Stop with the trash talking. Quit the finger-pointing. Nix the backbiting.
After nearly two decades in healthcare journalism, I'm still baffled by the inability of the various factions within the industry to form a united front. In fact, it's almost impossible to find an issue where physicians, hospital managers, health plans, payers and suppliers are in full agreement. And the hostility could escalate as healthcare continues to grapple with runaway inflation, cost shifting to patients, heated contract negotiations and other thorns.
In an industry so dependent on public support and government funding, this intramural squabbling is a major communications flaw. In contrast, the education and defense lobbies have been much more successful in crafting a unified message to garner favor.
However, there is a rare opportunity for the special interests in healthcare to start walking the long road toward cohesion. The goal would be to rally the industry behind an ambitious effort to build a healthcare information technology infrastructure. Just as creativity and teamwork sparked passage of the Hill-Burton program that financed hospital construction a half century ago, the healthcare coalition must elevate the IT makeover to the top rung of the public policy agenda.
Physician executives, some of the most widely respected and brightest minds in healthcare, can play a key role by articulating how the orderly exchange of computerized information will reduce medical errors, lower costs and improve customer service.
To date, the effort to automate and streamline the healthcare system has been bogged down by a lack of money and technical standards. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson recently called the slow progress in healthcare IT "absolutely ridiculous." We agree and strongly suggest that the good secretary continue to use his bully pulpit to spotlight the cause in Washington.
In the meantime, the healthcare coalition should present Congress and the Bush administration with a game plan to fund and execute the initiative. Transferring money from government fraud and abuse cases is a viable start. Mandatory bar coding, automated prescription filling, simplified billing, reduced paperwork requirements, guaranteed loans and matching grant programs also can be part of the mix.
The imminent passage of a Medicare drug benefit shows that the system responds to bipartisan political support, grass-roots leadership and the willingness of rivals to compromise. Physician leaders are at the epicenter of healthcare because of their links to patients, hospitals, insurers and suppliers.
Let's hope they leverage their influence to help sharpen the focus of the debate.