Having spent many years involved with the collection and management of health data to facilitate predictive modeling, early intervention and disease management, it became clear that doctors, hospitals and insurers typically have far more information about our health than we do.
Maybe the time has come for the US healthcare establishment to follow President Obama’s lead and turn its collective attention to rapidly enabling the collection, storage and private and secure exchange of personal health information in a standardized, cost-effective and efficient manner.
Our population is aging, a growing number of middle-aged people are caring for aging parents, there is an ever-increasing range of healthcare interventions and consumers are being asked to shoulder more of the burden and make tough choices about their health priorities, treatments, medications and how they will finance their well being.
It’s increasingly clear that improving healthcare quality and cost effectiveness are critical to our nation’s health and economic future. Engaging consumers in healthcare decision-making now appears central to driving the needed change. But, without a concerted healthcare establishment-wide effort to unlock consumer health information and enable it to flow freely and appropriately between consumers, the healthcare delivery system and payers, can we really make the kind of progress that has been envisioned?
It seems a bit unlikely that internet search companies, data storage companies, systems integrators, healthcare software vendors, hospitals, insurers or physicians will all put aside their differing philosophies, conflicting incentives and varied infrastructure to band together and lead the way. That leaves consumers and the Government. Will consumers mobilize and force the healthcare establishment to change ? It could happen. But, it seems more likely that this is yet another problem that will be heaped on the newly-forming leadership team in Washington.
While we are waiting on Washington to enable health information exchange, take a moment to think about the pension plan.
Now something of a dinosaur, the pension plan used to be central to the financial life of so many Americans. Not that long ago, people who worked for companies often spent most, if not all, of their careers at one company. One big driver of this behavior was the promise of the pension plan. Work long enough and you will be rewarded with a paycheck after retirement. A simple idea that worked for a long time all over the World. One day, that all began to change. Companies were laboring under the weight of pension obligations. Workers were becoming more mobile, changing jobs and locations. And, the 401(k) plan came to light. Responsibility for retirement planning started shifting from companies to employees and the Government provided the tax incentives along the way to make this idea work. In a short period of time, Americans from all walks of life became investors. They were asked to take on a new kind of responsibility for their finances. They started asking questions, making tough choices and ultimately found themselves in control, like it or not, of their financial future. That worked well in good times and not so well in bad times, like today. Still, the change came and it seems unlikely that we will turn back.
This same kind of transition to personal responsibility and accountability will probably take place in healthcare sooner or later. It won’t happen in the same way or over the same period of time. But, it will probably happen. And, the members of the healthcare establishment, working together with Federal and State Government, have the power to drive this change. To empower consumers, to engage them and ultimately to help transform the U.S. healthcare system into a beacon for the rest of the World.
Doug Klinger serves on the board of MedCommons. Before joining MedCommons, spent ten years with CIGNA, where he served as CEO of CIGNA Dental, among other roles. His resume includes a stint with Monster.com, where he led the company's North American unit.