"If healthcare were run like retail…" It isn't, nor can it be (part I)

A while back, I created a series on the top 10 myths in American healthcare. Apparently, Regina Herzlinger wasn’t one of its readers.

Herzlinger, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School wrote an article for BusinessWeek, If healthcare were run like retail…, in which she argued that a consumer-driven system would cut costs and improve service. She has been called a “healthcare heretic because she supports neither government- nor corporate-provided health insurance. Instead, she focuses on the needs of the consumer.”

Oh, sure.

Herzlinger believes that only consumers can truly manage healthcare. “People can choose from 240 models and makes of cars pretty intelligently,” she says. “Why do we assume they can’t do the same when it comes to their health?” Where shall I begin?

Over the next five days I will address her “ideal world” point-by-point as they appear in the article:

  1. “Consumers tailor their own healthcare coverage, navigating in a national insurance market.”

I think it’s rather unrealistic to believe that consumers have the in-depth knowledge required to accomplish such a feat. As Eugene Borukhovich wrote in a January 3 blog entry, most people have yet to establish a personal health record (PHR), such as Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault. Even if set up, the lack of providers that are technologically advanced to synch up with these PHRs makes true accessibility near impossible. Additionally, data and information on procedures, costs, and payer reimbursement that can be obtained by consumers through simple Internet searches has yet to exist. Patients aren’t doctors. Patients aren’t insurance companies. How can a patient—or in Herzlinger’s words, consumer—be expected to intelligently navigate such extensive choices and clinical detail with limited information and knowledge?

(Tomorrow: # 2 “Everyone must buy insurance and the federal government maintains a strict oversight to ensure price and coverage fairness.”)

This blog first appeared at Action for Better Healthcare. -Ed.

Newsletter hed: 
"If healthcare were run like retail…" It isn't, nor can it be (part I)
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