The future of health care management in Silicon Valley discussed May 7

In a panel event hosted by UCSC Silicon Valley Initiatives on May 7, leading practitioners and academics analyzed current and future trends in the technologies and organization of health care in Silicon Valley.

The moderator was Dr. Steven Shortell, dean and professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and the panelists were Richard Levy, chairman of the Board of Directors and former chief executive officer of Varian Medical Systems; Dr. Danny Sands, senior medical informatics director for Cisco; and Dr. Paul Tang, an internist and vice president and chief medical information officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Richard Levy elaborated on the problems of health care. The average person spends more on health care than any other personal expenditure, including housing. He argued that we have to become more efficient. There isn't a consistency among hospitals, especially the delivery. He noted that the biggest issue is waste; we are spending too much on unnecessary procedures. If we could save on these procedures we could save on the cost of health care. He continued by saying not enough is spent on inoculations and preventative measures. People could be educated on procedure and be more able to choose lower cost procedures.

Paul Tang talked about the looming crisis -- the needs of the baby boomers and the requirements of a medical workforce for an aging America. He said the bottom line is we don't just need more doctors and nurses; we need to drop out time from the health care process, so the patient is helped that much faster. Information couriers should not be involved as much, but methods for getting direct information to the patient need to be developed. He demonstrated an online health care resource for patients with chronic diseases, involving monitoring and feedback via the internet.

Danny Sands discussed how we could increase efficiency or reduce waste. He said we need to move toward the idea that information is important. We need to transform the data so that doctors can better help their patients by delivering the right information to the right person at the right time -- that is, clinical support. Expert networks are being developed to help communicate to patients on-line. There are links that enable users to get answers from experts. He said, an hour out of every day, nurses and doctors in hospitals are trying to find people; 20 billion dollars are wasted because of communication inefficiencies. What is being looked at currently is the best means to go wireless to cut these wastes.

What is the future of health care management? All were in agreement. It's engaging the people to have a concern for their own health. It's getting electronic comprehensive patient records in use with physicians. Danny Sands thinks the general practitioner seems to really like it. Employers are ultimately responsible for the health of their patients. And it's not just health care. It is a continuous attention to your health.

UCSC Professor Nirvikar Singh, special advisor to the chancellor for Silicon Valley Management Education, summarized from this discussion the conclusion that health care is a large and pressing issue, with many dimensions. He ended optimistically with the view that, with all the brilliant minds in the Silicon Valley we'll be able to tap these intellectual resources to improve the management of health care.