Can Virtual Housecalls Fix the Health Mess?

From the New America Foundation/CTIA Wireless Future of Health IT meeting, Capitol Hill

The audience sat rapt as the oracle of Intel, chairman Craig Barrett, pontificated on how the U.S. health system could deliver more and better care at a lower cost.  Not surprisingly, given CTIA’s sponsorship and his company’s products, his solution is to rig every corner of America with broadband. 

Waving a touchscreen-enabled wireless device the size of a small laptop, Mr. Barrett suggested that Americans could use such technology to monitor their own blood pressure or pulse rate, enter it into their own personal health record and send the data back to their physicians.

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons user aeu04117

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons user aeu04117

He attempted to demonstrate that promise by attaching a pulse oximeter to his fingertip and then connecting it to the device.  The two pieces of technology never synchronized — a bitter irony, given that the biggest complaint physicians and hospitals have about the promise of health IT is that there are no interoperability standards.

Mr. Barrett said the health industry needs a revolution similar to the one technology underwent 30 years ago.  A hospital’s just like the old mainframes that used to take 24 hours to process information, he said.  The advent of the personal computer not only sped up information processing but brought technology into the home.  “Why don’t we personalize medicine so you don’t have to go to the mainframe?” he asked.

The job of the health care system should be to keep people out of the hospital, “not give them better service in the hospital,” Mr. Barrett said.

Not that his is a radical notion.  But perhaps when Mr. Barrett speaks, many, many others will listen and follow.

—Alicia Ault
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