‘Tis the season for family gatherings, holiday parties, and a plethora of professional networking events – all of which give me ample opportunity to perfect my “elevator speech”, introducing my business. It seems like each time I discuss what I do for a living, the question that follows is, “So, how do you feel about Obamacare?”
I understand that the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, is a significant slice of the polarizing pie our nation is currently attempting to consume and digest. And I appreciate that now, for the first time in my career, more people than not take an interest in what I have to say about being “a healthcare data consultant.” In years past, eyes would glaze over as I explained the enormous potential of predictive analytics in wellness and disease management programs, or the power of unstructured data mining for clinical notes data. Mentioning the health insurance plans I worked with brought inquiries into individual versus group rates, and complaints about the latest round of premium increases. It’s been refreshing to experience keen interest and pointed questions as I talk, rather than have each person gulp the last sip of wine and excuse themselves to run for more as soon as they figured out I have nothing to do with how much out-of-pocket expense they’re incurring after each doctor visit.
But as much as I enjoy the sudden interest in healthcare policy and data management, there isn’t enough wine in the world to make me debate the politics of healthcare reform with my 6’5″ uncles, my friends, or my social media connections. I am not a lawyer or political pundit. I am not qualified to comment on the merits of the ACA legislation. I am not an economist. I am not qualified to comment on the fiscal impact of Obamacare. I am a technologist. I am qualified to comment on the translation of ACA’s many provisions into the infrastructure and applications supporting our healthcare system. I am also a healthcare system consumer. I AM qualified to comment on what I believe this historic legislation means to my health, the health of my family, and the health of future generations.
This is what ACA healthcare reform and its many facets – Health Information Exchange (HIE), Electronic Health Records (EHR), Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Meaningful Use (MU) – mean to me: more, better, faster healthcare data capture and communication between all the stakeholders involved in my health and wellness:
- More health data: Meaningful Use-certified EMR applications require that particular medical service activities and clinical data elements are captured and stored discretely, electronically, and made available for retrieval upon patient demand.
- Better health data: The majority of medical procedures, products, services, events, and outcomes are codified in order to meet regulatory standards. It may take longer for your provider to enter the information about a patient encounter into an EMR system than it did to scribble notes on a chart; however, because those detailed discrete data elements are now tied to compensation and incentives, there is a higher likelihood that more specific details will be captured individually per encounter, generating a more complete picture of a patient’s medical history than a manual review of their paper charts. No handwriting recognition required.
- Faster access to critical health data: With EHR applications and HIEs, providers can instantly access patient medical records from provider/facility sources and multiple insurance carriers. The difference between electronic transmission speeds and manual chart retrieval could be the difference between life and death.
How could a higher volume of increasingly accurate, integrated, and immediately available healthcare data result in adverse health outcomes?
To me, healthcare isn’t about politics. It is health care. It’s about me, caring for my health, and the health of my loved ones. I believe that technological advances can and will empower healthcare stakeholders of all ilks – provider, health insurance plan, pharmaceutical industry, patients – to increase the speed of condition diagnosis and treatment, and to assist in establishing and maintaining healthy habits for improved health over a lifetime.
This season, put the “health” back in “healthcare”.