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Consumer-Driven Health Care: Implications for Providers, Payers, and Policy-Makers

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2005

    Thoughtful Contribution on Consumer-Directed Health Care Issue

    In Consumer-Driven Health Care, Regina E. Herzlinger, a leading health care thought leader and a professor at the Harvard Business School, provides a thought-provoking look inside a new, powerful force slowly transforming America's dysfunctional health care industry. Consumer-Driven Health Care builds on her popular 1997 book Market-Driven Health Care: Who Wins, Who Loses in the Transformation of America's Largest Service Industry. In the first part of her new 900-page book, Dr. Herzlinger makes a convincing case about how and why health care is broken and why market-based solutions - which empower consumers - are best. She restates the case she made in Market-Driven Health Care for putting consumers directly in charge of their own decisions (picking insurance plans, making medical decisions). Through transparency of information, a realignment of incentives, and new tools to support decision-making by patients, the consumer-driven model gives individuals a clear stake in their own health care. While not unique to other parts of the US economy, the approach is a radical departure for the $1.7 trillion health care market. As Dr. Herzlinger makes clear in her energetic analysis, the absence of these proven market-based tools goes a long to explain why health care became our most inefficient, outdated, and error-prone industry. The second part - about 80 percent of the book - is a collection of 73 think pieces written by 92 other experts. With short introductions by Dr. Herzlinger, these articles serve as a useful initial knowledge base for a growing field with an uncertain future. The book has its limitations. For example, Dr. Herzlinger's case for the consumer-driven model fails to address the Medicare and Medicaid systems. It also leaves a variety of practical transition and execution issues unaddressed, although these are beyond the purpose of this volume. Because articles were written several years ago as part of a conference and most of the writers lack purchaser-side experience, the book also does not deal with the growing list of market-based reforms underway by large employers and innovative health plans. In addition, since the field is still in its infancy, Dr. Herzlinger is a business researcher, and the contributors are largely wide-eyed entrepreneurs, the book will likely frustrate health policy wonks and others stuck in the technical minutia and ideological fights that characterize most health care discussions. But then, that's just as well. Too often analysts forget that health care is a business and operates as a market, albeit a flawed one insulated from tools proven to drive quality and efficiency. And we need all the wide-eyed, out-of-the-box thinking we can get. Dr. Herzlinger also has her detractors. It reminds me of the old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who like Wayne Newton and people who don't. Well, it seems that health care wonkdom is divided by those who like Reggie Herzlinger's ideas and those who don't. However, given the massive problems in American health care, her plain-spoken, business-savvy contributions remain as useful as they are provocative.

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