By Diane Carman
The success of health care reform depends on technological innovation. Otherwise, if health care costs continue to rise at the rate they have in the last few years, “we will buy nothing but health care in this country,” said Phil Weiser, dean of the University of Colorado Law School, at a conference Wednesday on health information technology.
Aneesh Chopra, the White House Chief Technology Officer, told a the audience of lawyers, health care practitioners and business leaders at the event sponsored by the Law School and the School of Public Affairs that an array of incentives are available to encourage technological innovation, that there’s money to be made for successful entrepreneurs and that Colorado is well positioned to exploit those opportunities.
“The people of Colorado can design the world as we wish it to be,” he said.
As an example of the kind of innovation taking place, Chopra recounted the story of a physician who complained that he couldn’t email medical records to a patient’s new physician in Arizona. It seemed like a simple task, but concerns about protecting patient privacy had for years stalled development of basic electronic health record functions.
Finally, after more than a decade of talking about developing methods for safeguarding the privacy of electronic medical records, officials in the Obama Administration recruited a dozen volunteers from major health information technology companies and “locked people up in a virtual room” for 90 days. By the end of that time, they had developed a set of standards for secure management and transmission of medical data.
“Ninety days later, 70 vendors who account for more than 90 percent of the market share of health information technology across the country pledged to adopt the standards,” he said.
“We haven’t even started the rule-making process, and a set of standards that the industry designed, tested and validated is on its way.”
Chopra said the evidence is overwhelming that electronic health records can improve patient care. He cited a study by the Cleveland Clinic that compared treatment protocols for diabetics. In a survey of 27,000 patients, only 7 percent of those whose doctors used paper records received the full complement of accepted screening and treatment protocols. For patients of doctors using electronic records, 51 percent got complete care.
The study also found improved outcomes for patients of doctors using electronic records. In assessing patient outcomes using standard measures for improvement, 44 percent of the patients in the electronic-records group improved in four out of five categories. Only 16 percent of the patients in the paper-records group showed that level of improvement.
In addition to technological innovation, the health care industry needs business-model innovation to begin to control the runaway costs, Chopra said, and provisions of the Affordable Care Act seek to encourage new strategies for cost control.
Under the act, if groups of physicians or other health care providers develop pilot programs that improve patient outcomes and lower costs — and actuaries from Medicare and Medicaid confirm their findings — participating providers will be rewarded with higher reimbursement rates.
“There’s a quiet revolution afoot to change the way doctors are paid,” he said. “We have de-politicized the payment system for health care.”
The health insurance exchange program is part of a move to develop “new health care marketplaces” and with Colorado taking a leadership role nationally in the development of an exchange, the environment is ripe for business development.
For example, Chopra said, development of electronic navigation and support tools to implement the exchanges will be necessary and there is potential for business opportunities for third-party brokers who could be paid for enrolling clients in the exchanges.
“There are people in every community with unbelievable talents just waiting to innovate in health care,” he said.
“The information liberation and new incentives are rocket fuel for innovation. There’s never been a better time to be innovative in health care.”