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Kaiser CEO says U.S. healthcare needs systematic reform

There is a great deal of resistance to healthcare reform because industry players make so much money from the current system, said George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, at the HIMSS 2009 Annual Conference & Exhibition on Monday.

Halvorson noted that the current fee-for-service payment model of U.S. healthcare generates $2.5 trillion worth of revenue, but merely sells “pieces of care” to consumers because the system is not efficient.

Healthcare is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. economy, moving toward 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product, but Halvorson said that the United States is on a dangerous path and must lower the costs of the system and improve outcomes.

“We need to fix the delivery of healthcare and move to full (health insurance) coverage,” he said.

Halvorson affirmed that only a “systematic” approach to changing U.S. healthcare would succeed. He called for an emphasis on medical best practices, an increase in coordination between caregivers, and a more consistent long-term follow-through on each and every patient.

Halvorson also pointed out that there is tremendous inconsistency in the quality of healthcare in the United States, citing a study by Dartmouth professor Jack Wennberg that revealed a 40 percent variation by region in cardiac care.

“We need computers to get (systematic reform) done,” Halvorson said. “Physicians don’t have enough information to do their jobs right. Paper records are incomplete, inaccurate and inaccessible.”

Kaiser is a completely electronic healthcare system, Halvorson said. The California-based system has electronic health records for more than 10 million patients.

“Our caregivers are relatively computer-literate, but we have also tried to make it easy to do the right thing,” said Halvorson. “That’s very important in designing healthcare IT systems.”

Including healthcare information technology in the federal stimulus bill was a good idea, Halvorson said, but he cautioned that government and the industry must place a great emphasis on interoperability.

“If we going to computerize healthcare IT nationwide, we don’t want the information isolated in the silos that now exist with paper records,” he said.

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