An executive order signed late this past summer by President George W. Bush requires that government agencies make available to the public information about public health-care cost and quality, creating an unexpected, and unprecedented, opportunity for the health care information management industry.
The order, signed on August 22, is aimed at improving "transparency regarding health-care quality and price, with the further purpose of making the information available to beneficiaries, enrollees, and providers," President Bush said in a statement to the media.
The order may bring about something of a revolution in health care, since it requires that every government agency make available data on what it pays for each kind of health-care service, as well as the details of the contracts that it has for those services. A similar initiative—in the state of Florida—was unveiled earlier this year by the president's brother, Governor Jeb Bush.
Another powerful facet of the order is that it directs all federal agencies to "utilize, where available, health information technology systems that meet recognized interoperability standards," according to President Bush's statement.
Health-care industry representatives are pleased with the program. "It is an important step," says Art Carlos, chief actuarial officer of Destiny Health, a Chicago-based health-care analytics firm. "But it is not sufficient to inspire true consumerism in the health care sector. What's missing is the ‘why.' The president deserves high praise, but the fact remains that unless Americans have something to gain from seeking out this information, it is unlikely they will go to the trouble."
A recent survey by Destiny Health demonstrates why that is so. The survey showed that 97% of Americans are covered by "traditional" forms of health insurance, which dictate provider networks that control costs. Only 10% of those surveyed by Destiny Health said that they would "shop around" for health care information if it were readily available. "Paternalistic forms of coverage have caused people to disengage from the process," says Carlos.
Another survey, by health-care IT specialists First Consulting Group (FCG), is more optimistic, however. The 2006 survey, called Healthcare and Technology Predictions, indicates that hospitals are becoming more consumer-directed and will seek to make health-care information more readily available to patients. "Consumer-directed health-care plans have been slowly, but surely, growing in the marketplace," the report by FCG indicated. "Their adoption will be enhanced by the Bush administration's efforts to push consumer responsibility as a solution to our health cost crisis."
FCG also said that initiatives on the state level are helping push along the trend of making more information about health care available to patients. This summer, FCG launched FirstGateways, a portal to provide clinical operability and medication sharing for patients and doctors in the Albany, New York metro area. FCG is working with the Health Information Xchange of New York (HIXNY) to deploy a platform as the foundation for building out the Albany market as one of New York State's announced Health Information Technology (HIT) regional health care networks.
The anticipated $1.5 million investment in technology and services by HIXNY is slated to furnish the foundation for building electronic health records among providers and patients, and also to reduce medical errors, prevent unnecessary testing, improve data sharing, and ensure appropriate medical care for patients.
Chris Baldwin, chairman of the HIXNY Board of Directors, says that there are "emerging national standards" that will improve clinical interoperability and comprehensive "ePrescribing" capabilities.
Joe Casper, SVP of software products and FirstGateways product manager, said the HIXNY will, for example, build upon the industry's growing competence in "developing community interoperability and health information exchange solutions." FCG is already working with Northrop Grumman Corporation in a consortium chosen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a prototype for a nationwide health information network (NHIN) architecture.
So while the recent executive order may not be the first or last word on the subject, the president is speaking the language of health-care information access, and it appears that the health care industry is listening.