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The Norwegian Versus the American Healthcare System

America’s history is rooted so deeply in freedom of choice to either win or lose in one’s economic decisions. This can be epitomized by so many early Europeans coming to the New World in search of a new life, many of which had very little wealth in terms of personal property or education, but eventually pioneered much of the American wilderness creating farms, small communities, and big cities. From the earliest Americans that came to Jamestown Virginia to the more recent immigrants coming through Ellis Island, many of these Americans have argued for less government intervention in their lives and created a culture that keeps the government from controlling everyday choices like gun control to even universal healthcare. Even today, America does not even have a universal healthcare system, even though many other industrial nations do.

Many Americans argue that a universal healthcare system will not work in America because a large portion of Americans will simply take advantage of the system, in terms of not altering their unhealthy behavior, thus, running up the costs for everyone. Moreover, many feel that healthcare is simply not a privilege to be handed to everyone, and should be employer based to ensure everyone pays for their own healthcare, as much as possible. This seems to be a cultural issue rooted deeply in the American value of individuals being independent as much as possible from government influences. On the other hand, a country like Norway has some pure socialist practices, especially in the area of healthcare. In fact, everyone in Norway has healthcare. It is the law of the land.

Norwegians are more practical than Americans in how they spend their money, they enjoy saving money for quality health care. According to Bruce Bartlett, a Forbes Magazine columnist, on a per capita basis, Norwegians spend $4,763 per year, and covers everyone, while Americans spend $7,290. By various standards of health quality, like life expectancy or rate of preventable deaths, Norway does better than the U.S. One key measure is physicians per capita: America has 2.43 physicians compared with Norway’s 4 doctors per every 1,000 people, even though Norway spends a third less of its Gross Domestic Product on health care than the U.S. does.

Why is the cost of healthcare in Norway less than that in America? The eye catching statistic that reveals Norwegian superiority in providing lower cost healthcare is that the number of doctors in America, per capita, is actually less than in Norway. Perhaps increasing the supply of healthcare providers in America could lower overall healthcare expenditures for healthcare. Perhaps there is a deep rooted cultural reason in Norway that is helping to keep healthcare costs down. Maybe their society has a healthier population than countries like America.

Finally, it appears capitalistic and socialistic policies both can benefit a nation like America. America has the greatest GDP of any nation, but yet, does not provide a universal healthcare system for its citizens. One would think that through sheer size and because of its economic output, America could keep its healthcare costs lower for its citizens than a country like Norway. Perhaps the free market system in America will one day solve all of the demands that its citizens want, like universal healthcare. If not, perhaps a more controlled socialistic policy will be created providing universal healthcare that is similar to the one implemented in Norway. There is a school of thought for each economic approach, but the bottom line is, there is a cost to be paid, and ultimately the consumer/taxpayer will bear that cost.

Outsourcing Companies Bet On Healthcare Despite Security Concerns

If it’s not about healthcare reform, it’s about information technology. Whichever the case, both indicate that healthcare outsourcing is expected to garner a lot of business this year – and healthcare outsourcing providers such as medical coding or medical billing companies know it.

Taking into account recent results released by Indian software provider Tata Consultancy Services (NSE:TCS), the company took note that in its last quarter ending December 31st 2010, one of its key wins was a multi-million dollar, multi-year strategic partnership with a healthcare company to provide knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) services in clinical development.

Meanwhile, fellow outsourcer and IT solutions provider HCL Technologies (NSE:HCLTECH), who reported quarterly results on the 19th of January, announced strong growth in its healthcare vertical at 7.4%, on top of its better than expected results for the quarter.

In terms of the healthcare reform, human resources and recruitment services provider Pinstripe, Inc. has revamped its leadership team with the appointment of Michael Soisson to Healthcare Practice Leader. According to the release dated 18th of January, the appointment will, “drive and promote innovative talent acquisition approaches for meeting the workforce demands being shaped by healthcare reform.”

Xerox Corporation (NYSE:XRX) on the other hand is maximizing its solutions with its acquisition of company, WaterWare Internet Services announced on the 31st of January. Waterware is a provider of web application and software development, integration and customization. The acquisition improves on Xerox’s existing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform, allowing the company to provide electronic health record capturing and management, as well as pharmacy orders automation, maximizing on the electronic health records trend.

Fellow outsourcers Vengroff, Williams and Associates also announced an expansion of its healthcare practice specifically in its revenue cycle management solutions. The release quotes research by Healthcare Finance News, which cited that, “the major complaint among hospital CEO’s and private medical practices lies in the inefficiency of the billing system.” The company has in turn improved on its revenue cycle management services to address this issue.

But while more and more companies are focusing and revamping healthcare outsourcing efforts, a survey just recently released by Ponemon Institute as sponsored by data integration company, Informatica (NASDAQ:INFA) on the 1st of February revealed that more than half of healthcare companies do not protect patient data. The survey of healthcare IT professionals found that confidential patient records are not adequately protected from theft or loss, with most at 51% not protecting their data. The research further added that the conception is that outsourcing and cloud computing are increasing the security risk to confidential data, wherein 40% of healthcare organizations would not choose to outsource specifically due to security risks.

Even with the current uptick in business in healthcare outsourcing, old concerns specifically issues on security have remained in the industry. Considering that more than half from the survey are not seeing outsourcing as an option specifically due to security concerns in a time when we are seeing increasing adoption of outsourcing in healthcare suggests that the current growth seen is merely a fraction of the true potential that the healthcare industry presents. The challenge now lies in overcoming the issue on security in order to secure higher growth.

Keys to Efficient and Effective Healthcare Delivery

Worldwide, multiple factors cause the healthcare industry to be diverse and complicated. In the United States, the healthcare system is troubled by skyrocketing costs. In turn, the lack of affordability threatens the health, wellness and productivity for far too many. There are three keys to delivering an efficient and effective healthcare delivery process.

Today, regulations, insurance restrictions and the interaction between clinician and patient drive treatment direction. The importance of “health
care” demands little margin for error. Achieving complete and accurate medical outcomes requires an efficient and effective healthcare delivery process.

The accelerating growth of medical knowledge cultivates the emphasis to improve the efficiency and effectiveness in the healthcare delivery process. Reducing unnecessary costs can provide hospitals and medical practices with the additional cash flow needed to re-invest in their people and or obtain new tools like the latest diagnostic technology. With all of the cost demands resulting in time pressures, what can healthcare professionals do to facilitate efficient and effective healthcare delivery process?

The first key to improving efficiency and effectiveness in healthcare delivery is defining and examining core, supporting and driving processes.
When a team comes together with the intention of documenting strategic direction and associated workflow processes, process consultants can assist the team with techniques on how to better align expectations, reduce unnecessary re-work and unnecessary wait time and make more effective use tools and technology. Clearly, this results in developing higher value for the clinicians and the patients because we focus our efforts on necessary and valuable activities.

Another key is leveraging tools and technology. Each year millions of dollars are spent on Electronic Medical Record systems and Integrated Healthcare Management systems. These technologies offer tools to manage and share healthcare data with high-speed computer networks and mobile devices to ensure favorable treatment outcomes and improve care delivery on a case-by-case basis. More extensive instrumentation, interconnectivity, and intelligence in the management of medical data and information can improve the efficacy of examination, diagnosis, and treatment at the point of care. The fact that these tools and techniques are being used within the healthcare industry is great for the ultimate success of the industry; however, few businesses access these tools due to cost and resistance to change.

The third and most important key is understanding the appetite of the current culture for change. Many tools exist to understand leadership styles, communication and learning preferences. Integrating human resource values such as involving folks in decisions that impact them requires clinical leadership to integrate the voice of the employees within leadership strategies. Other organizational driving and constraining forces must also be assessed. Cultural change tools lead us to apply the appropriate communication, coaching, training, and measurement techniques to lead and reinforce necessary change.

Given the number and diversity of participants as well as the complexity of healthcare delivery process, implementing these keys uncovers the need for an objective party to initiate, facilitate, and integrate a sustainable efficient and effective healthcare delivery process. For the healthcare industry, the time to act is now. Healthcare organizations that move aggressively to implement the process improvements, appropriate tools and technologies and cultural change techniques will achieve cost-effective results and improve interactions with their staff and health outcomes for the care of their patients.