Message to Congress: Let Patients Choose

Last week I had the honor of participating in the U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee roundtable discussion, 21st Century Cures, to talk about balancing health IT innovation and regulation.

More than 20 committee members, some of them physicians themselves, attended the bi-partisan session led by Chairman Fred Upton and Congresswoman Diana DeGette. I found it encouraging that six of these representatives asked direct questions, which tells me that these lawmakers are in exploratory mode as opposed to looking for answers to support predetermined conclusions. That’s good for the healthcare industry. 2014_Blatt_DC.jpg

The most interesting takeaway for me was the consensus among the participants that empowering patients can’t be stopped. People have been given the keys to their lives in other industries like banking, travel, and retail. Now it’s time for healthcare to step up and we should be enabling this change when it comes to personal data and care delivery.

My message to the representatives and the panel was that we should be creating a climate that favors risk, and shouldn’t pass regulations that so protect citizens that nothing happens. After all, healthcare data belongs to the patient and it should be their right to use it however they want to. What if they want to opt out of HIPPA guidelines? They should be able to. What if I want one facility to send my data to another electronically? I should be able to. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all society anymore and we should give patients choices when it comes to their personal health data and care.

In other words, let risk creep in, with patients at the center, and allow for choice.

This is where technology comes into play. Technology is an enabler and will permit alternative delivery models like cyber care to thrive. We have to create a system where people can get their data and request it by the most convenient method possible. As the holder of patient records, a facility should be obligated to provide it to the patients. Imagine if a bank refused to give you your account balance. Phones would be ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill.

There are a lot of ways to set up closed-loop feedback systems to benefit patients. If the vision is true, then many hospitals will close, massive dislocation will take place, unemployment in the sector will jump, and workers will be repurposed for jobs they didn’t train for. It will be hard. It will be disruptive. But you can’t have gentle disruption. There will be an element of pain but let’s deal with it. The consequence is too important to not deal with it.

Maybe it’s time to admit to ourselves that the current healthcare systems needs to be unwound and undone. Medical treatment is no longer only available through human interaction. The Gen Y generation wants convenient, inexpensive care that is never wrong. They are willing to sacrifice a friendly relationship with an elderly doctor so that the care is affordable and accurate. You have to balance things. It’s about choice. Allow for face-to-face care, or another way. Young people today want to push a button on a mobile device and get immediate, cheap help. Let them.

I hope that the representatives in the room last week don’t pass laws that favor one form of care over the other. If they really want to be effective and change the healthcare system, they should create a level playing field for both types of care and let the consumer choose.

What questions do you have?

If you want to watch the entire 2-hours session, 21st Century Cures, you can see it here.

Mark Blatt is the Worldwide Medical Director for Intel Corporation.