Connecting the Dots With Online Healthcare Resources

As our lives grow more connected and more complicated, we strive to manage the influx of information and detail that consumes our daily living. In our everyday life, handling work, bills, family schedules and more is a daunting task even for those with exceptional organizational skills. For those of us whose talents lie elsewhere, we’re out of luck.

Now imagine attempting to organize and manage your health and health records. Those of us with chronic conditions or who are caregivers for loved ones are already engaged in this battle.

With myriad technological advances and the ubiquity of the Web, it should be easy to go online and organize everything related to your health. Health plans have Web sites with all types of plan information; other groups have detailed health and wellness information including podcasts, videos and thousands of disease and condition articles; you can get reviews of hospitals and physicians; and other Web sites promote disease- or condition-specific communities to engender support among patients.

One thing we have is plenty of information.

However, we’re missing a coordinated approach, an online “hub” that acts as a single repository for every aspect of our health and wellness.

Healthcare Consumers Want Online Resources

Research about the use of the Internet — about 61 percent of Americans go online for health information, according to the Pew Research Center — is telling the healthcare industry that consumers want and, more importantly, are willing to try new online health resources.

In Deloitte’s 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers, researchers found that this group is ready and willing to try innovative online health services — services that today are located on multiple Web sites or are unavailable altogether to the end user.

When it comes to getting health information from health plans, 2009 Deloitte research shows that

  • 57 percent of us would like to use a secure Internet site to access medical records, schedule office visits, refill prescriptions and pay medical bills;
  • 55 percent of us want to communicate with our doctor via email to exchange health information and get answers to questions; and
  • 42 percent would like access to an online personal health record connected to their doctor’s office.

These numbers demonstrate that as a group, those of us using the Internet will experiment with its capabilities — provided we get tailored, relevant information.

Now we need to build a hub, the behind-the-scenes technology and architecture that aggregates the details of our health.

Making the Connection

There are online aggregators that bring together news, our friends and some healthcare information. But even popular healthcare aggregators assemble only bits and pieces of personal health information.

Today, healthcare vendors and health plans are exploring new ways to aggregate public and private health information. We’re looking at putting user-selected health news, disease information centers, personal health records, lab results, confidential provider/nurse e-mail and chat, customizable acute and chronic disease programs behind a secure, password-protected, HIPAA-compliant wall.

By bringing together all of a health plan member’s information in a single spot, we remove the barriers created by the need to trek across the Web to different sites. This online aggregator can help health plans connect their members’ fragmented care and disparate health data.

The result is more efficient healthcare system use by educated and empowered health plan members making better decisions about how to manage their health and use the healthcare system while lowering health plan medical costs and improving health outcomes.

However, successfully engaging members and making them active participants in their own health has proven elusive.

To make this happen, we need data sources that supply member eligibility, claims and provider data, lab results, and the personal and electronic medical record. This information can be fed to a secure central data repository. The data store then populates a number of different health services all at the same Web site.

The technology behind this service needs to

  • ensure that all programs are integrated and easy for members to navigate, which drives member adoption and use;
  • provide a continuum of health tools and programs, including health and wellness, decision support, disease management, 24/7 nurse advice line and navigation;
  • acknowledge that one size does not fit all health plans, and allow for component plug-and-play, which enables customization and the use of existing plan assets; and
  • work hand-in-hand with a health plan’s benefit and incentive design programs.

This one-stop-shop for all of a member’s healthcare needs and concerns makes the process of accessing healthcare information quick and easy for every member. By capturing member preferences, we can communicate health information that members want and find applicable to their daily life. It can take place online or by phone; the member decides. Always available in the background — ensuring that members have the health support that they need — is the 24/7 nurse advice line.

The member experience that uses technology, personalization and a centralized data warehouse is superior to the current disjointed experience. Health plans that can make this happen will find that this online service is a significant differentiator in the competitive health plan market.

I already feel my luck changing.

Jim Hardy is senior vice president and general manager at McKesson Health Solutions, a provider of care management services to commercial and government payors. Hardy can be reached at [email protected].

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