U.S. Healthcare Needs Another Elvis

Two issues which dominate discussions in every country in the world are Healthcare and Education. In the US, the per capita cost of healthcare today is $7000, an increase of 700% since 1980 and more than twice that of other developed countries, including Canada. The United States spends 17.5% of GDP on healthcare and it will grow another two percent in the next few years unless something dramatic is done to limit it.

Recently, someone asked the question: “Who is the one individual that has helped save the most money in the US healthcare industry in the last century?” The answer – surprisingly – is Elvis Presley. On October 28, 1956, Elvis got a polio vaccination on national TV. That single event was responsible for raising immunization levels in the US from 0.6% to over 80% in just 6 months. No other single individual has had that kind of impact on healthcare in the US.

More recently, the Obama administration has started focusing on Information Technology to help bring healthcare costs down. Everyone has heard about the ARRA – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus package to help improve the US economy. A very small ($19 billion) and little-known part of ARRA was set aside to help jump-start the use of technology in healthcare, specifically the use of EMR – Electronic Medical Records. Under this provision, every hospital and healthcare provider in the country must implement EMR by 2015 in order to receive 100% reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

EMRs will save money in several ways. Electronic records would allow for physicians to treat traveling patients without duplicating any tests which might have already been done by their normal care providers at home. Digital transmissions of records will also greatly reduce costs associated with human errors – for example pharmacy errors due to handwriting misunderstandings. And digital transmissions will speed the care process, helping lower costs as well. The number of other cost-saving benefits to the adoption of EMRs is huge.

To help offset the cost of implementing EMR, the current administration is offering $44,000 per healthcare provider, paid in three stages over the next 3 years with the highest amount being paid in 2011. In order to receive the money, physicians and hospitals must implement the technology and be able to demonstrate it’s Meaningful Use. What’s astonishing is that 90% of care providers don’t currently know about EMR incentives and time is quickly running out for them.

EMR is only one way to reduce HealthCare costs. Other areas currently being addressed include:

  • Comprehensive coordinated care
  • Change of workforce model
  • Support of open standards for technology
  • Provider transparency – patients will be able to rate the services they receive from their physician.
  • National licensing – physicians should be able to provide service anywhere in the US
  • Tort reform – this will reduce the practice of Defensive Medicine; i.e., physicians ordering unnecessary tests to cover themselves in case of a lawsuit.
  • Globalization and virtualization of care delivery.

All these initiatives will change how healthcare is delivered in the US. We have only two choices in order to bring the rising costs under control: adopt these reforms or find another Elvis.

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