Intel’s Andy Grove sounds off on data transparency in healthcare

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Andy Grove, the legendary and longtime CEO of Intel, wants to light a fire under healthcare providers and patients.

In an article in the latest issue of Wired magazine, he argues that, in healthcare, “1950s-era thinking still rules the day, and irrational and inexplicable pricing is routine.”

“The health care industry plays a gigantic game of Blind Man’s Bluff, keeping patients in the dark while asking them to make life-and-death decisions. The odds that they will make the best choice are negligible and largely depend on chance. Patients need to have data, including costs and their own medical histories, liberated and made freely available for thorough analysis. What health care needs is a window sticker—a transparent, good-faith effort at making prices clear and setting market forces to work,” he writes.

Grove’s interest in healthcare isn’t new. Over the past couple of decades, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and later Parkinson’s disease, he has not only invested millions in research, but supported a an innovation-minded graduate health program and become an impassioned advocate of reform.

In his latest piece, he says that healthcare costs have climbed, even as technology in the field – which typically drives efficiency – has advanced.

Entrenched biases among doctors and policy-driven investment patterns are partly to blame, Grove argues, but he adds that consolidation among healthcare providers only exacerbates the situation by further hindering data transparency.

What’s needed, he explains, is a “digital sticker” reminiscent of the so-called “Monroney stickers” glued to the windows of new cars.

Startups like CastlightSimpleeCakeHealth and others are beginning to bring more price transparency to consumers by helping them comparison shop for healthcare providers and breakdown their medical bills and insurance claims into more understandable charges.

But Grove envisions new tools, reliant on computers developed explicitly for this purpose, that are even more comprehensive and provide information in real time. That will only happen if the healthcare industry, led by doctors, changes its mindset, he said, but the role of the patient is also critical.

At the Wired Health Conference in New York Tuesday afternoon, Grove spoke with Wired executive editor Thomas Goetz via Skype and, when asked where that motivation for change will come from, he simply replied: “From you and I being sufficiently pissed.”

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