The Elusive Quest To Transform Healthcare Through Patient Empowerment

Andy Oram | O'Reilly Strata | May 23, 2013

Would you take a morning off from work to discuss health care costs and consumer empowerment in health care? Over a hundred people in the Boston area did so on Monday, May 6, for the conference “Empowering Healthcare Consumers: A Community Conversation Conference” at the Suffolk Law School. This fast-paced and wide-ranging conference lasted just long enough to show that hopes of empowering patients and cutting health care costs (which is the real agenda behind most of the conference organizers) run up against formidable hurdles–many involving the provision of data to these consumers.

Empowering consumers is not just a nice idea that save lives. The state of Massachusetts has sort of bet the farm on it, because patient empowerment is supposed to temper the rising price of health care. David Seltz, Executive Director of the state’s Health Policy Commission, said that patient empowerment is central to the vision of the recent Massachusetts bill passed to lower health care costs, which followed on the landmark universal health care bill passed in 2006.

My first reaction to the conference was to think that, if patients are going to save the health care system, we’ll need to find a new class of patients. But of course, even though patients are notoriously immune to pricing issues (they want the best of everything, and assume they deserve it because they pay their insurance premiums), they are not really to blame. [...]