Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Personal Care as Health Care Reform

As Micah shared in a previous post, we went to the World Health Innovations and Technology Congress (WHIT5.0) in Washington, D.C. last week.  It was an awesome experience, and Micah gave a great overview of the conference.

I walked away with several clear impressions:  one of them is that before we can make significant progress on health care reform, we need to engage patients (notice I'm talking about health care reform, not reform of the ridiculous financial system that surrounds it).  In fact, both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich agreed on this point, and you can't get much farther apart than that on the political spectrum.  Many other speakers and panelists at the conference said the same thing.

Why patient engagement?  Because patient engagement in their own care will encourage lifestyle changes -- changes like losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising, managing diabetes more carefully.  And these changes would result in big reductions in major illnesses:  type II diabetes, stroke, heart conditions, and many cancers.  In turn, besides increasing quality of life for millions of Americans, billions could be saved on treatment of these diseases -- diseases which are extremely high cost in both length and type of care.

Billions of dollars saved, which can be used to pay for health care for the un- and under-insured; to finance rural clinics; to reduce insurance premiums; to improve care of non-lifestyle-related illness.  Okay, this is a little pie-in-the-sky, because some of that money will end up in the pockets of insurance companies; but the possibilities of freeing up that kind of money are pretty exciting.

What's next?  Well, lots of companies are working on various platforms that will allow patients to be involved in their care.  They range from Web applications that integrate directly with the patient's EHR (like Palo Alto Medical Foundation's PAMFOnline built on Epic's foundation) to Keas' care plans and self-monitoring tools to Google Health's online records.  All show promise in different ways, but my bet is on provider or payor driven (or funded) systems, because they have the most to gain by using these systems.  Vendors like Keas will be successful only if they can pull in corporate users and figure out a way to be transparent to physicians.  But there are definitely some changes going on in this space, and they bode well for health care reform and financing.

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