Insurers tout efforts to promote health IT

"Innovations in Health Insurance Technology"

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Health insurance companies nationwide are promoting the use of clinical information technology to help improve patient care and hold down cost increases, according to a new report from the industry’s trade association.

America’s Health Insurance Plans compiled the report, which describes dozens of initiatives but does not aggregate them or analyze their relative effectiveness. The 68-page report, “Innovations in Health Information Technology,” includes sections on disease management and case management, e-prescribing, decision-support tools, customer service and claims processing, and electronic health records.

According to the report, initiatives in each of those areas are yielding measurable benefits for patients and the employers who contribute to their health insurance premiums. For example, a quality-measuring program in Minnesota, involving seven health insurers and the state’s medical association, has helped significantly improve test results for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses.

As one component of that program, the Minnesota Community Measurement staff worked with state regulators to make state reporting requirements more consistent across agencies and programs. “This change reduced the number of costly chart reviews to be conducted, while at the same time giving physicians’ groups one report on which to act,” the report states.

The report coincides with a push from some members of Congress and others to encourage health insurers to better promote the use of health IT. Insurance companies are among those who would benefit most from eliminating paper records because they would save money, according to several analyses. Doctors, on the other hand, must shoulder much of the cost of automating their recordkeeping, but they will reap fewer financial rewards.

As one example of disincentives, most health insurers are reluctant to reimburse doctors for e-mail communications with patients. However, a Blue Shield of California project described in the report paid physicians to communicate with their patients via secure e-mail. The test project reduced medical costs and absenteeism for patients while receiving high marks from doctors and patients, the report states.

A second, larger pilot is now under way. If successful, it could lead to making e-mail access available to all Blue Shield members, the report states.

“Advances in information technology can help ensure that the best of the U.S. health care systems will also be its norm,” said Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

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