TECH: Of geeks and grandiose misunderstandings

Writing in his blog from PC Forum, Esther Dyson’s technology conference that Dave Winer says is apparently is back “in” these days, here are some parts of what Michael Miller had to say.

Esther Dyson talking about how the health care industry showed extreme versions of many of the issues discussed earlier in the day: more information than ever, with users having to make more decisions themselves.

Scott Cook talked about the difficulty of tracking medical expenses and figuring out how much an individual owes.    He talked about Intuit’s Quicken Medical Expense Manager, and how institutions are wanting to get more data into it.  There are lots of issues about understanding the information, who owns the information etc. 

Jeffrey Rideout of Cisco talked about the problem of trying to get his employees information about their medical plans, expenses and other information.  We have a lot of problems to solve with the health care system, he said.  He said Cisco is looking on how to use its influence as major employer to help its employees navigate the system and get better care.

J.D. Kleinke of Omnimedix Institute talked about how looking at data is improving health care, and how it was important to gather more information about the health care process.  His company wants to give people personal health care records.  They want information that is private and portable.  He also operates Healthgrades – a site for getting the grades of your doctor and hospital. (Matthew’s note—not sure how JD ended up Vice Chairman there but he has been since the dark days of 2002!)

Gina Glantz from Service Employees International Union talked about how many of their members don’t have good health coverage; and how health care costs are an increasingly large issue in negotiations with employers.

The discussion talked about the need to deliver the technology in lots of places, perhaps by mobile phone.  But all seem to agree that technology has a way to help the system.

Scott Cook said “we don’t have time to wait” for a complex solution.  More people die because of medical errors caused by bad systems than from Diabetes or car accidents. We need to go after the root causes of the complex work systems and use best practices to improve this. We can’t wait for an all-encompassing technology solution, he said.

Rideout thought the personal health record was the first and easiest way to make an improvement; by getting a core set of information to people.We don’t spend enough money on IT for health care, he said. (Matthew’s retort—Well at least they’ve taught him something about marketing IT since he went to Cisco!)

People in the audience seemed particularly interested in the concept of a personal health record that you could carry around with you electronically. Both Intuit and Omnimedix said they were working on the problem.  Rideout said many doctors don’t trust this information though. Kleinke said the problem was not primarily technological, but instead was getting political agreement

I’ve remarked before how it’s incredible that really bright people from outside the industry just have no comprehension of how this business works. I can forgive Esther (and I was relatively nice about her before). Cook is selling a software program, and so if he can create a consumer market for PHRs, good luck to him — although I hope it’s a whole lot more transparent that the baffling TurboTax.But if this is reported accurately JD and Jeff Rideout, who both know plenty more about health care than the rest of the people in that room, need a good paddling if they seriously believe that portable PHRs are the best we can do as a solution for anyone apart from Quicken’s shareholders.

The only person who even appeared to be in the ball-park of defining what was wrong is the rep from the SEIU who’s noticed that health care costs are going up too fast and have been for years. No one (unless JD was transcribed wrongly about what was political) seems to have mentioned the overall access/cost/quality/practice variation problem.  Couldn’t they have got tech guru Len Schaeffer in there? At least he understands that part of the problem.

Of course as has been discussed many times by the crowd over here on THCB who do know something about this business, the broad problems with health care are a) the insurance market, b) the structure of the delivery system, c) the quality of the care delivered by that system and very lastly d) customer service. Well the portable PHR might solve some of the last issue, but that’s eventually being dealt with by the plans and providers starting to use decent CRM. So by glomming onto the portable PHR as a solution because it looks like a piece of technology that they vaguely understand, the PC Forum crowd is imitating the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp because it was dark where he dropped them.

And unless the major issues of the health system are changed by some type of reform, all the technology and information in the world won’t make much difference.



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3 replies »

  1. I’m fascinated by what I’ve read in your blog. Didn’t know anything like it existed.
    So maybe you or one of your readers can be of help.
    I’m disabled and have a ton of medical bills to keep track of and try to pay.
    The only software I’ve found so far that could be helpful is Quickens MEM. But I’ve read a number of criticisms of it.
    Is there a better fairly easy to use medical expense manager software available? If yes, what’s the name?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. I guess it is hard to blame people at a technology conference for trying to sell what they have built. Nobody outside the industry has a prayer of solving the structural problems, and so they chip around the edges a little.
    I think Klinke was a little ironic when he said the problem is not primarily technological — he’s right! But the technology compaines are playing politics as much as anyone else trying to achieve “vendor lock”…

  3. Matthew, great summary of where that crowd is, but you omitted a big part of the equation.
    Transparency of quality & cost data and the incentives (P4P) designed around this info to drive change in behavior.
    That is what I call real consumerism.

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