A bleak prognosis for US healthcare—and ignorance about IT

The San Francisco Chronicle is following up last week’s series on infant mortality with an in-depth report on the state of healthcare in America, appropriately titled, “In Critical Condition.”

The stories present a bleak prognosis for a failing system, focusing mostly on the lack of coverage for 45 million Americans and the rising cost of providing insurance. The Chronicle also takes a look at the Canadian system, pointing out that universal coverage and the presence of a single payer sharply reduce the administrative hassles of verifying eligibility and submitting claims, but also noting that there is a shortage of doctors and long waiting lists for some types of care.

So far, there has been no mention of the potential of information technology to reduce costs and improve care.

For that matter, I am supremely disappointed with a journalists’ sourcebook I recently received from the nonpartisan Alliance for Health Reform, entitled “Covering Health Issues 2004.”

There are more than 200 pages explaining issues related to the uninsured, private insurance, Medicare/Medicaid, public health, prescription drugs and mental health, but virtually nothing about IT. Medical technology gets about two paragraphs in the context of contributing to rising costs, but it’s twice as much as information technology. For that matter, there is nada on patient privacy; the only mentions of HIPAA focus on insurance reform and portability of care, not administrative simplification.

Considering that this is a brand-new publication, with “2004” in its title, it is terribly ignorant for this book to have a long list of sources for journalists and not include Dr. David Brailer, the new, presidentially appointed, national coordinator for health IT who also happens to be highly accessible to journalists such as myself.