By Julie Anderson
World-Herald Staff Writer

When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase talk about using technology to make health care more affordable and accessible, they may be thinking about some of the same technology Amazon already has used to transform the retail world.

Lee Handke, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Health Network, said the biggest opportunity for cost savings in health care lies in innovative thinking about the site of care — as in, where is the best, most efficient, least-expensive place to get the care you need, when you need it.

Health care starts to get expensive, he said, when health conditions spiral and people need hospitalization. To that end, health systems and other organizations increasingly are encouraging people to establish relationships with a primary-care team that can catch and control chronic ailments before they spiral and costs mount.

He said he believes that technology increasingly will be used to help health care teams monitor patients in the home. The three companies could play a role in furthering such networks.

Still, Nicol Turner Lee, a fellow with the Brookings Institution, noted that the companies will have to break through some regulatory and other barriers. While tele-health networks increasingly are being used to provide remote care, from psychiatry to dermatology, not all such services yet are reimbursed or covered by insurance.

And then there’s data: Amazon already uses data to track what we shop for and makes recommendations for future purchases based on that history. It could bring that same tracking to health care.

Nebraska Health Network, like insurers and health systems, has been working to use data to identify physicians and practices who are doing a good job of keeping patients healthy and to spread those best practices throughout their systems.

They’ve also been using data to identify patients with chronic conditions and encourage them to come in for preventive care.

“That’s a group we’ve really been trying to reach out to,” Handke said. “This isn’t about hospitals and physicians need to lower their costs, this is about how do we make more efficient use of the health care system.”

Jeanette Wojtalewicz, chief financial officer with CHI Health, said the companies could look at employee data to determine what’s driving their health care needs and pinpoint higher costs.

With consumerism on the rise, patients are going to want greater access to that data, particularly quality metrics and performance outcomes they can’t easily get today, said Dr. Michael Ash, chief transformation officer at Nebraska Medicine.

They also want a better consumer experience, which has been Amazon’s forte. Nebraska Medicine recently launched its own system of doctor ratings from its patients, similar to the star system on Amazon. The health system plans to begin scheduling appointments online in some locations. Efforts also are going toward reducing other points of “friction” in the system.

“I shop online because it’s convenient and it works to my schedule,” Ash said. “Health care needs to work similarly … and I think these large players will help disrupt some of the old established ways.”

Transparency with regard to cost is another place the companies might leverage technology.

Insurers, health systems and others, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska and CHI Health, have launched price estimators intended to help consumers shop for care.

However, Handke said, studies so far indicate that they have been slow to take off and don’t significantly reduce the cost of care overall.

CHI’s Wojtalewicz said such calculations are complicated. The price tools are based on averages in a lower, middle and high range. “If they can come up with a better tool, that’s a good thing,” she said.

Source: Original article