Information Asymmetry – The Politics of Health IT Policy

Let’s recognize Healthcare.gov as the dawn of mass patient engagement – and applaud it. Before this website, patients were along for the ride. Employers choose most of the insurance benefits, hospital web portals are an afterthought, and getting anything done with an insurance company, for both doctors and patients, means a phone call and paper. Can you imagine going online to find out the actual cost and buy anything? All that changed with Healthcare.gov.

Information is valuable and not evenly distributed. The haves are immensely valuable corporations. The have nots are patients and doctors. Welcome to the world of health IT politics where the rich get richer ($20 Billion of “incentives” have caused massive health IT consolidation and a hidden health surveillance state) and the poor get frustrated (talk to an independent physician about their EHR or to a patient trying to access her own health records).

Information asymmetry drives $1 Trillion waste of our $2.7 Trillion health care cost. That waste is about $3,000 per year per citizen.

The politics of health IT policy are not left vs. right but institution vs. individual. Politicians and regulators alike are now scrambling to understand the role of health IT policy in that $3,000 annual waste per citizen.

The asymmetry that drives health IT policy is easy to understand when you consider that health IT is sold to corporations. As physicians and patients, we do not prescribe or buy information technology and we are paying the price through a total lack of price and quality transparency.

Incumbent “stakeholders” and multi-$Billion not-for-profit “delivery networks” stand to lose half their revenue if our cost structure aligned with the rest of the developed world. Information asymmetry drives our health IT policy as we implement the Affordable Care Act and the HITECH information technology mandates. From the earliest days, the strategy of costly health IT “certification” seems designed to drive small vendors and open source software out of the market. In the middle ages of post ACA health IT policy, circa 2012, our federal health architecture EHR procurement (the VA and Department of Defense, among others) began wild gyrations that have muted one of the few potential sources of rational, citizen-funded open source health information technology. We are now in the predictive analytics era, as our healthcare “providers” figure out how to manage the physician-patient relationship to their economic advantage. They call it Population Health Management.

Population Health Management doesn’t have to increase information asymmetry. Patient engagement and Fair Information Practice principles are not controversial. Combined with patient-directed automation via Blue Button Plus and NSTIC-style voluntary identities, we can have Big Data analytics to drive health reform policy and population health management. All it takes is democratizing access to our own information and reasserting the primacy of the physician-patient relationship. To get there, our federal and state policymakers will need to use the reduction of information asymmetry as a guiding principle.

The opportunities for policymakers to reduce information asymmetry and engage patients abound:

  • Confirm the patient’s right to access all information using Blue Button Plus so we can delegate that access to the physicians and analytics services we trust.

  • Confirm the patient’s right to specify a voluntary identity for patient matching when we participate in health information exchange.

  • Confirm the patient’s right to a real-time online Accounting of Disclosures so that we can know who is getting our information and see what they’re getting.

  • Confirm the physician’s right to communicate with anyone using Direct secure messages without interference from their employer or a state health information bureaucracy.

We already have these rights under existing law. What we don’t have is regulators and public procurement processes that put consumer protection ahead of politics. It’s time for them to step up. Start by fixing Healthcare.gov with privacy-preserving, voluntary sign-in credentials that we can use with Blue Button Plus to access our hospitals, insurers and state databases without risk of identity theft. There’s $3,000 in it for each of us.

Adrian Gropper, MD is Chief Technical Officer of Patient Privacy Rights and participates in Blue Button+, Direct secure messaging governance efforts and the evolution of patient-directed health information exchange.

Check out the Latest from Dr. Gropper, courtesy of The Healthcare Blog.

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