As almost anyone even remotely connected to the world of health ICT knows, this week is the HIMSS Conference in Las Vegas. I arrived early to provide a keynote Sunday morning for a large contingent of our customers and partners visiting HIMSS from Europe.
From my room on the 37th floor of the beautiful Encore Hotel I have an expansive view of the Vegas strip. But in the foreground of that view is a painful reminder of this country’s sour economy. Like bleached bones on sun baked sand, a cement and steel structure rises 12 stories above the desert. It sits on acres of land that used to be home to the iconic Stardust Hotel. The old hotel was demolished several years ago and new construction was well underway when the economy crashed in 2008. Construction stopped, and the site has been dormant ever since.
Of course, Vegas has always been a city of contrasts. There’s the gritty unseemly side of this place. There’s also unbelievable luxury and excess. A building boom added thousands more hotel rooms just as the nation’s economy was taking a downturn. After touring the new Las Vegas City Center shopping an and hotel complex I came away thinking that Vegas surely has enough hotel rooms to last another decade or two.
What also caught my attention was how every mega resort these days also includes a shopping arcade, or in many cases an entire shopping mall. And these aren’t ordinary malls. They feature primarily luxury boutiques with merchandise that most people don’t really need and likely can’t afford. I did notice that the majority of the stores seemed to have more sales clerks than customers.
While observing all this my thoughts suddenly turned to why I was here -healthcare. What if, like healthcare, people could go into these luxury stores and simply take whatever they wanted? You wouldn’t know the price of anything you selected and frankly you wouldn’t care because someone else would be paying the bill. In many ways, our healthcare system is like a luxury boutique. It’s full of outrageously expensive tests, procedures and medications but nobody really cares unless they don’t have insurance. Even then, people can often find a way to get what they need. I’ll bet if the merchandise in Hermes or Dior was there for the taking, they’d have a lot more customers in their stores. Of course what many people fail to realize about our healthcare system is that we really are paying for those expensive tests, procedures and drugs through higher taxes, lower wages and massive public debt. All of which turns my attention to HIMSS.
This year I won’t be looking as much for cool new EMRs or slick hospital information systems. Oh sure, there will be acres of those on display. Instead, I’ll be looking for solutions and technologies that begin the address the so-called “triple aim” of healthcare – improved quality, better access for more people, and lower costs. America needs a healthcare system with prices a lot more like Target than Tiffany.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft