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Will Healthcare Bank on Banks?

If John Casillas is correct, one day we’ll use financial Web sites for more than paying bills and checking balances, like some 53 million Americans already do. We’ll be paying physicians and checking cholesterol scores. Casillas is the founder of the Medical Banking Project, a Franklin, TN-based think tank. Since 2001, he has been working toward an unusual goal. The very term, “medical banking,” begs for a definition. “It is merging two different worlds,” Casillas says. “I want to optimize banking systems to provide better healthcare.”

In Casillas’ view, banks and hospitals are natural partners. “If you look at the stakeholders in healthcare, they all have banks,” he says. What will drive healthcare and banking together, he says, is consumer-driven healthcare. Increasingly, consumers will turn to high-deductible health plans. Providers lack the wherewithal to track the health savings accounts that adjoin these plans—so they will look to banks to maintain the accounts. And while they’re at it, they’ll offer consumers access to their health records.

Banks have the upper hand already, Casillas contends, because they have invested billions in IT infrastructure and have mastered cross-industry data exchange. Further, when it comes to safeguarding electronic data, people trust banks. “Banks can’t allow people to come in and steal your money,” Casillas says. “We are taking that highly sophisticated technology and making it available to the healthcare system.”

Casillas says he has a joint data access pilot under way with a bank and a hospital, although he won’t identify either. But spend a few minutes talking with him, and the idea makes technological sense. In Casillas’ view, people would pay for online access to health records. He also notes that “health and wealth” calculation tools—available through banking portals—already express health in financial terms. Consumers are being primed to accept banks in the healthcare loop. Casillas has nicknamed his software “COMBAT,” which stands for “cooperative open source medical banking architecture and technology.” He’s not a militaristic guy, but his zeal suggests a man on a mission.

So healthcare CIOs, be advised: Your “relationship banker” may one day have more in mind than landing your checking account.

—Gary Baldwin