Health care reforms must cut costs

    Strong emotion surrounding the health care reform debate makes it difficult to consider the facts. Laden with political rhetoric, it’s difficult for any of us to roll up our sleeves and carefully conduct a cost/benefit analysis, which is common in corporate environments prior to making important and costly decisions.

    I believe that system reform must reduce costs while also improving the user experience.  As a business executive, I know this is possible.

    In my role, I view health care reform from two perspectives – as an employer and as a service provider to a health care industry facing enormous change.

    As an employer, I see how the current system dramatically impacted health care coverage for our employees. Our insurance premiums skyrocketed after a few catastrophic cancer-related claims. In the end, we had to drop our group insurance because premiums were prohibitively expensive. Therefore, pre-existing conditions negatively affect certain employees who seek to purchase private policies.

    We need a solution that increases both accessibility and affordability for employers like us.

    As a service provider, I have seen health care providers use technology to become more efficient, reduce costs and improve results. We have worked with patient-centric providers who are changing their billing practices to improve service for patients and at the same time reduce costs.

    Health care billing is an area that confounds most patients and has failed to keep pace with today’s technology. For example, suppose a patient is admitted to the hospital for knee surgery. After the surgery, the mail begins to pile up from the physician, the hospital, the lab, the physical therapist, and others. Patients can be overwhelmed and confused when they are sent so many bills after receiving care in one location.

    If patients have a question, they may need to call multiple locations for answers and, adding to the confusion, the customer service representatives cannot access the actual statements that were sent.

    While this is the way it works for most providers, it isn’t true for every health care organization. Bellin Health of Green Bay is so focused on improving the patient experience that they re-imagined the entire billing process. Bellin first combined invoices for hospital, behavioral health and most clinic facilities onto one, easy-to-read statement.

    Patients can view these statements online through their secured patient portal; they can also pay online. Patients can even view their current outstanding balance online within 48 hours of transactions completed. Further, Bellin consolidated their internal customer service departments, so patients have a single point of contact for answering questions across facilities and providers. And those exact same patient statements are available online for Bellin’s service representatives to field patient questions. Revolutionary.

    Electronic statements are not new. Our banks, phone companies, and other institutions with our confidential information have been doing this securely for years. In fact, most consumers expect to be able to "go online" to see activities and amounts due, and they are surprised when an organization does not offer this service.

    Yet, unlike other industries, patient-friendly health care billing information is not widely accessible online.

    Why is that? It’s primarily because health care providers have focused their technology resources on assuring portable electronic medical records, a federal mandate by 2010. Of course, medical record portability is important.Yet Bellin managed to improve the billing process at the same time.

    Our health care system needs to be streamlined.  As we move forward with reform, there are significant ways that technology can improve patient access to information that will help inform decisions. Using technology, I know we can improve results and reduce costs in many areas of our system.

    In more ways than one, I have a vested interest for reform that doesn’t mean "worse." It can and must mean "better."

    Ane Ohm is president of Green Bay-based LaserNet, a print and mail services company that also has an office in West Allis.

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