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Editorial: Grant boosts INHS’ part in trimming health costs

For those wondering what health care cost containment might look like, check out the $15.7 million federal grant that was awarded to Inland Northwest Health Services. Only 15 communities across the country have landed these coveted grants by demonstrating trailblazing work in information technology.

The grant calls for INHS, whose reach extends throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho, to use its information expertise to better coordinate care for the chronically ill, particularly those patients suffering from type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes.

INHS has already established a nationally recognized network among hospitals for sharing medical records. Now the focus will be on individual doctors whose records aren’t networked or are still in paper form.

Shared information is vital to helping patients with chronic conditions, because it cuts down on redundant paperwork for patients and providers and heads off unnecessary tests and potential medical errors.

Diabetes has become a priority because the nation’s rising obesity rate is producing more diabetics. Twenty-four million Americans have type 2 diabetes and another 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Oftentimes, people don’t know they have either.

A University of Chicago study released in November shows why a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this disease is a must. It estimates that the incidence of type 2 diabetes would double by 2034 and the cost of treatment would triple if today’s rates remained constant. That “if” is the key to cost containment.

Diabetes is one of the more preventable chronic diseases, so coordinated care, education and the smart use of information technology can be major factors in reducing costs. The challenge for INHS is to find ways to link doctors and small clinics in far-flung and largely rural areas to the rest of the medical community. Technology is the best way to get these providers talking to one another.

If successful, this pilot project would become a model for the rest of the country.

While the community might take INHS for granted, it is seen as a beacon by health experts nationwide. The partnership among Deaconess, Valley, Sacred Heart and Holy Family was formed 15 years ago to reduce duplication in such services as air ambulance, rehabilitation and electronic medical records.

A recent billing dispute between INHS and Community Health Services, which recently purchased Deaconess, has frayed relations, but that must not be allowed to sever this vital bond.

INHS has proved its value in landing this grant. The community should be proud that it is viewed as a suitable locale for solving a piece of the medical cost puzzle.

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