KAISER PERMANENTE: Seeks Status as ‘Most Wired Health Plan’
Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente is spending some $2 billion over the next five years to "become the most wired health plan in the country" -- a "bold step" that the nation's second-largest insurer hopes will improve patient care while cutting costs. The system is already in place at Kaiser's 16 Denver, Colo.-area facilities, where computers in every exam room allow physicians to access and update patient records, write prescriptions and manage their appointment schedules electronically. The system faces its "biggest test" over the next 18 months, as the insurer rolls it out in California, home to three-quarters of its eight million members, and Hawaii. Once the system is fully implemented, Kaiser's 35 hospitals, 423 outpatient clinics and 11,345 physicians will be "virtually paperless." While other health plans have invested in information technology, "none come anywhere close to Kaiser's undertaking," health information technology experts say. "Logic says this is a better way of taking care of the patients. We could be dead wrong, and it could be an albatross around our neck, but I don't believe that," Kaiser President and CEO David Lawrence said.
Paperwork vs. Privacy
The insurer, which is in the midst of a financial turnaround after divesting its money-losing East Coast operations last year, said the system should allow it to save money, eliminating the need for a medical records department and reducing prescription errors (AP/ANG Newspapers, 8/23). The system will also prompt physicians to ask patients the right questions or order the most appropriate drug, a feature that officials say will encourage efficient medical practice but that has drawn some concern from doctors worried about excessive administrative oversight. The system has also faced privacy concerns, particularly after Kaiser acknowledged last month that a technical glitch on its Web site had inadvertently sent emails containing health information about 858 members to 19 other members. But officials said such concerns are outweighed by the benefits to both physicians and patients of reduced paperwork hassles and more efficient, effective care. "I love it. I think it helps make me a better doctor," Dr. Nancy Henderson, an internist at one of Kaiser's Colorado clinics, said. Steve O'Dell, health consultant with the Denver-based First Consulting Group, added, "Patients don't care about their records going electronic; they care about not having to fill out another form or having to repeat themselves ... [to] the doctor again and again. If Kaiser can deliver care more efficiently than others because they have all the elements of an electronic system, they'll have an enormous advantage" (Galewitz, AP/Billings Gazette, 8/23).