Where Health Care Meets IT

February 26, 2010

By Randy Apsel

RandyApsel

Randy ApselWhile legislators in the “other” Washington have spent much
of the past six months deliberating the future of health care reform,
electronic medical record systems at a growing number of health care providers
are already beginning to offer higher quality, safer care leading to more
accurate health data, better clinical decisions and fewer medical errors.

But what do these changes mean for employers? To take
advantage of these new developments, employers should consider the
following:

Health care efficiencies that result from health information
technology (such as electronic medical records) will ultimately result in
healthier and more productive employees. Studies have shown that healthy
employees not only achieve more while at work, but also take far less sick
leave.

More cost-effective health care will, in turn, reduce
pressure on ever-increasing health insurance premiums. Given improved
access to health data, employers may lobby their insurance brokers for lower
premiums if they can demonstrate that a high percentage of their employees utilize
providers engaged in “meaningful use” of a certified electronic medical record
system. The definition of “meaningful use” is evolving to indicate such
factors as computerized physician order entry (CPOE) and broader data
interoperability between providers. Employers should seek out health care
providers moving in this direction.

As online wellness programs grow in popularity and
effectiveness, preventive health care tracking (e.g., diet, exercise, health
risk assessment, smoking cessation, stress management) and automatic reminders
(e.g., wellness goals, appointments) are becoming more widespread. Online
wellness programs that promote group fitness and measure improvements in the
aggregate health of your employee population over time are increasingly available
through both companies and insurance providers. A broader focus on preventive
medicine paves the way for lower medical expenses and lower health insurance
premiums (or at least smaller premium increases).

In today’s typical workplace, a small percentage of
employees accounts for a vast majority of medical expenses and lost
productivity. Health information technology can be used to help identify those
at-risk employees and recommend them for individualized preventive health care
and disease management intervention. Such interventions can reduce your
aggregate health risks, leading to a healthier and more productive workforce
with potentially lower health insurance premiums overall. While such
interventions raise complex privacy issues that need to be properly addressed,
employers should keep in mind that it is better to address these concerns
sooner than later or not at all.

Electronic medical records are more portable and more secure
than ever, enabling health care providers to readily access medical information
for mobile employees who expect the flexibility of remote access to their
medical records.

One important aspect of health insurance reform is the
incentive to disclose pre-existing conditions without fear of higher premiums
or denial of coverage. Employees
who disclose their pre-existing conditions will have more complete medical
records, which, when tracked in an electronic records system, would result in
fewer medical errors, better diagnoses and treatment plans and, ultimately,
healthier employees.

As our nation’s health care system moves toward the broader
use of electronic medical records and other information technologies, there
will be the unavoidable debate on the associated financial responsibilities of
the initial implementation costs. We as a society will have to address
questions about the appropriate financial tradeoffs between government, private
sector, providers and patients. But employers should remain aware of the
potential power these tools offer to provide more affordable, higher quality
care.

Randy Apsel is the Healthcare Practice Lead for
Kirkland-based Revel Consulting, a leading business management consulting firm
founded on the belief that client success is achieved through Pure Consulting:
reduced barriers between great minds and great opportunities.