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LIVE FROM THE HCI EXECUTIVE SUMMIT: Opening Keynoter Russ Branzell Challenges his Audience to Move Towards (Peaceful) 'Revolution'

May 16, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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Branzell Challenges the HCI Executive Summit audience to action to transform U.S. healthcare

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), opened the Healthcare Informatics third annual Executive Summit at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco on May 16 with a stirring call to what he called participation in the emerging healthcare “revolution”—work to fundamentally change the processes of healthcare and the cost/quality/value dynamics of the U.S. healthcare system.

After beginning his address with a very entertaining slideshow depicting advances in medical and healthcare information technology, Branzell started his comments by saying that, on the one hand, we’ve come a very long way in healthcare system and healthcare IT change, but, as he put it, “The reality is that we have a very, very long way to go.” In fact, he said, the reality is that “We’re at the very center of a perfect storm” these days. “We’re spending way, way too much money in healthcare, he said, noting that, at 17.6 percent of gross domestic product spent in healthcare in 2010, U.S. healthcare spending is hone and a half times as much as any other country, and nearly twice the average of all OECD [Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development] countries. “We’ve blown past 18 percent of GDP in healthcare spending, and we’re moving towards 19 percent very quickly.”

“It is time to create a catalyst that is not just payment reform, but process reform”—and healthcare IT is key. We can basically cut out about 0.7 percent of healthcare costs, if we correctly leverage HIT.

“More and more, as you look at it, IT has become a survival strategy” for healthcare change, Branzell noted.

“The reality is that all the things that CIOs used to bring to the executive table were really ‘plumbing’—wired and wireless networks, cabling, other hardware, and so on. But that’s changed.” Every area of process change now, for reducing avoidable readmissions to creating sophisticated care management, will be strongly IT-facilitated. And “We’re being asked to save healthcare: that’s a huge level of responsibility—huge,” he said. And the change that will be required will be process change, and “hardcore process change.”

From “evolution” to “revolution”: “We have to create a fundamental level of change”—equivalent to the American Revolution—in order to move the healthcare system to where it needs to go, he urged his audience.

Key elements in that revolution? Integration, value (cost and quality), and transparency. Those broad process change areas, he noted, will perforce be defined diversely by different people. But the fundamental challenge is that we can no longer move forward by what he called “baby steps,” he noted. And the greatest barrier, he emphasized, is that “We are absolutely addicted” to the existing fee-for-service reimbursement system, and all the processes that flow out of that status quo.

Thus, he told his audience, “Your job as a leader is no longer just to do more, but to make sense of all this,” and to help their organizations move forward.

What elements will be required building blocks of what he called “Health IT 2.0”? Branzell cited the following: “great” health information exchange, a certified electronic health record, patient portals, a strong data warehouse, business intelligence, data analytics a “world-class” IT team; unified communications, an ACO system; population health system; and document management. Branzell's opening keynote speech helped launch one-and-a-half days of presentations, panel discussions, interactions, and networking among senior healthcare IT leaders at the Summit in San Francisco.