“(P)eople in the United States believe we can live any way we want and medicine will save us. You have your $6 burger, supersized fries and a coke, then go home and take your cholesterol lowering medicine.”Bob Greczyn, CEO, BCBS of NC


Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays.Healthcare companies lag behind other industries in adopting technology “so there are lots of problems to solve and lots of opportunities.”

So said Bob Greczyn, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, keynoting the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s second Engage program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business earlier this week.

“One thing is clear about the healthcare business,” Greczyn said. “Over the years we’ve invested a smaller part of our revenue in technology, and we’re far behind.”

About 300 people, including 40 business students, attended the Engage program, which focused on healthcare.

Missile-proof protection

Greczyn said Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina had only one information technology system in place when he joined the company in 1998. “Now we have 90 systems on 400 servers in a state of the art hardened bunker facility that could take a missile,” he said.

Asked where the opportunities are in healthcare, Greczyn said, “More electronic connectivity and web-enabled technologies.”

He mentioned companies such as RTP-based startup Bloodhound Software, which helps healthcare facilities, eliminate disparities in their databases.

Bloodhound is conducting a pilot program with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and an executive from the company told Local Tech Wire, “It’s great that information filtered up to the highest levels.”

Greczyn also said that one of the primary reasons healthcare costs are so high and rising in the U.S. is that “as a society, we’re engaging in suicidal behavior.”

Talking to a Center for Disease Control researcher recently “scared me,” Greczyn said. “He said children born late in the 20th century may be the first modern generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This issue has such clarity, we have to do something about it.”

Obesity killing us

The problems killing us? Obesity and Type II diabetes, which is do connected to obesity that losing ten pounds often makes the disease go away for many people.

“The cost of obesity will exceed the cost of smoking as a healthcare issue,” he said. “The adult obesity rate doubled in the last ten years. The childhood rate is higher than that and North Carolina is one of the worst states.”

The problem is especially strong in the Tar Heel state. Greczyn said about 25 percent of NC’s population is obese, compared with 21 percent nationally. “If you carved off everything east of I-95 in NC and made it a separate state, it would be the worst in the nation in terms of obesity,” he said.

Another factor driving up healthcare costs is that “more and more miracles are coming about every day and we’re taking advantage of every one of them. I saw a movie star giving an interview who said ’40 is the new 30.’ He’s out of touch because 50 is the new 30. Baby boomers and their parents are not taking this getting old stuff lightly.”

This creates a problem because “people in the United States believe we can live any way we want and medicine will save us,” he says. “You have your $6 burger, supersized fries and a coke, then go home and take your cholesterol lowering medicine,” he said.

Technology abuse

Greczyn said some medical technologies can be abused, which also drives up healthcare costs. He said there is an orthopedic practice in another part of the state where he thinks the MRI machine must “block the door to the entrance so you have to go through it to get in. They’re doing 300 percent over statewide utilization.”

That problem is compounded by the way insurance works, he said. “If you get an MRI today, we pay for 100 percent. Does that inspire you to ask questions about the procedure or to say, ‘I’ll have two?’ We have to reintroduce pain in the healthcare market.”

By that he means that companies and individuals need to shoulder more of their healthcare costs themselves. He noted that his own company employees do not have 100 percent coverage in their health plans.

Greczyn pointed out that Blue Cross Blue Shield lobbied the state to get physical education back into the schools. It also worked to get its number one prescription drug, Claritin, sold over the counter. But the solution isn’t entirely up to companies, whether drug makers or insurers, he said.

“We spend more money on healthcare than any other country, yet we’re one of the least healthy countries. We don’t take good care of ourselves. If we don’t take personal responsibility for our health, we’re not going to heal our healthcare system.”