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Is Technology the Answer for Access, Quality?

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida Legislature
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Many speakers at a Health Care Affordability Summit on Friday said the medical culture is mired in the past and called for smarter use of technology to contain costs, reduce errors and improve access.

Rep. Matt Hudson, who chairs the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, served as convener and cheerleader for a panel of experts who pressed that case. Hudson said one of his main quests since he came into office is to "create some better efficiencies."

"We can pay our mortgage online and that's secure. We can do all our banking online and trade stocks online, yet somehow we don't seem to want to embrace that in the health-care world," Hudson said.

The panel for which he was moderator agreed, saying patients are demanding it and doctors-in-training are ready to embrace it. But those in practice for a while, as well as medical educators, could use a nudge, they said.

"It's not that technology will be a silver bullet, but will be enabler of a pathway to a better health-care system," said Geeta Nayyar, chief medical information officer for AT&T.

"Banking didn't change overnight," she said, and "health care's just trying to get online right now." But she added, "let's push that paradigm, let's move this into a way that works for the physician and for the patient where it actually improves care rather than impeding care with these clunky devices and clunky technologies that don't make sense in health care. "

David E. Young, vice president for TelePsych Services at OptumHealth Specialty Networks, said that everyone predicted failure when he and his colleagues employed telemedicine to reach autistic children and elderly psychiatric patients who couldn't easily get to treatment.

But the patients embraced it and were grateful for the ease of contacting their doctors, Young said. "We find more resistance from the medical professionals than from the consumer." he said. "If we could get into the medical schools we could move that resistance down the road a bit."

Cary Pigman, an emergency-room physician and newly elected representative, said he sees many opportunities in which patient care could be improved if doctors in rural areas could quickly reach experts for consults on difficult cases.

And as the doctor shortage grows, patients will feel the same way, he predicts: "If the option is no physician, I'll take one on a television camera any day of the week."

But enthusiasm wasn't unanimous, as reported. Sen. Joe Negron, chair of the budget committee, said, "I want to see a doctor. I don't want to see someone on the computer. I want someone to look me in the eye..."

A bill that would have required insurance companies to cover telemedicine failed to gain traction during last year's session, Sunshine State News reports.

Young said insurers -- including state Medicaid programs -- often resist telemedicine because they fear it will raise costs. "But we know in behavioral health that getting people into care early...reduces long-term costs," he said.

In earlier coverage of the conference, sponsored by the Foundation for Associated Industries of Florida, Health News Florida reported that experts also encouraged state lawmakers not to dilly-dally any longer in building a health exchange or agreeing to expand Medicaid.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.