Amy Rees Anderson believes there’s a solution to the whole health care quagmire. "It can be fixed and it’s not as hard as people think it is with use of technology," says the CEO of MediConnect Global, a Utah-based company that retrieves, digitizes, and organizes medical records.
According to Rees Anderson, people tend to overcomplicate the issues. In Washington, she explains, the fight over health care reform isn’t related to technology. "Both sides agree we have to get patients access to data."
Realigning motivations and incentives between doctors, drug companies, employers, and insurers and providing every person with their own electronic medical records can benefit everyone, she says. It’s just a matter of prying the paper out of people's hands and getting them comfortable with digital data. Simple, right?
A Healthy Start
Rees Anderson has experienced several sides of the health care industry, starting while she was still in high school working part time in a dentist’s office. Even as a teenager, she had a knack for seeing what worked and what didn’t. “Sometimes being young and not realizing how hard things are [to change] you just know there’s a better way,” she says. When medical bookkeeping was done on paper spreadsheets, Rees Anderson saw that capturing that data on computer was far superior.
And when she was 24 and selling scheduling software to doctor’s offices, she quickly became frustrated with the software’s limitations. Denied the rights to change the software, she hung out her own shingle in 1996 using hired programmers to design a more effective web-based program. Twelve million dollars in venture capital soon followed (which she learned how to pitch for and win on the web) for this first completely web-based medical practice management system.
Off the Chart Growth
Ten profitable years and $50 million in funding for a series of IT businesses followed before Rees Anderson’s expertise was tapped by a struggling MediConnect. Once again, she sniffed out the problem and the potential for expanding into other markets in short order. The local company went global (adding that word to its name), achieved more than 1,100 percent growth over the past six years and boasts over 1,000 employees and approximately $50 million in annual revenue.
Yet even with four of the five top health plans as her clients, Rees Anderson insists there's plenty of groundwork left to build. The majority of the business continues to come from health insurance companies, law firms, and life insurance agencies. Consumers make up the smallest percentage, she says, but they are its biggest potential market.
"Really the issue of getting adoption for digital records is to identify the one person who should control the records," she says. Right now it falls on the primary care physician, Rees Anderson says. "I think it is a difficult burden to stick on them. The patient should be the keeper of their own data."
If patients could manage their own digital records it would certainly eliminate a lot of the expense of administrating all that paper. "Many physicians send records to us via digital upload or e-fax so we receive them electronic but the majority is just electronic images captured and not documented in a physician EMR system. So the actual EMR we see is around 10-12% today."
Rees Anderson explains that there are no real financial incentives for physicians to change the way they handle patient records. After all, she asserts, their reimbursement rates are constantly declining and $10,000 per year in federal stimulus money is hardly enough to incent any doctor to create the infrastructure needed to provide digital records.
And there’s the issue that makes everyone squirm: privacy and security. "There are better things than a doctor dictating notes [into a recorder] or throwing the paper records into the trunk of his car," she says. Advances to protect privacy and secure online transactions are paving the way to change society’s mindset about medical records.
In the meantime, Rees Anderson says MediConnect Global’s role is to bridge the space between digitizing paper records and completely adopting fully electronic, cloud-based files. With about seven million digital records and counting from every continent except Antarctica, MediConnect Global shows no signs of slowing down. The company is expanding to include mobile connectivity, too.
Rees Anderson points out that Mobile MediConnect not only retrieves records but can also provide a summary of everything on a medical chart in a simple and user-friendly interface for consumers. The app can also auto alert the user when it’s time to take medicine or see their doctor, as well as store test results and shopping lists for meal plans. All privacy is regulated by HIPPA compliance, she notes.
"The technology needs to be there to make sure the financial incentives are more aligned," underscores Rees Anderson. By saving on the cost of generating and maintaining paper records she says, even insurance gets much cheaper. "Once all the data is [digital] it will bring down cost of health care for everyone."