We live in an age when we can buy groceries from our living room and have them delivered in two hours. We can lie on the beach and read about which cars have the fewest breakdowns. We can even watch an instructional video on golfing while we’re golfing.
As consumers, we can compare the prices and the quality of virtually everything we want to buy. We have greater control than ever before over our purchases. That is, except for the most important thing we purchase: our health care.
Telephones and cars and nearly everything else you can name have advanced beyond anything we could have imagined 30 years ago. But our health care system works the same way it always has – or hasn’t.
Why is that? If we can have a video conference from a canoe in the middle of a lake, why does it take weeks to get a doctor’s appointment? If we can find out which lawn mower works best, why can’t we find out which hospitals work best? Why do we see the price tags for medical procedures only after we buy those procedures?
Consumers today expect a range of choices and options. They want more immediate communication on the devices they use every day. They want personalized health care tailored to their own needs. Consumers expect value. And in recent decades, our health care system has failed them on this.
Health care is different from other industries. The very name – health care – tells us that we are talking about products and services that are very personal. But health care should not be so different that there is no connection between what we pay and what we get for it.
Health care needs to change in very fundamental ways. The challenge faced by all of us – consumers, insurers, policy makers, doctors – is to speed this health care evolution without driving costs higher.
In the new health care system, the focus is on health outcomes rather than the volume of procedures. To move beyond one-size-fits-all health care, we are using a precise balance of trend data, analytics and clinical evidence to design care that is tailored to the individual.
However, new technologies – advances that should be making care delivery more efficient and effective – only seem to drive prices higher. And while cost is the most urgent issue in health care reform, arriving at the cheapest possible health care is not the goal. Our goal is to ensure quality at a reasonable cost.
That is the definition of value. And value starts with transparency.
Consumers should know what tests, procedures and drugs will cost before they buy those things. Health insurers are responding by providing cost and quality information about doctors, hospitals, procedures and prescription drugs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) embraced this movement by being one of the first insurers in the nation to make costs of more than 1,200 procedures by our provider network publicly available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Blue Cross NC’s treatment cost estimator is a good start, but we owe consumers even more.
The next wave of transparency tools will give all consumers more specific information on cost and quality, providing immediate access to information from any location. Insurers and providers will deliver health information and issue reminders without consumers having to ask for them.
Technology is crucial in the new health care universe. Innovations help elevate the status of consumers to equal partners alongside providers and insurers. For consumers, technology is power. And informed, engaged consumers will benefit all of the players in health care.
For too long, health care has cast consumers as passive recipients of information and services. Those days are rapidly coming to an end. Blue Cross NC is doing everything possible to place consumers at the center of a sustainable, affordable health care system that gives us all value for our money.
I invite insurers, health care providers, legislators, and most importantly, consumers to join together in making this new system a reality. With consumers giving us direction, we can all work toward affordable, quality health care that is accessible to everyone.