For too long, U.S. healthcare has operated on the basis of payment simply for services provided. Health plans and providers usually were immune from consumer questions about safety and quality of care. But its time to transform the American healthcare system from curative to preventiveone that delivers safe and effective care to all Americans and rewards innovation in how its accomplished.
The Institute of Medicine tells us as many as 98,000 deaths and 1 million injuries a year are because of medical errors and preventable adverse drug events. Consumer education, price transparency, information technology and coverage for the uninsured are the tools required to reduce those staggering numbers and build a vastly improved healthcare system.
A primary reason that U.S. healthcare costs are rising at an unacceptable rate is that Americans simply are unhealthy. Either they are overweight, smoke or dont exercise enough. Seventy-five percent of the costs of American health are from preventable chronic diseases. To fix the problem, key industry stakeholdersemployers, physicians, health plans and the governmentneed to educate consumers about the importance of adopting healthier lifestyles, preventing chronic diseases and effectively managing the diseases they already have. Employers, who currently are leading the battle against rising healthcare costs, are taking constructive steps: implementing wellness programs, providing incentives for healthy lifestyles, encouraging prevention and instituting care management for unhealthy employees. Ive been all over the country talking to chief executive officers and human resources officers, and from what I can tell, focusing on preventive health and chronic illnesses ends up improving the bottom line.
Price transparency can support consumer education and empowerment, and serve as a catalyst to healthcare transformation. The cost of healthcare in the U.S. is about $7,000 per person annually, yet most consumers dont know how much they pay for the services they use.
Employers and health plans say consumers with access to cost information will be more discriminating in their healthcare purchases. A recent report by Deloitte & Touches Center for Health Solutions (where I am independent chairman), discusses how price transparencyin tandem with quality serviceis a key building block of a more responsive and accountable healthcare system. The report also underscores the key role that state governments can play in advancing transparency by using their considerable leverage as regulators, employers, payers and users of the healthcare systems they govern to assure fair play in the disclosure of prices to protect consumers.
Widespread implementation and adoption of healthcare information technology systems such as health information exchanges and electronic health records can facilitate price transparency, as well as lower costs and improve quality.
Few of todays healthcare providers can afford to make extensive investments in health IT. It also is a low priority in government funding, even though IT is recognized as vital to improving the countrys healthcare system. In addition, adoption rates are low, particularly among physicians. It is time for the U.S. healthcare industry to take serious steps to move IT forward. Creative funding sources need to be identified to address the significant costs associated with updating hospitals IT infrastructures and implementing integrated, state-of-the-art IT systems. Doctors, nurses and technicians must learn how to use new technology and incorporate it into their daily work processes. In this way, we can be sure that technology is having its intended effectimproving health.
Finally, no discussion of transforming the U.S. healthcare system can be complete without addressing the issue of providing care to Americas nearly 45 million uninsured. The nation cannot continue to ignore its growing healthcare financing crisis and hope for a silver bullet government cure. There is none. Any real and lasting solution will require broad-based collaboration and a focus on specific issues and possible responses, including regulatory and tax reform and development of missing healthcare informatics.
In four states, plans for a universal-care program have been announced; in 21 states, legislatures have been informed that 50% or more of new revenue coming to the state will be required to fund healthcare obligations. I suggest that each state be required to create uninsured pools and open them up for bids from health plans, without restrictions or mandates. Additionally, industry stakeholders should engage in a dialogue around innovative approaches to healthcare financing to increase access to healthcare for those who need it most.
Transformational change requires leadership and collaboration among all to achieve the ultimate goal of better healthcare at a lower cost for all Americans.