PALO ALTO, Calif.—The American health system is “saturated with inefficiency,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Monday at a gathering of Stanford medical faculty and students.
In 1960, health care costs came to about 5 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product), he said. Now it is estimated at about 15 percent. Other countries spend a much smaller proportion of their GDP on health, Leavitt said, making them more competitive in a global marketplace.
As an example of inefficiency, he described how an acquaintance with two children had to take an entire day off work to physically collect her childrens medical records from several different offices.
Information systems that exchange health information are key to bringing down costs, Leavitt said. Specifically, Leavitt said his department will push for better ways to identify adverse drug reactions, common health IT standards, and more opportunities for consumers to share and control their medical records. It also will try to shift health cares focus away from treating disease and toward maintaining health.
After the meeting, Leavitt toured PAMF (Palo Alto Medical Foundation), widely recognized for its use of health IT. The visit showed how technology can improve care, but it also highlighted the gaps preventing IT from being more effective.
One woman said she used the foundations online patient portal to schedule procedures for her husband, who has Alzheimers disease. “It saves lots of telephone tag,” said Marianne Marx, who likes to log on late at night, when she is not working or caring for her husband.
Patients at PAMF are prompted to schedule visits for preventive care; they can also access their test results and other health information online. For $60 a year, they can ask their doctors medical questions through a secure messaging service.