WASHINGTON - Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg urged Congress today to enact legislation that would help address the nation's health care crisis by creating electronic data system standards to significantly reduce costs, enhance efficiency and improve patient care.
"Of the almost $2 trillion spent on health care in this country, less than five per cent is spent on information technology," Seidenberg said in a keynote address delivered this morning at the Third Annual World Health Care Congress here. "Fewer than 10 percent of hospitals have electronic records. In fact, 90 percent of health care transactions are conducted by paper, fax and phone calls - putting the medical system radically out of synch with the way business is conducted in every other sector of the economy.
"If L. L. Bean can remember what color sweater you ordered for Christmas last year, why should you have to fill out a new medical history every time you go to the hospital?"
Seidenberg urged Congress to act on legislation that would create "a 21st century health care system" by setting standards for electronic systems to transmit patient information and other data and, ultimately, require health care providers to use these systems. The Senate, with "widespread, bi-partisan support," has passed one bill, he said, and "now the House of Representatives needs to do the same."
Seidenberg said that a "comprehensive system of electronic health records - controlled by the customer but shareable across the medical community - would enhance competition and increase the quality of care throughout the system."
He noted that experts believe that the widespread use of this technology has the potential to save $80 billion a year in health care costs.
Seidenberg cited several examples of how the expanded use of broadband and wireless technologies can improve the quality and efficiency of health care. One example, he said, is the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, which is using Verizon's fiber network to transmit electrocardiograms from anywhere in the United States to the homes of the center's neonatal cardiologists.
He also noted that Verizon is implementing a series of interactive online resources to empower the company's employees to make informed health care choices. Employees will initially have access to personalized health records and will ultimately be able to obtain a portable record of their own medical history, claims information, test results and prescriptions - all in one easy-to-access, private and secure location.
In addition, Verizon participates in pay-for-performance programs such as Bridges to Excellence and Leapfrog, which reward providers and hospitals for quality care and health information technology implementation.
Seidenberg noted that Verizon spent $3.4 billion in 2005 alone - "one of our largest line-item expenses" -- to provide health care for about 900,000 employees, dependants and retirees. The company's health care costs have increased 28 percent over the last three years, he said.
He said Verizon supports a "customer-centric" approach to improving the U.S. health care system, based on three key principles: Use information technology to enhance the health care infrastructure. Empower consumers to make better decisions by putting more information about health care options in their hands. And move to a system of "individual insurance plans that is portable from job to job, available nationwide, and is affordable."
"Employers and government both have critical roles to play in creating a health-care system that can take us into the 21st century, but the real magic will come from the market," Seidenberg said. He continued:
"Ultimately, consumers will demand control of their health-care information. That impulse will have a disruptive, transformational impact on the American health care system. And if there's one thing we've learned about managing the disruptive forces in our own industry, it's that winners are the ones who get themselves on the right side of the big ideas that are driving change in the marketplace."
Seidenberg served as a 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.
The World Health Care Congress is a meeting of chief and senior executives from all sectors of health care. At the 2006 conference, more than 1,550 top-level government and corporate officials and leaders from the nation's largest employers, hospitals, health systems, health plans, pharmaceutical and biotech companies will discuss the improvement of health care quality, cost and access.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), a Dow 30 company, is a leader in delivering broadband and other communication innovations to wireline and wireless customers. Verizon operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 51.3 million customers nationwide; one of the most expansive wholly-owned global IP networks; and one of the nation's premier wireline networks, serving home, business and wholesale customers. Based in New York, Verizon has a diverse workforce of approximately 250,000 and generates annual consolidated operating revenues of approximately $90 billion. For more information, visit