Current Healthcare Situation
Healthcare in the U.S. is far from equilibrium, with hyper-inflated costs in response to insane insurance costs. This causes healthcare to be unattainable by most lower class and an increasing number of middle class families. Healthcare should be an inalienable right but people avoid visiting the doctor because to them, the impending financial situation is worse than health risks. Still, the U.S.’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world in terms of quality and speed. The looming threat of being sued helps keep us safe though it’s grown so large from being unchecked that it’s too costly for both parties: the healthcare providers and the patients.
A free market is a market in which prices of goods and services are arranged completely by the mutual consent of sellers and buyers. By definition, in a free market environment buyers and sellers do not coerce or mislead each other nor are they coerced by a third party.
Healthcare is another story. Insurance companies are the “third party” behind both sides, the buyers (patients) and the sellers (healthcare providers), and are not working for the “mutual consent of buyers and sellers.” Furthermore, most healthcare is not actually paid for by the patients directly, but instead by patients’ employers who are, by law, not allowed to know about the employees’ health issues. This dichotomy is what has enabled healthcare costs to grow so wildly out of control.
Google Health’s Fix
Eric Schmidt’s keynote speech at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference directly addressed what Google sees as “the problem” with U.S. healthcare and how Google could help fix it. In short, put information in the hands of patients to enable informed buying decisions and to rebuild the “mutual consent.” Currently, when a patient needs a medical procedure, say a surgery, they don’t shop around for the best price. The patient goes where their insurance company tells them; Where the insurance company has business affiliations. So informing patients will theoretically break the “employer/insurance payment” dichotomy, disarming the “third party coercers.”
Other benefits of Google Health are clear from a computer science standpoint. Technically it will serve three purposes:
- Cloud storage — Let the IT professionals deal with data backup and retrieval instead of local medical staff.
- Information channel — Directly connect patient information to patients and healthcare provider.
- Privacy — Take sensitive information out of the clear-text paper world of office workers and into the human-free, automated, and encrypted world of cloud computing.
Clearly potential Google Health uses will have privacy concerns regarding Google obtaining access to medical records as well as having records available online. IT specialism in general has some clear benefits over the paper trail world:
- Reduce human interaction — When paper information is being sent around, it passes though many hands in clear text. Most hands are simply staff members intended to help organize office work and should not have access to the sensitive content. Computerized health record retrieval and storage would minimize and automate the amount of human interaction needed, reducing the amount of human mistakes as well as accidental (or intentional) security leaks. Catch Me If You Can illustrates the 1960s banking industry’s similar situation to today’s healthcare industry. Today, all banking is computerized and online. Paper trail security is a myth. For example, George Clooney recently had his hospital records leaked to the press and something like 27 employees were facing repercussions. There were probably many more people that had seen his records as well.
- Google already knows everything about us — Between searching and emails, Google knows what its users are thinking. They are data mining experts and easily have the ability to learn about most users’ health issues already. There is no hiding form large corporations and laws are in place to protect against intentional misuse of healthcare information.
- Breaking into an office is easier than hacking into Google — Hacking requires a much higher level of knowledge and is many times more traceable than breaking into an office. If employers wanted access to medical records, it would be safer for them to stage a break-in physically rather than virtually. Local offices also store records in computers and probably gave access to IT consultants as well. Google Health gives the IT side some accountability.
- Companies are companies — Whether it’s a hospital or an IT company, it’s still private firms charged with keeping our data private.
The office paper trails will probably be around for quite some time but Google is providing a layer beneath it: secure storage, access, and transfer for medical records. From a technical standpoint, our data only stands to be more secure and the small risk of this being false is worth it for what we stand to gain: The free market that was intended by the private healthcare design. Informing patients means educated and mutual consent on healthcare costs.
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