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The Virtualization of Health Care Published: Monday, January 3, 2000 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

What is the vision? It is one of making the health care system virtual and assuring that the care is real. Of course, this will not happen this evening, but with the support of enabling technology and balanced resources the next transformation will be that of healthcare.com. By way of a muddling-through methodology, the purpose is to integrate providers, institutions and patients into a lasting system of efficient and effective management. The idea is to redesign the system from inside out to deliver high quality service, at reasonable costs and assuring value-added.

The prophecy, as conceived by a multidisciplinary community of experts, is that the virtualization of the health care system will represent a network of providers coupled by technology, decision rules and contractual relationships rather than by common ownership and control. Each provider will eventually be selected by what he does best. Information system technology, will allow providers to work in a very different way, changing or adjusting their behavior and linking themselves together in a real network delivery system. The net effect, in the long-run, will be equivalent of structuring real medicine dream teams or work class health organizations.

Structural capital deployed in the form of virtual health care networks will break down walls that segregate providers and free them to deliver best of class value in their area of specialty. Virtual health care delivery systems will pump both intellectual and financial capital more efficiently. Expertise will be shared, accessed and rented, not owned. Interactions among core players will take multiple forms, including partnerships, alliances, contracts and joint ownership. The entire clinical process will be managed as an integrative singular clinical system with the best-of-class component, accessed by providers to better serve the patients.

Once the expertise is in place, all parts can be coupled by technology for efficient information transfer. Clinical and financial information can be made available through video, audio, and text links. In terms of improving management processes related to the system, it will be possible to streamlined functions to generate tremendous efficiencies. Behavior of the system will be modified, the rules of the game altered, red tape eliminated, and value maximized. Webs will supply all needed services, including surgery, intensive care, rehabilitation, pharmaceuticals, home health care, and durable medical equipment. If hospitals look like department stores, webs will look like shopping malls, where a variety of boutiques, will provide wider selection and better services more, efficiently. With the virtualization of the health care system hospitals will become more like Plaza Las Américas as their services are unbundled and repositioned in a dynamic and flexible way.

As research and current experiments around the world are showing, the virtualization of the health care system signifies a different kind of work, where the linking of providers will enable the delivery of higher-quality care at a lower price than is currently possible with cafeteria hospitals that try to be all things to all people. This new and emerging transformation is of potentially of much greater value for the health care dollar.


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