VoiceCon: IT Will Revolutionize Health Care - InformationWeek

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11/12/2008
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VoiceCon: IT Will Revolutionize Health Care

During a keynote at VoiceCon, Kaiser Permanente's CIO said IT will play critical role in making health care more efficient, effective, and economical.

The United States health-care system is "aging and obese" and information technology will play a crucial role in a much-needed overhaul, according to Kaiser Permanente chief information officer Phil Fasano.

During a keynote session at VoiceCon Wednesday, Fasano said that health care is costing $2.4 trillion and it's becoming more bloated every day. One of the main reasons for the rapidly escalating costs is many aspects of health care - research, pharmacies, hospitals -- operate in silos.

With a strong emphasis on IT and unified communication, Fasano said his company has been working on making health care an integrated offering that is much more efficient, streamlined, and most importantly, more effective than traditional health care. He said the industry as a whole will be moving toward real-time health care, leveraging the power of sharing information.

But Kaiser Permanente does not just talk, as the company has poured more than $4 billion into its KP HealthConnect initiative, said Fasano. This essentially moved the company away from its paper-based past, and created a linked network where employees could retrieve near real-time information about clinical information, pharmacies, lab data, billing, appointments, medical practices, and other information.

Fasano said he has made sweeping restructuring changes since he took the reins about two years ago. This not only represented a massive monetary investment, but a significant cultural change in the industry.

"In the past, IT in health care was relegated to the back rooms," said Fasano. "We'll still have those responsibilities, but moving forward we will play increasing strategic and critical roles because information will continue to improve your outcomes."

Fasano said his company has already seen results from technology investments in the form of productivity boosts. For example, wireless telemetry monitors can detect an abnormal spike in a patient's activity. An alert is then sent wirelessly to a nurse's handset, and the nurse has the patient's history and activities on that handset, as well as the ability to notify a doctor. Kaiser Permanente has seen a 5% productivity boost in nurses and increased patient satisfaction.

Of course, with all the patients' information digitized, questions invariably arise about security and privacy. Fasano said the company takes privacy laws very seriously and has implemented encryption, firewalls, and more to ensure that health records are "extraordinarily" protected. Fasano said he is more concerned when that information is shared with third parties and suggested a certification process may be in the works.

But Kaiser Permanente is not content with the steps it has taken, and Fasano sees technologies of all types playing a large role in the company's goal of real-time health-care delivery. One possible example is being in a physician's office needing to visit a specialist. Instead of scheduling a future time, the doctor could search for available specialists across the country and have them appear via videoconference. While a diagnosis over distance may not be possible, removing the waiting period could alleviate a lot of stress in the patient as well give the specialist more information.

Overall, Fasano said his company's ultimate vision, technology or otherwise, can also lead to significant cost savings. If more members and doctors can access real-time information and practice preventative care, the company will be able to save money, too, Fasano said.

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