As a medical doctor, part of me is always asking how I can take better care of my patients. It’s a consuming concern shared by my colleagues and reinforced when we look into the eyes of those we help. They, too, want better care.
Yet all of us – health care providers and patients alike – also face hard realities. States, cities and towns across the country continue to struggle with unprecedented budgetary challenges. Much of those costs are based in health care. In 2010, for example, the NC Center for Public Policy Research identified Medicaid as the fastest grow state expenditure — accounting for 15 percent of the budget.
You don’t need a spreadsheet to understand the significance of that investment and the importance of delivering care as efficiently as possible.
What’s more, we are entering an era of major change in health care. North Carolina leaders are now fully engaged in the question of creating a ‘health exchange’ (insurance shopping hubs for individuals and small businesses). The company that I work with – CSC – is updating the state’s massive electronic system for handling Medicaid claims. And health care providers are grappling with the promise and implementation of moving from paper records to digital ones that are easier to share.
So when we consider our budget challenges, it’s in the context of a health care world that is more than ever wedded to technology. Of course, classic solutions still stand. Yes, it is prudent to find efficiencies, eliminate waste and, of course, stop fraud. But now, some of the most exciting prescriptions to our challenges can be found at the intersection of technology and medicine.
Simply put, technology is making it possible for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and patients to make better decisions by accessing better information.
Let’s look at just one illness. Every year more than 750,000 patients in American hospitals develop a serious condition called sepsis, which can cause shock, organ failure and death. Treatment can mean long stays in the intensive care unit and hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures.
But, historically, it’s been difficult to anticipate which patients will become septic. So imagine a system in which technology could be used to identify which patients are at the highest risk and alert doctors to intervene to stop illness before it happens, saving lives and scarce healthcare resources.
This scenario is here today — it’s health information technology in action at the University of Kansas Medical School, where sophisticated computer analytics are synthesizing health data to eliminate five sepsis cases or more each month at a single hospital. If this cutting edge tool, CareVeillance, is saving lives, and a million dollars a month, at just one hospital, imagine the broader possibilities.
I am proud to be working in North Carolina to help improve processes that will lead to better outcomes for both providers and patients. Yes, we face challenges. The good news is that thanks to advanced computer analytics, we’re up to the challenges.
Editor’s note: Dr. Robert M. Wah is chief medical officer of Computer Sciences Corporation, the global company working with the NC Department of Health and Human Services to update the state’s electronic Medicaid system.