The future of health care will feature greater use of electronic medical data, and more patients will be involved in their own care, a panel of health officials said Tuesday.
Through technology and other changes, “we’re going to have better health care and lower costs,’’ Dennis White, president and CEO of Alliant Health Solutions, told an audience at the Health IT Leadership Summit in Atlanta.
Deborah Cancilla, chief information officer at Grady Health System, added that electronic medical records are already boosting quality by curbing errors in hospitals.
Technology in the health field has gotten a black eye recently with malfunctions in the new online Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, but many technological advances have already made health care more efficient. And the panel’s medical data message appeared to play well with the audience of health IT professionals. Atlanta is a leading center of that industry.
A revolution in health information technology can help bend the cost and quality curves in medical care, experts say. Currently, the United States far outspends any other country in health care, but its medical outcomes lag those of other industrialized nations.
“Mathematically, when we look ahead, it’s unsustainable,’’ said Robert Hendricks of McKesson Technology Solutions, a large health IT company based in Alpharetta.
Alliant’s White said he has already seen increased information on quality of care lead to improvements.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, he noted, has posted information on hospital infection rates, so consumers can pick a facility based on quality. And the federal Medicare program, by penalizing hospitals for high numbers of readmissions of patients, has led to a decrease on those rates, White said.
Georgia was ranked as the worst state in its high use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, White added. “Now we’re 34th, just by focusing on these indicators,’’ he said.
“Patient engagement” is necessary for change, Hendricks said.
That term includes tactics such as providers offering patients the ability to make appointments on their websites.
The Cleveland Clinic, for example, is putting lab results and medical imaging results online and eventually plans to post physicians’ notes after each patient’s visit, according to InformationWeek magazine. The Ohio organization also has a pilot project in the works that allows patients to enter data into their own records, which may help clinicians monitor patients’ progress in controlling blood pressure, blood glucose and other measurable parameters.
McKesson’s Hendricks said there’s a balancing act between medical privacy concerns and the need for greater information.
With social media websites such as Facebook, he said, patients are yielding privacy protection in order to get more information about a health condition.
Health care is personal, he acknowledged. “But if I get diagnosed with some form of cancer, I don’t care who knows. I want to know everything about it.”
“There’s a starvation’’ for information, Hendricks said, citing a family member who said she knew much more information about buying a car than about her own cancer.
A fourth member of the panel, state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, said the immediate future of health care is imperiled by the Affordable Care Act. “I really see a lot of problems,’’ said Hudgens, an outspoken critic of the law.
Young people are needed to balance the risk in the health insurance exchange, but they won’t sign up because of the cost of premiums, Hudgens said. “If the young don’t sign up, this will be a very, very losing proposition.’’
But he also said the law allowing higher premiums for smokers in the exchange is a good idea.
Grady’s Cancilla said digital health records allow different providers to track the progress of a patient.
And she pushed the concept of predictive analytics – technology that could help hospitals understand which patients are most likely to need follow-up care – which she said can reduce hospitalizations.
But despite these technology advances, Cancilla said, “let’s not forget about the need for human interaction’’ between provider and patient.