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Data ‘highway’: road to nowhere?

As a health IT expert for a national consulting firm, Lindsey Jarrell has tried to get hospitals and doctor groups to share information with one another. But they just plain won’t, he says.

As a result, doctors don’t know the history of a patient who shows up sick or injured at the hospital. They repeat scans and other tests because the information isn’t readily available. Patients don’t have coordinated care; they bounce around the system and fall through cracks.

Hoarding information isn’t just bad for patients, it’s bankrupting the country, said Jarrell, a principal for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Tampa.

“We need to get out of this mode of thinking that it’s our own information,” he said of health-care providers. “It belongs to the patient. It should be coordinated and shared to the benefit of their care.”

Jarrell’s frustration was shared by other panelists at a forum held by the Tampa Bay Association of Health Underwriters last week. They said change is coming much too slowly, despite Obama administration support and billions in federal funding.

Ironically, Florida was one of the first states to create a Health Information Exchange Network; the Agency for Health Care Administration began building it three years ago with federal stimulus money. The idea is that when a doctor needs a patient record, it can be sent on the "highway" via encrypted message.

But the system, which is supposed to include every treatment provider in the state, is voluntary. And as WFSU-FM reported recently, only three small systems are using it.

Far from pushing the concept, Gov. Rick Scott has doubts about it.  He recently said on a public radio show that the system costs too much.

"I'm the one who should be taking care of my information and not relying on the government to do it...," he said.

But at the Tampa forum, that wasn't the view of the panelists. Aside from Jarrell, they included executives from two hospitals, a physician group and a "post-acute" coalition called Chapters Health System, which includes hospices and nursing-home diversion programs.

“Our system is broken,” said Kathy Fernandez, president and CEO of the coalition. “If we keep going this way we’re going to be bankrupt. We have to reduce the fragmentation of care, for all of us.”

Adil R. Kahn, chief administrative officer for Clark & Daughtrey, a multispecialty practice in Lakeland, called for federal action to set common IT standards so that health-care information can flow as seamlessly as banking transactions.

“We’re all moving forward in our own silos,” he said.

Another panelist frustrated by “fragmentation” in the system was Jack Kolosky, executive vice president and chief operating officer for H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. He also called for disclosure of prices for health services to patients and physicians.

Jarrell said he encourages health-care executives and community leaders to sit down, “executive to executive, get the vendors out of the way, the technology people out of the way. Make it a business decision."

By doing that, Jarrell said, “We can take a lot of cost out of the system.”

Kahn and Kolosky said the health-care system won't reform itself.

Joking that he may have to “run for the door” by uttering the words in a roomful of health-insurance brokers, Kahn said, “what we need is a cradle-to-grave Medicare system.”

Kolosky said he would “go even more radical.” He said the public needs to demand information on quality and cost, to do in health care what the 99-percent movement is doing on Wall Street.

“Occupy your doctor’s office,” he said.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest. Contact Carol Gentry, Editor, at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.