Intel Chairman: My horses have better healthcare

By Brian Dolan
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Intel's Chairman, Craig Barrett, knows a thing or two about healthcare. Partly because he and his wife provide health insurance for the 75 people who work at the resort they personally own. Partly because he's the chairman of one of the biggest company's in the technology business. And partly because he owns horses.

"I have horses who have their own electronic medical records and better health care options than the employees at my resort," Barrett deadpanned at an event in Washington D.C. focused on wireless I.T. in healthcare.

Jokes aside, Barrett, for the most part, is bullish on the new administration's plans for healthcare, including its recent push for electronic medical records. Barrett believes, however, that a lot more could be done.

"The current discussion in Washington is always about who is going to pay for healthcare--it's all about squeezing the balloon on who should cover it, instead of centering the discussion on making healthcare itself more efficient," Barrett argued. That, in turn, would lead to better care, lower costs overall and also give the U.S. a real edge in the international playing field, he said.

(Read on for more from Intel's chairman...)

Figuring out who should pay for healthcare is the easy part, according to Barrett. "The real question is: How do we make healthcare more efficient?" he asked. "Well, technology is how we do that. Look to pretty much every other industry and you'll see that technology has made them more efficient."

Barrett explained that healthcare is not a consumer-centered market because consumers do not have the purchasing power to influence how healthcare works. Since government pays for nearly 50 percent of healthcare costs in the U.S., it alone can truly influence the direction of the industry easily. 

The government "can dictate whether we will all have e-prescriptions," he said. "They can say that a visit is not necessarily face-to-face [between patients and doctors]." 

"There is a lot of money in the stimulus for things like electronic health records and deployment of broadband in rural places, but how are you actually going to spend that money? You're just going to throw the money at computers in doctors offices?" Barrett said. That's interesting but it will only result in isolated set-ups in each individual doctor's office or hospital that won't do anything to change the system, he said.

"Stimulus dollars need to be put in place with an end point in mind--and it can't just be: Give everyone healthcare. That's a noble goal but that should be a given. The end point should be: Give everyone healthcare at lower costs and higher quality. Stop thinking about the system--start thinking about the customer, which is what every other industry focuses on. Sure, there are 45 million people uninsured. The government can get those people insurance, but that's not going to fix the 8 percent compounded growth on the $2.5 trillion a year we spend on healthcare. We get average service at best. i invite you to think about the longterm issues, not just the short term ones."

"Everyone here has a digital camera. Think about how easily those synch up with your PCs to upload photos. How many people here remember having to access a mainframe? Imagine if you had to go to the mainframe still to upload photos. How inefficient. What's the "mainframe" in the medical world? The hospital. You still have to go to the hospital when you need to get the service you need."

"Let's diversify where we can get care. It's already happening in "mini-steps" but, fundamentally, we have to change the way it works. We need to monitor people with chronic conditions proactively. The aim is to keep them out of the hospital not serve them better once they are in the hospital." 

"Look at the work the Continua Health Alliance is doing by making devices that seamlessly plug-in to the PC or mobile devices. These devices can then routinely take any measurement you want, store them, forward them to a remote monitoring system. That way, the patient can sit at home and be proactively monitored."

"Look at medical clinical assistant tablets for physicians who want a wireless device with full capability to access their patients' EHR. With one of these, the physician spends the day analyzing the patient data and not scribbling illegibly onto a piece of paper." 

"If 80 percent of the cost in healthcare is from aging populations with chronic conditions, then I would focus my efforts on that 80 percent," he said. "Technology plus policy changes regarding reimbursement will change that. We can't just build bigger main frames. So let's get out of the debate about EMRs, and just give them out."

"A small deed done is better than a great deed planned," Barrett said. "We are in the home [Washington D.C.] of great deeds planned... [Intel] did a small deed by giving all of our employees free EMRs. That's how the system changes: By small deeds done."

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