Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a truly transformative event. The Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, held their global Health IT conference, where more than 45,000 healthcare professionals attended.
Tech leaders and industry executives networked with government policy makers, healthcare providers, and payors to discuss the future of healthcare. As expected, the results were eye-opening, and I would like to share them with you.
But before we talk about healthcare’s future, we need to take a step back and review the past to understand the significance of recent developments.
Shortly after the end of World War II, employers introduced the concept of health insurance as a perk to entice workers in an increasingly tight job market. Quickly, the practice took hold, and employer-sponsored, private health insurance became the norm in the United States.
The number of individuals covered by health insurance continued to grow significantly, but another issue had been thrust into the spotlight: Older and poorer Americans, without the benefit of employer-sponsored health insurance, were left out of the system. With the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, senior citizens and those in lower-income brackets were provided a lifeline, but the cost of healthcare in the United States had skyrocketed.
And while healthcare costs continued to rise at a greater pace than the U.S. GDP, there were still many people who did not have access to affordable healthcare. The introduction of COBRA and other measures in the 1980s helped to bring some Americans back into the system, but the issue still persisted. And as Baby Boomers continued to age, healthcare costs began spiraling out of control.
In 2010, the issues of healthcare access and rising costs were addressed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The number of uninsured Americans decreased from 44 million in 2008 to 11 million in 2011. And with more people in the insurance pool, a value-based reimbursement system, and other measures designed to rein in costs, the decades-long growth in healthcare spending had finally begun to slow.
But while the ACA has improved access to healthcare and slowed the growth rate of actual cost, it has also limited choices for many Americans who are unable to see providers who are not within their insurance networks. This lack of competition will inevitably inhibit the best value being delivered by the system.
So this is where we are today. At the HIMSS Conference, we discussed recently proposed legislation and many ideas that will help tackle some of the pressing healthcare issues we are now facing. A few of the ideas presented include:
- A dedicated focus on improving core outcomes, including access to affordable healthcare, reduced healthcare costs, and improved quality.
- A shift in our current healthcare model. Through newly proposed legislation, there is an effort to convert our current provider-and-payor-centered healthcare system to a patient-centered model.
- This new consumer-centered model will allow patients to have access and electronic portability of their medical records across the care continuum.
- Providing this interoperability will lead to consistency across health IT systems, better communication among healthcare providers, and greater patient control over healthcare data.
- Interoperability will also allow the capture of social determinants of health (lifestyle factors), which are now recognized as being equally as important as genetic information. This will give health providers a more complete picture of a patient’s health status, leading to better, more cost effective diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.
- Leveraging cutting-edge technology to enhance outcomes. This will lead to greater healthcare access, more patient involvement in their own care, and the alleviation of our growing shortage of healthcare providers.
After speaking with healthcare, technology, and government leaders, one conclusion has become crystal clear: Healthcare problems cannot be solved in silos. The only way we can address our pressing challenges is by developing a holistic solution that combines cutting-edge technology with government policy. Only when these two forces work together will we be able to make meaningful changes in our healthcare system. It will require a combined effort of lawmakers, health IT companies, healthcare providers, payors, and patients to adopt new practices and new mindsets, and tackle our challenges once and for all.
I believe that the HIMSS Conference was a powerful step in the right direction, and I remain excited about the future of healthcare.