Face to Face

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders Media, May 13, 2008

When it rains, it pours, and so it goes with my speaking engagements in the industry. Within the span of a few days, I was delighted to address two groups that are often thought to be on opposite sides of a huge fence—physicians and payers. At the annual meeting of the Missouri Osteopathic Physician Association, I talked about physician EMR adoption and some of the driving forces behind clinical IT. A few days later, for the BlueCross BlueShield Association's national conference for communications directors, I joined a media panel to give my take on the top issues. I pointed to the claims and connectivity challenges hindering relationships with payers, both for providers and patients.

These audiences were about as divergent as you can get. Yet both appreciated how the fragmented nature of healthcare is costing the industry dearly. The physician audience included several who have already implemented an EMR—to mixed results. One practice's clinical quality boost is another's loss of productivity, even two years into the deployment. I think it is fair to say I encountered a great deal of skepticism among the physicians on the utility of EMRs. One doctor wondered aloud about an inevitable "CMS mandate" for EMRs. That's not the first time a physician has raised such a concern to me, and it won't be the last. For many physicians, clinical IT remains an abstract notion at best, one that is championed by policy wonks high atop a hill that is far removed from the day-to-day reality of running a medical group.

At the Blues conference, much of the dialogue centered on alienated consumers. A few horror stories were bandied about by one of the reporters (don't you just love how an anecdote can pass for a trend?), which sparked some heated exchange. I try to maintain a level-headed view of such controversies, as I naturally recoil from the Michael Moore syndrome.

After the panel concluded, a couple of Blues staffers approached me to share their own efforts at engaging consumers. These efforts go well beyond the patient portal where you can look up benefits and get a new member card. The Minnesota and Florida plans have recently launched Web sites where patients may sound off on the industry. On these sites, patients can tell their own stories. The Florida site only trims out obscene comments, so this is not a corporate snow job. The sites are fairly new, and have already drawn a fair amount of consumer feedback—both positive and negative. So who says the industry isn't listening?

Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at gbaldwin@healthleadersmedia.com.

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