A Prescription for Efficiency
turbotodd 100000388Y Comments (2) Visits (1539)
"What do you mean I can't get access to my health insurance information via the Web?"
"What do you mean you need me to fill out that form again?"
"What do you mean you need a fax for that claim? A fax?!?!"
Every time I go into a new physician's office, I'm asked to fill out a lengthy personal medical history (lengthy in the questions they ask, not necessarily in my personal medical history.)
Of course, I understand and absolutely embrace my doctors' request to have my medical history. I want them to have it. But every time I have fill out those endless forms, I can feel precious seconds of my short life falling away like the water droplets out of an I.V. bag.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Can't they, at minimum, give me a little microchip or USB drive or something to carry from one office to another, so that I don't create a new medical condition in the form of writer's cramp as I fill out page after page every time I visit a new physician's office?
Subconsciously, this chore alone has very likely limited my willingness to switch doctors over the years. Never mind the economic inefficiencies inherent in having thousands of doctors shuffling papyrus around when they could be sending bits and bytes amongst themselves, their patients, their insurance companies, and other interested parties.
Also, as we have witnessed recently with Hurricane Katrina, having some form of electronic health information portability is now found to be essential when we find that tens of thousands are suddenly forced from their homes and all their medical and prescription records destroyed.
I had a personal experience with a related challenge in 2003 that nearly left me absolutely stunned as to how unwired healthcare could be in the U.S. My uncle was lying in a vegetative state at a hospital on the outskirts of Houston (yes, that Houston, home to leading edge medical bellwethers such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor Medical College of Medicine).
Amazingly, no one on the staff knew of a way to download a digital file of my uncle's elec
Sadly, the decision was ultimately made to remove him from life support -- but it was a decision unnecessarily delayed while my family waited for a plane to fly from Houston to Memphis and back so that a stack of paper could await a signature at a doctor's office somewhere in Beaumont, Texas.
So much for filling out all those forms.
A Little Preventative Medicine Goes a Long Way
Every year, the U.S. alone spends $1.9 trillion on healthcare, and yet it makes up less than 2% of what we spend on information technology. And employer health care costs are growing faster than revenues, with 2004 marking the fifth consecutive year of double-digit increases (at 12%).
If those numbers don't stagger you, write these down on your R/X pad: Nearly 100,000 people die every year in the U.S. -- more from AIDS, homicide, and car crashes combined -- because of medical errors preventable by better information systems.
I'm happy to report that IBM has arrived at the ER and is doing what it can to improve the patient's condition. In particular, I was heartened to read an article in the New York Times yesterday about an experiment in Duchess and Ulster Counties north of New York City to create a Web-accessible database available for doctors, hospitals, insurers, and employers in the region.
Entitled the "Taconic Health Information Network and Community," the system will initially provide secure access to electronic medical information such as lab reports to X-rays and other imaging results, and later to electronic medical and prescription records. (IBM is both a technology provider for and beneficiary of this initiative, as we employ over 60,000 people in the mid-Hudson Valley.)
Some of our healthcare industry experts also recently started a blog called "HealthNex," that addresses the "building blocks of connected care." It includes discussions on everything from electronic health records to building a more integrated healthcare ecosystem. A recent post cites a RAND study that indicates electronic medical records specifically could yield $81 billion annually for the U.S. healthcare industry. Check the HealthNex blog to learn more.
In the meantime, feel free to encourage your local physician to replace all those forms with a browser. Collectively, we'll all be much healthier when we can make that transition.