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1/26/2012
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Can $10 Million Trim $100 Billion From Healthcare?

Philanthropist-backed institute aims to spur technology-driven "common-sense changes in healthcare reimbursement and regulation."

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Billionaire philanthropists Gary and Mary West have committed at least $10 million to a new organization aimed at trimming $100 billion in U.S. healthcare expenses over 10 years through technology-driven innovation.

The Wests this week launched the West Health Policy Center, based in Washington, D.C., which organizers said is the nation's only not-for-profit, nonpartisan group solely dedicated to reducing healthcare expenditures.

"Healthcare costs are rising at an unsustainable rate and that has caused a national crisis that threatens our economy and national security, weakens our global competitiveness, causes millions of jobs to be 'offshored,' and violates public trust," Gary West said in a statement. "It is vital for the future of our country to begin immediately focusing on some common-sense changes in healthcare reimbursement and regulation."

[ Is it time to re-engineer your clinical decision support system? See 10 Innovative Clinical Decision Support Programs. ]

The center is looking to effect change in five general ways:
-- creating "infrastructure-independent care" where patients get the right care at the right time, no matter where they are located, thanks to technology-enabled care coordination;

-- price transparency;

--"rational reimbursement" models that emphasize low-cost, high-value treatments;

-- "practical" regulation; and

-- appropriate levels of care utilization.

Toward the goal of practical regulation, the policy center will be conducting research and analysis to help modernize regulatory mechanisms that have not always kept pace with technology, chairman Don Casey told InformationWeek Healthcare. He also noted that technological advances generally have not been accompanied by changes to reimbursement policies.

"We hope that we do raise awareness of the differences between care and payment reform," Casey said. "We really think that, ultimately, the future of healthcare will have to focus on outcomes and cost, and technology necessarily will enable this transformation," he added.

Casey also serves as CEO of the West Wireless Health Institute, a research center in La Jolla, Calif., that the Wests founded in 2009. The couple has committed $90 million to the health institute to date. "The policy center is an outgrowth of that," according to Casey.

He said that the Wests have promised to support the new policy center for a minimum of five years, with an investment "in excess of $10 million."

The ultimate goal of the West Health Policy Center, according to Casey, is to create a different model of healthcare delivery, one that is "infrastructure-independent," not centered around hospitals and clinics. "None of that gets done without technology," Casey said, noting that concepts like aging and care coordination are heavily data-driven.

Casey said the West family and the centers have purposely not gotten involved in what he called "the politics of payment reform" and that the West Health PoIicy Center will not be a lobbying organization. The policy center includes a fellowship program that will bring in five people annually based on their ability to identify at least $1 billion in "actionable" savings on healthcare costs, according to the press release. The first fellow is Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, a specialist in cost-effectiveness analysis in healthcare decision-making.

"We hope we can get five people of Peter's caliber," Casey said. He also indicated that the board has begun a search for executive leadership.

On Thursday, the West Wireless Health Institute is sponsoring the Care Innovations Summit in Washington, along with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the policy journal Health Affairs.

Gary West founded West Corp., a $3.5 billion customer relationship management (CRM) firm. He and his wife established the Gary and Mary West Foundation in 2006, which is funding both the West Wireless Health Institute and the new West Health Policy Center.

When are emerging technologies ready for clinical use? In the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, find out how three promising innovations--personalized medicine, clinical analytics, and natural language processing--show the trade-offs. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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Lisa Henderson
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Lisa Henderson,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/27/2012 | 2:06:27 AM
re: Can $10 Million Trim $100 Billion From Healthcare?
It takes money to make money, but in this case, save money. There is needed change in the healthcare system for sure. Technology is the major driver of change and where all the change can occur. Keeping out of politics for now is the only way healthcare is going to change in this country, but in the future it's still going to cause yet continued crisis or negative change.

Lisa Henderson, InformationWeek Healthcare, contributing editor
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