Wiring the future of health care

Guest post by Barbara W. Cosgriff, Foster School alumna

As the debate over health care reform continues to swirl inside and outside Washington, DC, policymakers and regulators at the federal, state and local levels have proposed myriad solutions to fix what many commentators describe as an inherently broken system. In this process, many solutions have been popularized and, unfortunately, politicized.

From this multitude of often controversial remedies, I would suggest distilling a viable solution with the potential for real reform. This idea posits a system that aligns disparate groups around a common goal: creating a wired health care system that empowers patients and payors alike to make informed decisions.

Imagine a world in which a central repository exists that enables a 360-degree view of every aspect of health care—including the data and results from the lab, from the health plan, from the pharmacy, from the hospital, and from the doctor or doctors—all organized around the patient. In this health care system, safeguards are in place that improve safety, raise the quality of care, increase access, and reduce waste—while delivering increased transparency to payors and patients.

This is—in short—a wired health care system.

But this is not some blue-sky theory, it is happening all over the country, today, through technology advances and leadership from the public and private sectors. Today’s “wired” health care system is based in large part on America’s longstanding pharmacy practice and a 1990 federal law enacted to wire pharmacies from end to end, nationwide—leveraging this system holds unleashed promise. Many companies today use this type of system to allow a pharmacist to cross-reference pharmacy data with medical data thereby providing more comprehensive treatment of chronic and complex conditions. The shift from the legacy health care system to a wired system that utilizes as its backbone the wired pharmacy coupled with tools and training, has proven to be effective in lowering costs, improving quality and increasing access.

All told, wiring health care creates a foundational opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our health care system—and minimize waste that arises from treatment and management of complex and chronic disease, to personalized medicine and beyond. In fact, studies have estimated that efficiencies stemming from wiring health care could save an estimated $680 billion annually. In an overburdened system, that represents significant cost savings.

Several health care companies are already harnessing the savings, efficiencies and quality of care associated with a wired health care system that leverages the wired pharmacy backbone. Patients and payors receive the benefits associated with a wired health care system when they are confident medication compliance monitoring is the norm, cost-saving generic medications are widely available and treatment regimens comply with national standards of quality care.

Today’s reform debate would do well —especially for the average American—to move beyond fractious and narrow partisanship and seriously consider the benefits of building upon an existing wired foundation as a model for tomorrow’s health care system. America’s payors and, most importantly, patients, deserve no less.

Barbara Cosgriff is the former senior vice president of public policy and external affairs for Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Cosgriff holds a BA in Business Administration and Accounting from the UW Foster School of Business and an MBA in International Business from George Washington University.

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