HEALTHEON: Encounters Problems Managing Medical Records
Today's Wall Street Journal takes a look at Healtheon Corp., the much-hyped Silicon Valley start-up that has run headfirst into a brick wall of fragmented, incomplete and incompatible medical data in its attempt to write groundbreaking information systems software for the health care industry. The company's opening salvo in the battle to win a piece of the $200 billion-a-year medical records management market was a 1997 deal to write proprietary Internet- enabled software for the San Francisco physicians group Brown & Toland. But the target date for the software has been pushed back from August to October to sometime "[p]robably in late November," and in the meantime the company "has incurred losses of $73 million and has yet to put a working Internet system in a single doctor's office." Healtheon's problems began with accomplished software designers who had no experience in the health care industry. They faced the lack of a master databank for patients -- "[i]nstead, limited information is scattered among countless doctors, insurers, labs, pharmacies and employers" -- and a professional culture adverse to change with the means to resist it. The Journal reports that "[i]f physicians don't trust a new computer system, they will attack it with all the vengeance of white blood cells fighting an infection." Health economist J.D. Kleinke said that these factors have made "high-tech attempts to sort out the medical-data mess ... disappointing so far." Nevertheless, the company still appears to have a decent chance of success. In the best Silicon Valley style, "the company's underwriters remained upbeat" despite Healtheon's astronomical burn-rate, and Brown & Toland chair Dr. Michael Abel "says he still believes that picking Healtheon was the right choice for his physicians" (Anders, 10/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.