The Internet is abuzz today following a New York Times article by Steve Lohr about Microsoft's and Google's designs to change the game in healthcare. Readers who follow this Blog will understand very well where I come down on all of this. As a country, maintaining the status quo in our broken healthcare system (which really isn't a system at all) just isn't a viable option. We spend about twice as much money per capita on health than any other nation on earth, yet the US ranks far behind other countries in many of the ways we measure the overall health status of a population.
Do I think that some kind of universal, government-run healthcare fix is the answer to all of our problems? Absolutely not! One of the things I have learned as I have traveled around the world these past few years is that providing timely, cost-effective, equitable healthcare for an entire population of people is challenging no matter what payment system is in place. Healthcare is expensive and it doesn't matter whether the payor is government (we pay), employers (we pay) or private citizens (again, we pay); many of the miracles of modern healthcare have become so expensive and so out of the reach for people of ordinary means, there's just not enough money in any system to apply them universally and equally to every citizen. Therefore, healthcare always has been and always will be rationed in some way.
So, if how we pay for healthcare has flaws no matter what system is in place, we must find better ways and better systems to deliver more affordable and accessible care. I've taken a few hits for my positive stance on retail clinics, home health, patient self-service, physician-patient e-mail, personal tele-health services, and other modalities to provide health information and medical services in ways besides those that our current "system" provides. Many of my physician colleagues are on a war path against retail clinics. They are calling every state legislator and pulling out every tool in their regulatory armamentarium in an attempt squash the movement, but they will ultimately fail. Prohibition doesn't work. Retail clinics will thrive or falter based on the quality of services they provide and the value that their customers perceive. The whole reason this movement has gained a foothold is because medical professionals haven't been listening to their patients. Patients want healthcare to behave like other industries. It really doesn't matter who's paying the bill. We are all paying the bill, and we expect more than we have been getting considering how BIG that bill has become.
Doing something about this will take more than coming up with new ways to pay for healthcare as it is presently delivered. We need new care delivery models, staffing models, business models, and a bevy of contemporary information and communication technologies to truly revolutionize American medicine. Neither Google, nor Microsoft nor any of the other companies mentioned in Lohr's article can be your doctor, nor should they be. But these companies can and should help us with the technologies that will be needed to change the game. If not Microsoft or Google, then who?
Bill Crounse, MD Worldwide Health Director Microsoft