We have the technology to save healthcare. Now what?

AHIP panel says IT can fuel improvement, innovation--if only healthcare would get out of its own way.
Tools

In-home monitoring, wireless body sensors, and rapidly-advancing mobile technologies can help achieve the triple aim of reducing costs and improving quality and efficiency by shifting care out of expensive settings, such as long-term care, and into patients' homes.

But improving the healthcare delivery system isn't as much about technology as it is about how it's deployed.

That was one of the messages from a panel discussing the "intersection of science, technology and delivery system transformation" at the America's Health Insurance Plans 2012 Institute in Salt Lake City this week.

We have the technology, said panelist Louis Burns, CEO of Intel-GE Care Innovations. The trick is sharing the data that comes from the technology with the people who need it. But "doctors are running their butts off" as it is, he added. "We need to get the right information to the right person at the right time."

Robert Margolis, M.D. (pictured), managing partner and CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based HealthCare Partners, a medical group and management services organization, agreed. "Giving someone technology is not the solution," he said.  

Adding new technology to the business process is difficult, especially for small physician groups, Margolis added. Change management is critical.

Making technology easier to use is important not only for providers but also for patients, of course.

Remote technology programs must be user-centric, said Burns. Beyond installing the hardware and software, providers must spend time talking to patients in their homes to better understand their needs. "You've got two ears and one mouth," he said. "Use them proportionally."

So if we have the hardware and software capabilities, asked moderator Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, why is it taking so long to use it effectively?

The health IT industry itself needs to make some changes, Burns said. Vendors must work together to establish standards and then innovate on their own using those standards. "Today they exist in silos; it has to stop," he said.

There's also a reluctance on the part of the healthcare industry to take risks, said Diego Miralles, M.D.,  head of Janssen Healthcare Innovation, a division of Johnson & Johnson. "The perfect is the enemy of the good. We can be trying different things to see what works and what doesn't."

Burns called it "pilot-itis."

He shared some advice he once got from a CEO: Leaders should walk up to the place where they're uncomfortable and then take two steps forward. That's  where they need to be.

We have to stop "screwing around" with little pilots, he said, or we're never going to find solutions to the problems that continue to nag healthcare.   

Editor's note: Due to a reporting error, the original online version of this article contained two misattributed quotes. The error has been corrected in this version.