Speaking at the HIMSS exhibition this past February, a group of high-ranking officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services dispassionately laid out some facts about the nation’s financial future--at least as far as health care goes. A series of slides spelled out the scenario: rising enrollment in Medicare coupled with rising incidence of chronic diseases and a corresponding surge in unnecessary readmissions. Tony Trenkle, acting CIO, noted that “if health information technology doesn’t do it for us, we’re in a heap of trouble.” He was referencing the meaningful use incentive program as well as efforts to streamline claims submissions and reward quality outcomes.
There’s no doubt that the meaningful use program is imperfect, and my colleague Joe Goedert has done a great job of reporting on the pitfalls of participation. But the program recognizes one crucial fact: that unless the nation gets on board with a standardized, high-tech approach to clinical decision-making, its health care industry faces serious problems. Of course it’s one thing to get physicians and hospitals to use EHRs. What about consumers? Can health IT tools play a role in getting them—meaning us—to alter the kinds of behaviors that ultimately turn into chronic conditions?
Speaker after speaker at the recent community health event here in Chicago emphasized this consumer role in preventive health practices. Damon Arnold, director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, did not mince words on this topic. Bad health, he said, “begins in the mouth.” What a person eats, drinks and smokes determines their long-term health, Arnold explained, adding that a silent tidal wave of health problems is approaching the nation due to the rising incidence of obesity and its related diseases.
Community health officials understand the gravity of the situation, and some, like the public health department of Sonoma County, California, have built clinical reporting dashboards to keep tabs on the components. The county maintains a public Web site that is chock full of health indicators that are laid out in easy to read detail, complete with warning lights. The site was built by Trilogy Integrated Resources, whose CEO Bruce Bronzan discussed the effort at the Chicago forum. Providers can use the site to drill down to clinical programs nationwide which have tackled some of the chronic diseases, he noted. In addition, the site includes a personal health record for consumers.
Now the question is, will consumers use the tool? What role can IT play in changing ill-advised health behaviors? I’ll be tackling this topic for a future article in our print magazine and would welcome any thoughts.
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