Friday, October 1, 2010

Digital Healthcare at Technology Crossroads

The complexity and costs associated with the current U.S. healthcare system, although screaming for standardization, cross-platform integration and extreme reinvention, probably won't happen overnight and not without a fight.

Panelists from Google, Intuit, Kaiser Permanente and Symantec shared their companies' immediate and longer range challenges of implementing technology solutions for the rapidly changing healthcare needs of consumers.

The big challenge is moving doctors and hospitals from paper-based systems to informatics and digital imaging of patient information. But change is imminent with the soaring costs of healthcare and with consumers pushing for more control of their personal health records (PHR).

Tammy Neely, Northwest and Hawaii BI Leader for Kaiser Permanente, spoke about the challenges of helping doctors learn how to use technology better and the benefits to everyone when they do. Storage challenges of electronic medical records notwithstanding--8 terabytes on 600+ systems--the benefits of distilling this information has resulted in a triple win for Kaiser: improved patient quality scores, cost savings of $100M and streamlined processes that now make "doctoring fun again".

Ongoing requests by consumers of its popular Quicken product led Intuit to develop Quicken Health, a product that helps users decipher "medical speak" and reconcile doctor and hospital bills along with the ease of paying online. "We wanted to empower consumers to monitor and manage their own health care costs," says Product Manager, Christina Banta, who made a career shift after a series of hospital volunteer jobs led her to see that the collection of patient data and backend systems didn't flow well for patients/customers.

According to Lisa Rom, Symantec Sr. Product Marketing Manager, 30 percent of the world's data by 2012 will be digital imaging. Symantec is looking to lower the cost of storage by moving digital imaging into the cloud instead of data centers, and thus passing the savings along to doctors and hospitals for medical research and patient improvements instead of storage costs.

Google's footprint into the world of healthcare comes via its Google Health site where patient control over individual data provides consumers with the ability to track their overall health and wellness. The site provides you with the means for aggregating your own information and monitoring the trends of your health over time.

So, Who Owns the Data?

Google's Shirley Gaw shared the challenges faced by the company in offering a service where patients don't always own their health information. "Your PHR is part of your Electronic Medical Health Record (EMHR), but in many states this health data is not owned by you. In certain states you can't get your own health records except through your doctors."

Security and privacy issues associated with PHR vs. EMHR requires a trust factor between physician and patient and between hospitals and health partners. Today, many doctors are wary about making decisions based on incomplete info, concerned that patients will be able to change digital data.

According to Neely at Kaiser Permanente, it's a fallacy that paper-based records are more secure, since paper records get faxed all over the place all the time. Symantec's Rom indicated that one of the top areas of identity theft is health related, which is why health transport and encryption of digital imaging files are critical.

Unfortunately, the level of understanding and sophistication of systems and security isn't there yet--doctors still take CDs home and store patient information on personal laptops. So, even though the technology is available the adoption is not.

Top of Mind

According to the panelists, this is what keeps their companies up at night:

Intuit: The ability to acquire the data, how to bring it together, and aggregating financial info.

Symantec: Medical imaging that isn't tagged with patient data and cannot be easily mapped to the patient.

Kaiser Permanente: The Baby Boom and obesity.

Google: Providing a service where consumers don't own their own health data.

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