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June Edit Memo: A Culture of Transparency

August 15, 2007
by aguerra
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Getting into a transparent mindset isn't easy. Probably due to some primal survival instinct developed over millions of years, most of us just aren't programmed to broadcast our mistakes. And some of us, on the flip side, aren't even interested in letting our successes be known.

But to survive and thrive as a CIO in healthcare, you're going to have to rage against those natural tendencies, because consumer-directed healthcare, along with pricing and quality transparency, are going to quickly define the dynamics that dictate where patients decide to seek care. First movers in this style of operation - the transparent style - are already making their mark.

On the pricing side, for example, Truman Medical Centers in Jackson County, Mo., is posting the costs of its most frequently performed medical procedures online. In Indianapolis, Clarian Health is providing both estimated out of pocket costs and total expenses for certain procedures. And the Tennessee Hospital Association has also said it will start posting the prices for common procedures on its Web site. On the managed care side, Indianapolis-based Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Indiana has launched a Web-based tool that allows members to check the prices of almost 40 procedures offered at local hospitals. Another interesting point - all these developments have come since the beginning of May.

On the quality side, transparency is also seeing early adopters. In Boston, five teaching hospitals have released what are usually confidential results of a Joint Commission inspection report. CMS has also been active, as the agency intends to make public reports on physician performance by combining Medicare data with information from private insurers. And the North Carolina Hospital Association has launched a Web site that lets consumers compare the care hospitals provide in areas such as surgery, pneumonia, and heart attack.

Always ahead of the curve, our annual Healthcare Informatics 100 issue - featuring healthcare IT providers ranked by revenue - is an exercise in transparency. While not perfect, we've been told that it's a valuable desktop reference for providers, analysts and even vendors themselves to use throughout the year. At the very least, it features companies that are in tune with the transparency wave washing over the industry.

But remember when looking over the ranking that a large force moving into healthcare IT is not on the list. Microsoft has yet to submit for our ranking (perhaps next year) but no one can doubt that its growing commitment to the field needs to be closely monitored. Other horizontal Internet titans like Google and Yahoo! also need to be watched. And some companies with a significant healthcare IT presence, such as Siemens, simply choose not to submit.

Whether you are a healthcare provider CIO or an IT vendor CEO, increasing competition means that monitoring what's going on around you is more important than ever. For vendors, new entrants are sure to crop up and creep into view, so a dose of transparency might just be the factor that separates you from the competition in a CIO's mind. Those same CIOs need to remember that the hospitals down the street - like those mentioned above - are already fine tuning their transparency and quality improvement plays, positioning themselves for the future. And though it might seem counterintuitive, the more transparent your organization becomes, the more patients/customers will be able to see through to the heart of who you are.

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aguerra

Anthony Guerra is Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Informatics. His blog contains story lineups for...