Posted Thursday, May 3, 2012, at 12:01 PM
People are always very down on the health care sector, but I thought I might note that ever since I started my new insurance plan at Slate I've noticed that Kaiser Permanente is actually doing a lot of useful productivity enhancing stuff with information technology. Now Kaiser is a famous and famously "special" health insurer, but none of what I'm talking about is particularly related to their integrated care and health management focus. Instead it's stuff like they have a pretty well-designed web interface that lets you book appointments with your doctor. You can also email your doctor if you have incidental questions. And you get copies of lab results emailed to you after you get a test done. The same website includes a lot of basic health information that you can play around with so you can try to self-diagnose if you're feeling bad.
Absolutely none of this is a game-changer in terms of huge cost drivers like chronic disease management or end of life care. But workaday routine health care is still a big chunk of the spending picture and it matters to a numerically larger number of people. And Kaiser is making it better in ways that seem pretty incentive-compatible and widely replicable. For all I know, these features allready have been pretty widely replicated. But if they aren't, they will be. And I think the moral of the story is that sometimes things just take time. The information technology landscape is changing very quickly, and it's natural that large human institutions that tend to be led by older people who've had success doing things a certain way don't instantly adopt new technologies in an optimal way. But over time learning happens, cohort replacement happens, demonstration effects happen, and the state of the art can improve and spread. And as best I can tell, it's happening.