IOM report: Informatics, transparency and data to fix healthcare crisis

The U.S. healthcare system has long been laden with growing inefficiencies, heightened costs and increasing complexities, all of which have stymied industry progress, according to a new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report.  

However, report officials also noted existing knowledge, transparency, and new informatics tools wield the potential to mend the  –  some say broken  – healthcare system to achieve continuous improvement and better quality care at lower costs. 

[See also: IOM to release new report on health IT and patient safety.]

In a Thursday morning live webcast of the IOM report release, Mark Smith, MD, president and CEO of California HealthCare Foundation and chair of IOM’s Committee on the Learning Healthcare System in America, said two fundamental issues are currently facing the U.S. healthcare system: cost and complexity. Thus the mission of the report was “to find the foundational characteristics of a system that is efficient.”

According to the report, the costs of the system's current inefficiencies underscore the urgent need for a system-wide transformation. The committee calculated that approximately 30 percent of health spending in 2009 – roughly $750 billion – was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud and other problems.  

The U.S. pays some of the highest costs for healthcare, but “at the same time, we do not attain the results in health outcomes and performances that others are able to achieve,"  said IOM President Harvey Feinburg, MD, in the live webcast. “How do we face up to that reality?”

Smith added that a “30 percent increase in income has been effectively eliminated by a 76 percent increase in healthcare costs,” leaving the U.S. healthcare system full of “wasted opportunity.”

Moreover, inefficiencies can potentially lead to patient suffering.  By one estimate, roughly 75,000 deaths might have been averted in 2005 if every state had delivered care at the quality level of the best performing state.

[See also: IOM recommends 'gold standard' for clinical practice .]

Incremental upgrades and changes by individual hospitals or providers will not suffice, the committee said. Achieving higher quality care at lower cost will require an across-the-board commitment to transform the U.S. health system into a "learning" system that continuously improves by systematically capturing and broadly disseminating lessons from every care experience and new research discovery.