Last fall, the Kadlec Health System in Washington State started testing a new cloud-based technology that mashes up professional networking and diagnostics. The system allows doctors to create a professional profile, store patient images and data together in one place, view them from anywhere and access intuitive analytics. “It’s like LinkedIn professional networking meets diagnostic imaging,” said Jeanine Banks, general manager of Commercial Cloud Solutions at GE Healthcare IT, which developed the technology. “There is a lot of waste in the system. We want to help rein in the costs and make the system far more efficient.”
A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that almost 40 percent of patients are misdiagnosed in primary care1. Another report by the American College of Physicians discovered that unnecessary testing and medical procedures, and extra days in the hospital caused by wrong diagnoses could add up to $800 billion per year, close to one-third of all U.S. healthcare costs.
On Monday, John Dineen, president and CEO of GE Healthcare, Bill Ruh, who runs GE’s Global Software Center, and Michael Leavitt, the former secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services discussed the state of American healthcare and the ways to improve it with technology. Their panel, which was moderated by technology investor and philanthropist Esther Dyson, was part of GE’s Centricity LIVE conference focused on IT in healthcare.
Ruh and Dineen reminded everyone that over the last two decades many consumer-facing industries got thoroughly remade and that healthcare won’t be different. “There was an architectural shift of technology,” Ruh said. “We changed how we deliver and interact with music and books.”
Dineen said that the healthcare landscape was now also changing “from cost plus to profit and loss. The consumer will start making buying decisions,” Dineen said. “There’s going to be transparency. There is going to be a real focus on productivity and customer satisfaction and that’s going to require tremendous investment…The industry will pivot over the next few years.”
Industrial Internet systems like the GE technology that’s now working at Kadlec will be one driver of change. But former Sec. Leavitt said collaborative tools that bring together patients, insurers and providers will help distribute the risk associated with healthcare costs. “Exchanges will allow consumers to make trade-offs,” Leavitt said. “If you stay with me and get your body in a better shape, I’ll give you a better [insurance] price.”
Next-generation healthcare will also focus on outcomes. Dineen said that engineers used to be concerned chiefly with building better machines and “taking the technology to the next level.” But medical systems in the future will have to combine high quality and lower costs with results.
Dineen and Ruh stressed the need to focus on predictive analytics, which has started empowering other industries. Dineen said that in aviation, Industrial Internet systems can already see “a signature of a problem and get it fixed when [the aircraft] comes to a shop and not on a mountain top.”
“It’s not that you get this magic answer that something is going to break,” Ruh said. “You get early indicators. You still need to have experts in the loop.”
Dineen said that right now, the healthcare industry was going through “this clumsy period when the incentives have not kicked in” yet. He listed three stages of the IT revolution in healthcare that need to take place. They include connecting machines and digitizing data, getting data from siloes like primary care providers, as well as the “rich stage,” which involves analysis and learning from the data.
Researchers estimate that the majority of healthcare costs stem from preventable chronic health conditions rather than disease prevention and early detection. Dineen called the status quo “unproductive.” The new system will have the rewards and the incentives to change that, he said.
1Journal of American Medical Association 2012
2Reuter’s, citing study by American College of Physicians