked aspect of this discussion.

Mr. Katz points out Carleen Hawn's article in Financial Week from September 2007 which is pertinent to this ongoing debate. In it Andrew Mekelburg, vice president of federal government relations at Verizon Communications, stresses the need for digital infrastructure:

“The key is that we start addressing the cost problems,” he said. “Our No. 1 priority at Verizon is pushing the government to pass health IT legislation. The health-care sector has not undergone all the business process changes that exist elsewhere in the economy. You can go anywhere in the world and get money from an ATM, but you can't go across town and get a document or an X-ray from your medical records.”

Indeed, there is a pressing need for health data to be digital and portable. It is the third of George Halvorson's Eight Developments that Make Health Care Reform Possible, many of which stress innovative use of information technology to reduce workload and increase efficiency while driving down costs.

The [insurance] industry set itself a major new and almost revolutionary goal in 2006 to achieve a functional ability on the part of all insurers and payers to electronically move data between payers in ways that closely resemble comparable data flows in the banking industry.

That is a data bonanza for health care. We are going from all data being held exclusively in inert and inaccessible separate paper medical records or in a myriad of fragmented electronic claims payment files that have different data standards and unusable provider ID codes to a new world of interchangeable electronic data and consistent, national provider ID codes. From a data perspective, that is revolutionary. It's a huge change.

A huge change that also works with market forces as well as reducing administrative costs.

"An IT solution is one way of putting more tools in the hands of consumers to make us better consumers of health care," said Mr. Mekelburg. "If we’re smarter about health care we’ll all save on costs."
SOURCE: "Cost of Health Care System Bugs Employers" 09/24/07
SOURCE: "Health Care Reform Now!: Excerpt"
photo courtesy of Gary J. Woods, used under this Creative Commons license

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