Monday, March 2, 2009

5 Goals for the Obama Health Summit

President Obama is holding an important Health Summit at the White House to workshop his plans and ideas for health reform with a wide range of influential stakeholders. Hopefully he will keep his blackberry switched on because this is now one of the emerging new tools commonly used to deliver healthcare. President Obama, with his promotion of information technology, broadband networks and electronic health records, is poised to accelerate many positive changes in healthcare, so what goals should be identified for this Summit?

Let’s look first at some of the current forces for change.

The business of eHealth on the Internet is expanding rapidly. Two recent reports from the Pew Foundation and Harris Interactive have confirmed that 75-80 per cent of United States Internet users utilize the Internet for health information and healthcare – that is around 140 million people per year. This is over 65% of the entire adult population of the USA – an average of 8 million people every day. Not surprisingly those individuals who are carers, who have chronic illnesses, who have recently been diagnosed with a medical condition or who have broadband Internet connections use the Internet for healthcare more commonly than other Internet users, and their searches for health information are becoming a regular habit, often several times per month.

Business sees the healthcare sector as a particularly attractive industry that will benefit from web-based technologies because of its enormous size, inefficiency and information intensity, and companies like Google, Microsoft, Intel and Cisco, as well as the telecommunications giants like ATT and Verizon, all have major health plans. Moreover, the healthcare industry is particularly fragmented with a large number of participants, including general practitioners and primary care clinicians, specialists, institutions (public and private hospitals and diagnostic companies), health funds, pharmaceutical companies, retail pharmacies and, of course, patients.

Our population is ageing with "baby-boomers" demanding better quality healthcare. They are also determined to have home-based health care, and will pay to avoid going into nursing homes. At the same time employers are trying to reduce the escalating cost of health care. Everyone recognizes that the use of electronic medical records is a way of improving the quality of care and making patient information more available where it counts, at the time of the doctor-patient consultation. There is a widespread understanding that we need to shift the center of gravity of care away from expensive hospitals and clinics, and back to the home. It is not only cheaper to treat people at home and online, with less hospital bills at thousands of dollars per day, but patients can also become more involved in their own care. With a single keystroke patient, primary physician, specialist and home health nurse can be brought together.

Many homes in the US have broadband Internet, or cable TV, both of which can be used to deliver electronic home care in future. The core infrastructure for healthcare is shifting from bricks and mortar to bits and bytes. Companies such as Intel are already developing technologies to be used in the home for the elderly in particular – for the baby boomers. These involve multiple health monitoring options – not only to collect obvious health data such as blood pressure, weight or pulse rates for patients with heart conditions, but to monitor patients with Alzheimer’s as they move throughout their home, undertake survey responses from family members via television, and as alarm systems for any medical emergency. Telecommunications and cable television companies are the likely future infrastructure providers of tomorrow’s health environment as they replace hospital beds with homecare accessibility.

So what goals should the summit consider?

1. All patients should have access to their electronic records and their health information in a secure and privacy protected manner, most likely involving a unique healthcare identifier

2. High quality Internet based healthcare systems and networks should be further developed, with the Internet being recognized as core health infrastructure

3. All health providers must move into the Information Age, and be supported and trained to use electronic systems for clinical work

4. Electronically mediated homecare, as well as healthcare prevention and monitoring must receive more focus

5. Healthcare must become a more collaborative industry, with major players from the Information Technology world being recognized as core partners and infrastructure providers

This is an exciting time for the health industry, and a time when the right decisions can create very positive health reform to help current and future generations of Americans.

This article is based on excerpts from the recently published book “Your Health in the Information Age – how you and your doctor can use the Internet to work together” by Peter Yellowlees MD. Available at and most online bookstores.

1 comment:

  1. Expanding on point 4 above, vendors of homecare products such as weight scales, glucose monitors, BP machines, and pulse oximeters need support to ensure that their products will be compatible with the newer technology.

    Non-profit organizations like the Continua Alliance have been formed for just this reason. In fact, earlier this year, some of the first home health tools have been certified by the Continua Alliance to be compatible with BlueTooth technology so that the medical home functions efficiently without having to be hardwired to many devices.

    You mentioned in point number 5 above that the major players from the IT world should develop partnerships with the healthcare delivery industry. I think it is important for the small businesses to also have partnerships. After all, patients have choices when they purchase medical home tools such as weight scales at the local X-marts. In addition, private sector involvement of small businesses will stimulate the economy and encourage innovative ideas. Let's not forget that over 80% of the businesses in America are small businesses.

    Jonathan S. Ware, MD