GE to spend $6 billion on health tech initiative

Program focuses on health IT and reducing cost of medical devices

General Electric will spend US$6 billion over the next six years in an effort to improve health-care quality and drive down costs to consumers, the company announced Thursday.

The company will spend $3 billion on research and development, with major focuses on accelerating health IT and reducing the cost of high-tech health devices, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said.

Improving electronic medical records will be one of the large projects, he said.

In addition, GE will commit $2 billion and $1 billion worth of GE technology to deliver health IT to rural and other underserved areas, the company said.

"Consumers and providers are calling for more quality and transparency and access," Immelt said.

"Health care needs new solutions. We must innovate with smarter processes and technologies that help doctors and hospitals deliver better health care to more people at a lower cost."

Part of the effort, called "Healthymagination," will focus on reducing GE's health-care costs, Immelt said.

The company, which sells about $18 billion worth of medical devices per year, spends about $2.5 billion on health care for about 600,000 people, he said.

"We want to grow our business... but we also want to do something about our own employee health-care costs," Immelt said during a webcast.

The company will continue to focus on wellness and safety programs at its work sites and will work on partnerships with health-care providers to reduce costs, he said.

GE will turn its 175 health centers into wellness clinics and increase employee incentives for healthy activities, the company said.

GE sees the health-care field as a major growth opportunity in coming years, with worldwide emphasis on reducing costs and improving quality, Immelt added. "We don't run a charity at GE - we make money," he said.

"We are in business to earn profits for our investors. We think this is a growth program for the company."

GE's goals for the program are to reduce the cost of procedures using GE technologies and services by 15 percent, to increase access to health care services by 15 percent and to improve the quality and efficiency of health care by 15 percent.

GE doesn't see a trade-off between health-care quality and reducing cost, said John Dineen, president and CEO of GE Healthcare.

"You can expect both, and you can demand both," he said.

Intermountain Health Care, based in Salt Lake City, has cut millions of dollars in costs and significantly improved outcomes through adoption of health IT, said Dr. Brent James, executive director of the Institute for Health Care Delivery Research at Intermountain.

Adopting health IT is key to reducing costs, he said.

"That means we can serve a lot people a lot better," he said. "I personally believe it's the key to making insurance available to every American."

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