More than 1,700 healthcare professionals and media took part in IBM's (Armonk, New York) virtual conference Wednesday, outlining the state of the healthcare industry and the steps needed to get the fractured and broken system repaired.

Moderated by Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry; Jim Adams, executive director of IBM's Center for Healthcare Management' and Robert Roswell, senior associate dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and former undersecretary for health, Department of Veteran Affairs, spent nearly two hours hashing over the core problems with the nation's healthcare system.

The trio primarily discussed domestic issues.

Titled Healthcare 2015: The Future of Care Delivery, the report was presented in a series of sometimes complicated and busy slides, which the hosts said was a byproduct of the complex problems the healthcare industry is facing.

Globalization, consumerism, changing demographics and lifestyles, diseases that are more expensive to treat, the proliferation of medical technologies and treatments, financial constraints, resource shortages, increasingly unrealistic societal expectations and norms, and an absence of information systems, among others, are problems that plague the incarnation of healthcare.

IBM said that the only cure for health systems around the world is a "fundamental transformation" of healthcare.

"Yes this is a deep and broad report ... it isn't intended to paint a glowing and mythical picture of what healthcare could be, but instead it shows our problems and has some suggestions on what can be done to make it better," Adams told the audience. "Healthcare costs are growing faster than some economies in other countries. The worst example is the U.S."

Adams pulled up a slide which showed the U.S. spending an estimated $2.1 trillion on healthcare. He compared that to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) per-capita average. The OECD is an international organization of 30 countries that accept the principles of representative democracy and free market economy, of which the U.S. is a member.

"If the U.S. spent at the OECD per capita average for healthcare, we would spend $1 trillion less per year (on healthcare)," he said.

Adams added that 80% of the $2.1 trillion goes to the terminally ill, while the remaining dollars fund prevention. He declared healthcare to be a misnomer, saying that it was instead "sick care."

To combat this, he said, "A stronger emphasis should be placed on prediction, prevention and early detection."

At present there seems to be no link between the higher costs and quality of healthcare.

Adams said that unfortunately, it is easier for acute interventions to take place, such as a diabetic having a foot removed, than to have prevention methods in place to stop diabetes from progressing in a patient.

He added: "The healthcare system here in the U.S. isn't selling what IBM would like to buy. I think we all agree we're in a healthcare crisis."

A recurring theme of electronic health records (EHRs) resonated throughout the conference with Roswell introducing the idea as an effective means to utilize change to the tattered system.

"What we have here is a healthcare sector," Roswell said. "We won't have a true healthcare system until we have a more effective mechanism of sharing information."

He added that most of the changes discussed during the conference couldn't happen unless the U.S. specifically moved to EHRs. "You can't reform on a paper system like the U.S. has," Roswell said.

But there are some bright spots on the EHR front, he said.

Specifically, he praised Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's plan to have 12 communities participate in a national Medicare demonstration project that provides incentive payments to physicians for using certified EHR to improve the quality of patient care. The five-year, first-of-its-kind project is expected to improve the quality of care provided to an estimated 3.6 million Americans.

IBM's new study is an extension of Healthcare 2015: Win-Win or Lose-Lose, which was the company's original work detailing the broad case for healthcare system transformation. It was published in October 2006.

Another study, Healthcare 2015 and U.S. Health Plans: New Roles, New Competencies, published last September, presented a forward-looking view of required transformation in the Health Benefits segment. With the success of this conference, IBM said that it would continue to have more in the future.

"Major change is going to happen at one point," Adams said. "It will be either change we can control and manage or change that happens to us."

"In order for transformation to occur we need to all be able to work together," Pelino said. That includes healthcare providers ... legislators and patients. The challenges are great but I believe we can overcome them."