One of the answers to contain skyrocketing healthcare costs is to set up an IT infrastructure that allows consumers to proactively monitor their health. The key for such a system to take hold, however, is for the government to reimburse physicians for “remote house calls,” according to Craig Barrett, PhD, chairman of the board of Intel, who gave the keynote address Sunday night at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.
Barrett detailed the dire forecast of healthcare expenditure, saying the recent $700 billion bailout of the economy pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars spent for healthcare. The United States will only continue to spend more as the population ages and the rate of chronic diseases increases.
“It is not a trivial amount of money and we can’t afford to spend anymore,” Barrett said. “We have to cap our spending and get better care and better coverage at the current spending rate.”
Barrett’s vision is for people to have a personal health record that follows them everywhere. The medical IT infrastructure is uniform across the nation and patients and physicians are able to plug in anywhere for personal consultations. Homes are replete with remote diagnostic and monitoring equipment. Physicians save time by concentrating on the few who need help rather than seeing scores of patients who don’t need to be seen.
Technology is the catalyst, he said, to enable patients to be a part of their treatment, to have wellness programs that allow people to be proactive participants in their health.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, MSN, RN, and Troy Brennan, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Aetna, joined Barrett on stage to exemplify the problem and potential solutions.
In Tennessee, which ranks 46th in the nation in health status (an improvement from 48 two years ago), they have started a “Get Fit” initiative where residents can track behaviors such as diet and lifestyle that could lead to chronic disease. The state is currently building the IT infrastructure to make that happen.
Brennan said that one of the biggest problems is the disconnect—literally and figuratively—between consumers and healthcare providers in terms of transmitting information back and forth.
“It’s very exciting to see technology in action in the acute-care setting, but we need to have technology be a major force in preventive health strategies,” Brennan said. “We want to teach folks how to help themselves.”
Aetna and Intel are developing a pilot program that will involve gathering biometric information such as blood pressure and weight from the personal health records of high-risk members. Researchers will determine the appeal of the program, its cost-effectiveness, the quality of care, readmissions and other metrics.
“So much of what we do today is in real time, but care for patients seems to be episodic,” Brennan said. “We have to integrate patients earlier into the healthcare cycle. And virtual consultation has to be an integral part of the success.”