NEW YORK - In a move to use technology to reduce inefficiencies in the delivery of health care and make it more responsive to consumers' and physicians' needs, Verizon has implemented a new program that provides company employees with secure, 24/7 access online to their medical and prescription history, a robust snapshot of their health status that can be shared with health care providers.
Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg announced the Electronic Personal Health Records tool during a roundtable discussion on the shift toward a value-driven care system held by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. Participating Verizon employees can use the health records tool to store health care information on a password-protected Web site, which employees and their designated health care providers can access from anywhere in the world.
The program also supports the four goals proposed last year by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to improve health care quality and reduce costs through increased use of technology and providing more information to consumers.
"Information technology has revolutionized the way we live and could add great value to the delivery of health care in this country," Seidenberg said. "The health care industry has been on the cutting edge of technology on the research and development side, but not on the administrative side. Electronic medical records will radically change the dynamics of our health care system by providing the information needed to empower the patient. This is the first step toward an interoperable system that will seamlessly connect all pieces of the health care puzzle - patients, clinicians, pharmacies, labs, hospitals and others."
Establishing secure access to health records provides a variety of benefits and efficiencies, including making patients better informed about their health care. For example, Verizon's new program can help employees manage chronic conditions, analyze data to send an alert when a drug has been prescribed that may interact with another drug, or inform employees when their care may not be consistent with evidence-based medicine.
Electronic medical records also offer an approach to addressing a serious situation that physicians and health care professionals face in emergency rooms throughout the country every day: An unconscious person is rushed in and needs immediate care; yet the attending nurse or physician is unaware of a severe allergy or chronic health condition because the patient's medical records are not immediately available.
"The leadership of companies like Verizon in offering personal health records is encouraging, and I hope more employers will make similar commitments soon," said Secretary Leavitt. "We know that the use of health IT based on recognized standards leads to better health care for patients at lower cost and with less hassle, and I applaud this important step for consumers."
First offered to nearly 40,000 Verizon salaried employees last month, Verizon will expand the use of Electronic Personal Health Records in the future. Provided by WebMD, one of the leading providers of health information technology, Verizon's electronic health records tool is an enhancement of HealthZone, an online health portal the company launched in 2006 that offers personalized and confidential tools and resources to help users understand their current health status, set health goals and make better health care decisions.
HealthZone also offers employees a health risk assessment, WebMD Health Quotient, which calculates health risks and determines a plan to help reduce or eliminate those risks as well as manage chronic conditions.
American Academy of Nursing CEO Pat Ford-Roegner said, "We applaud Verizon's decision to engage its employees more fully in their own health care by providing secure and unlimited access to their personal health records. The American Academy of Nursing looks forward to the day when all citizens have fully integrated patient records in an interoperable format that helps consumers, their families and their health care providers to best understand their individual uniqueness and improves the overall safety of each encounter."
The Electronic Personal Health Records program is voluntary and works this way: After an employee enrolls, health care information is imported and managed from various sources -- physicians, nurses, hospitals, pharmacies, labs, as well as information entered by the employee, including family history.
Easy-to-read charts and reports are accessible online and can be printed and shared with physicians, and help create an informed health care consumer. The information is password-protected and kept secure and confidential, accessible only by the employee and, if an employee chooses, by his or her health care providers.
Verizon's personal health records tool works independent of an employee's health plan and is completely portable, even if the employee retires or leaves the company.
"Verizon's leadership in putting their employees at the center of their own health care is an important example of the partnership that corporate America needs to foster with their employees," said Wayne Gattinella, president and CEO, WebMD.
Verizon is an advocate of the "consumer-centric" approach to health care and bringing the benefits of information technology to the administration of health care to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care.
In December 2006, Seidenberg committed Verizon to Secretary Leavitt's four goals. Seidenberg was also the only non-health care member of the Federal Commission on Systemic Interoperability, a group of medical, insurance, governmental, technological and corporate leaders tasked by Congress to develop recommendations and a timeline for the adoption of privacy-protected systems of electronic health information.
In addition, Verizon was a founding member of pay-for-performance programs Bridges to Excellence and Leapfrog, which reward providers and hospitals for quality care and health information technology implementation.
In 2006 alone, Verizon spent $3.5 billion to provide health care for more than 900,000 employees, dependents and retirees. Although the company's health care costs are below the national average, they have increased 28 percent over the last three years.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 60.7 million customers nationwide. Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which delivers innovative and seamless business solutions to customers around the world, and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network. A Dow 30 company, Verizon has a diverse workforce of more than 238,000 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of more than $88 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.