Consumer Driven Health Care

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Uploading Better Health Care

From the Wall Street Journal online:

Uploading Better Health Care

June 21, 2005; Page B6

Turning the notion of second opinions on its head, patients today often arrive at doctors' offices already armed with Internet-gleaned self-diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Similarly, health-care practitioners and administrators routinely use the Internet to significantly enhance treatment of patients, improve productivity and become more efficient. Add to this unprecedented evolution in lifesaving drugs, new medical practices and preventive care, and it's clear that we are witnessing a transformation in American health care and wellness.

Yet, despite the United States' global pre-eminence in health-care science, the actual delivery and management of health services often is inefficient, outdated and disconnected at its roots. Health-care costs to patients and providers continue to skyrocket, while the quality of care remains weighted down by medical and administrative errors, duplication, and often antiquated management practices.

Information technology can and must serve as the primary catalyst for dramatic change. First, however, public and private organizations must begin to work in partnership, embracing approaches in which health-care services can be more effectively delivered and managed.

Fortunately, our policy makers are headed in the right direction. Sen. Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) have come together to introduce a bill that would enhance the development, implementation and widespread use of information technology in health care. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt recently announced a public-private initiative to achieve interoperability among health-care systems and providers and to speed the transition to accessible and secure electronic health records.

Essential components of both measures include the establishment of common data standards and the development of safeguards to provide patients with high levels of confidence that their privacy and information will remain protected. Carried out collectively and in the right way, these efforts will redefine traditional health-care relationships to benefit consumers and providers.

Examples can already be found in pilot programs that provide direct communication between patients, providers and administrators. From drug interaction reporting and use of evidence-based medicine to offsite medical consultations and electronic transmission of health records, greenfields of opportunity exist.

The successful application of information technology in other industries offers an important lesson: First and foremost, transformation must be customer-focused and collaborative. Whether between patients and doctors or health-care facilities and insurers, trust and open dialogue must serve as the foundation for a more innovative, more effective health-care system.

To advance a national agenda to modernize and make America's health-care system more efficient, five key principles, borrowed from industries where information technology has provided tremendous benefit, should be used to guide our collective efforts:

Stay close to the customer. Communicate directly, clearly and frequently with the universe of customers to explain the use and benefits of health information technology. Incorporate privacy and security of personal health information as centerpieces in the design and development of all IT services.

Customize the experience. Work with patients and providers to make it easy to input, retrieve and protect information. Develop ways in which patients and providers can contribute to the health-care process and management.

Embrace government as a partner. Recognize the significant role that government at all levels plays in assuring that health information technology allows for the reliable, secure exchange of data across locations and between technologies, practitioners and patients.

Drive down costs with continual improvement. Highlight the potential for cost-savings through information technology by minimizing time constraints and errors caused by excessive paperwork and administrative requirements.

Deliver standard technologies. Develop common terminology, interoperability and simple processes to ensure accuracy of electronic information. Incorporate privacy and security policies that fully protect individual health records at rest and in transit.

Guiding principles are critical, but real progress toward meaningful innovation in improving America's health-care system will require great tenacity and open dialogue. It is an effort that must be guided by a united vision -- one of better health care, better choices, and, ultimately, a better country.

Mr. Rollins is CEO of Dell Inc. and a member of the Computer Systems Policy Project, an 11-member coalition of technology CEOs focused on public-policy issues.

Copyright 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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