Bernard J. Tyson is chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente.

Viewpoints: Health care companies need to focus on driving down costs

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 8:33 am

Health care in this nation is at a critical inflection point. All across the country, people are asking three important questions about their health care and the industry that provides it: Why does it cost so much? Why does the price keep going up so fast? And why haven't we been able to rein in the costs?

These are critical questions, and they also are entirely fair. In fact, 18 percent of all spending in this country goes toward health care – a level of spending that, despite slowing growth, remains unsustainable.

In recent days, Kaiser Permanente has been in the spotlight, and I have been asked these same questions, pointedly, by some of the largest organizations whose members and employees we serve in California and across the nation.

While we are the lowest-cost and most affordable option in many areas of the country, our customers have looked at the increases in the price for our care and coverage for the upcoming year and have told us they are disappointed.

They want us to address the affordability issue with the same vigor and focus we've devoted to making Kaiser Permanente the leader in quality care and service. They ask, "If Kaiser Permanente can't deliver affordability, then who can?"

Achieving the market-leading price or a competitive price is no longer the gold standard they seek. They want more affordability than they are seeing from us, and they want our high-quality care accessible to everyone.

While we don't yet have all the answers, we hear the call to action. As an integrated model of health care, Kaiser Permanente is positioned to lead the nation on affordability, and we will. Advancing the affordability of health care is not only our mission, it is our calling.

Kaiser Permanente was created with the belief that the highest quality care can be affordable to all. This commitment remains as true today as it was when our organization was founded nearly 70 years ago. We must redefine affordability in health care so current and future generations can lead happy, healthy and productive lives.

While we have much work ahead, we are impacting the cost of care while improving quality at Kaiser Permanente right now by:

• Working as a truly coordinated health care team, connected by our electronic health records, to provide the best comprehensive care in the most efficient way.

• Using decades of longitudinal data from our electronic health records to learn and share intelligence about the most effective and efficient way to treat each patient and disease area. Adopting best practices that drive affordability with the highest-quality outcomes is a requirement.

• Delivering service to patients in the settings that are most appropriate for the level of care or procedure required.

• Using advanced technology effectively and efficiently, so these investments drive improved evidence-based outcomes.

• Giving members the ability to manage their health care online. Kaiser Permanente members can get lab test results, order prescriptions, make appointments and securely email their physicians using mobile technology. Last year we had more than 13 million secure, patient-protected "e-visits," and this year we anticipate 17 million "e-visits" will be conducted using technology.

• Continuing Kaiser Permanente's long commitment to preventive care to keep people as healthy as possible. Yet, when faced with serious medical problems, we've got the best physicians and care teams, facilities and medical technology to return them to optimum health as quickly as possible.

We are dedicated to continuing to use these and other advantages of our integrated approach to make health care more affordable. Our ambition is beyond slowing the rise in costs, but actually driving costs down. Accomplishing this ambition will not only benefit our current and future members, it will also benefit America.

Bernard J. Tyson is chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente.

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