Marcia-Blanchard.jpgBy Marcia Blanchard, Vice President of Operations

In 1965, a visit to your doctor cost all of $5. Now, 50 years later, that doctor’s visit is more likely to cost $105.

What, you aren’t shocked?

Of course you aren’t.

The escalating costs of health care are hardly considered breaking news. Across the nation, health systems are being challenged to reduce those costs by increasing efficiency and maximizing resources. That’s no easy feat considering the industry-wide challenges they face: a growing population of aging patients, increasing rates of chronic conditions and health care professional shortages, not to mention the evolution of health care reform.

And across the nation, many health systems are increasingly realizing that health IT is the bridge that closes the gap between limited resources and growing focuses on quality, access and outcomes.

Electronic health records, health information exchanges, patient portals, telehealth, mobile technology….these are game-changing factors in today’s struggle to reverse the rising costs of health care. They’ve made possible a model of connected care that would have been unimaginable in 1965.

Yet in spite of the incredible growth in health IT adoption, in spite of the astounding capabilities of today’s technology, many of our health care systems remain largely disconnected, siloed and fragmented. While they are well connected within themselves – internal HIEs, impressive EHR systems and the like – they’ve not maximized their own technology to connect to others outside their walls.

Still, the vision - that of a seamlessly connected system in which information is available at all points along the continuum of care – is real, and more importantly, it is attainable.

But – and there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there? – a few things must happen before that vision becomes reality. Certain barriers – providers who continue to record medical care on paper, slow and/or sporadic health IT integration and the reluctance among some providers to share data due to HIPAA concerns, for example – must be overcome. Interoperability standards must be developed and mandated. Care should be collaborative and patient-centered across the health care spectrum.

Collaboration among truly connected health care systems is essential to achieving premium quality health care at an economical price. From the rural physician in a private practice to the largest hospital system, from the EMS provider to the nursing home medical staff, from the school-based health center to the local public health unit – there needs to be clinical alignment.

In 1965, such a connected system was a distant pipe dream. Today, it’s not so distant, yet it is still very much a dream. But it doesn’t have to be.

Those of us at the forefront of the health IT movement cannot bring that dream to fruition without the buy-in of health care professionals at all points of care along the care continuum. And those health care professionals are being challenged to achieve a connected system through health IT to bridge the gaps between limited resources and expanding patient needs.

While we will almost certainly never again see the $5 doctor visits of 1965, we do have the potential to reverse the exponential increase in the health care costs of 2015 by building connected health care systems.