I spent Monday morning at a press conference where Louis Burns, the head of Intel’s health initiative, talked about what Intel is up to in health care, and Robert Pearl, the CEO of TPMG (the Kaiser doctor group), talked about their move to EMRs.
Kaiser is clearly making some progress—for instance they’ve now got messaging between physicians and patients running in N. California. Pearl repeats the line, which I buy, that the medical groups which have electronic clinical records and manage chronic care for their patients automatically will produce superior quality patient care. Unfortunately, there are two major problems. First, getting people to move to a Kaiser (or equivalent) from the disaggregated FFS doctors that 90% of Americans now use will require Kaiser to be cheaper than competitive plans (which it’s not any more) and to get employers to force their employees to move to those integrated systems. Something that has been really tricky for employers to do. Second, when I asked Pearl about it he said, speaking personally, that employers (and America as a whole) were going the wrong way by moving towards high-deductible health plans because it was a short-term way of cutting costs, and reduced the sensible use of preventative care.
Intel’s health group wants to move towards more preventative care (and less reliance on intensive acute care). They are pushing technology to create smart homes, and easier communications between patients, caregivers, and clinicians. They’ve spent a ton of effort researching all of this on an ethnographic layer, and in ergonomic use cases.
The problem is that not much seems to changed since Andy Grove’s 1996 Fortune article. Health care sucked then. Intel spent a fortune over a decade trying to change it. Health care sucks now.
So what’s Intel really doing? Well it’s helping on standards (that’s original, huh!). It’s doing lots of (free?) consulting with hospitals. And it has a new tool that looks like a more advanced version of Health Hero’s health buddy with video, and a new prototype for a portable tablet that’s designed for health care. And some snappy videos showing how it might work out. But 6 years with 200 people working away? Is that all Intel has come up with? I’m afraid it appears so.
But in some ways it’s worse; as I wrote in Spot-on a couple of weeks ago, on the benefits side it’s changing its health plan into the style that actually is pushing individuals away from integrated health plans like Kaiser. So to some extent, while they’re featuring Pearl and Kaiser, they’re not really corporately pushing the solution that would increase the adoption of the technologies they think will improve health care.
So what’s the real problem? The real problem is that America’s system is so screwed up, that just saying that “every other industry has changed and health care will” as I heard many times at the conference, is not realistic in the cottage industry that they also kept saying it was. And we’ve spent a decade of massive dislocation staying a cottage industry. And the change in the payment system required to move this is a long way away in time.
Meanwhile, Intel (as with Cisco) will continue to do fine so long as health care keeps buying new IT. But I remain confused as to what their health care initiative is going to actually do to improve their bottom line any time soon. I don’t really think that educating tech journalists about health care (which was what yesterday seemed to have been about) advances the agenda too much. And the industry-wide problems that they are recounting are well beyond Intel’s control.
I hope that I’m missing something here. As their hearts are clearly (both logically and emotionally) in the right place.