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One-on-One With Intermountain Healthcare CIO Marc Probst, Part I

April 21, 2009
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As a member of the government’s new HIT Policy Committee, Probst will be instrumental in shaping a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

AG: How did you come to take this new post? What led up to it?

MP: Obviously, we were aware of the legislation and the fact that these committees were going to be created. We had discussed internally that the government was interested in having me or someone from our organization be involved in. So we actually discussed that. Ultimately, the AHA approached Intermountain, actually more around security and privacy. And we decided, yes, we’d go ahead and have me nominated to be on that committee. And we talked to other people, and we talked to Gingrich’s organization, which we’re a member of, and some of the local political leaders. And we went ahead with the nomination.

GAO called me probably two weeks before the nomination and did a brief interview, asking why I would be interested in doing something like this, and would I commit my time to do it. I essentially told him I think this is a pretty important legislation and, clearly, if the United States is going to invest in healthcare IT, I think we can do a lot of good with that, but we could also do a lot of harm — we could not get the benefit if we don’t do it appropriately. So I am very interested in it. Of course, I stated I would serve if nominated. And then it was just the nomination process, and they wanted to make sure I paid my taxes.

AG: Which is the exception to the rule these days.

MP: I won't make a comment on that, but they just want to make sure of that.

AG: You don’t receive payment for this, correct?

MP: No.

AG: So this is real volunteer work. To me, this seems very admirable, and I’m not one to be dramatic about these things. But what you're doing, and what (John) Glaser is getting ready to do, seems to me very honorable.

MP: I appreciate you saying that. Intermountain Healthcare’s mission is to be a model health system. So when we were formed 35 years ago, that’s what the founding board and actually the Mormon Church wanted to create. Everyone here has been extremely supportive because, yes, it’s volunteering my time, and I still have to do my real job, but for them to support me in doing this is wonderful. And I give the same credit to Partners because they are allowing Glaser a lot of time. But I think it shows how important we think technology is in helping to solve some of the healthcare issues that are out there. The government is putting its money where its mouth is, and so I’m certainly willing to put my time in to help.

AG: It’s always easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize things, especially government programs, so it’s certainly admirable to jump in and be willing to take the knocks in an effort to try and help shape things.

MP: Absolutely. I’m in the game to play, and I’m not looking to sit on the bench. If you're going to be in the game, you might as well have an impact on it. I think there is a tremendous opportunity. I’m tremendously honored that they considered my name and gave me the appointment. Right now, I’m just going through and trying to look at all the things CHIME and HIMSS and other groups and peers are putting out there in their comments, because I think it’s very serious that it isn't done incorrectly. I don’t have all the answers, but there are a lot of smart people out there, and I appreciate the fact that I can learn from them. Like I said, it’s an honor, and I’m glad to be in the game.

AG: Tell me about what's been going on since you’ve gotten up and running? I know it’s only been a couple of weeks.

MP: There is nothing to say. Literally. They haven't even named the other seven members. HHS obviously has to get organized. The only thing – GAO has now passed it off to HHS, the Office of National Coordinator now has all of our names, and they’ve reached out once at this point and said, ‘Who is your assistant, we need to start to getting some meetings scheduled,’ – but they haven't even started to do that yet. So it’s very preliminary at this point.

AG: The first list of 13 shows an interesting mix. And what I find even more interesting is the additional seven will be appointed by the Secretary of HHS, the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate, and the Speaker and Minority leader of the House of Representatives. I can just imagine the kind of people that are going to wind up among those seven who, unfortunately, may have no clue about healthcare IT, and may just be appointed to repay a political favor. I don’t expect you to get into that too much, but do you have any thoughts on how those additional seven are going to be named?

MP: None, beyond what you just stated. I’m not trying to be political – I mean it is an interesting process. I hope they pick people that are concerned about healthcare. I thought GAO did a very good job of getting a broad spectrum of individuals. It wasn’t your most common list of individuals that you typically see going through this kind of process. Certainly the political appointments … it will be interesting.

AG: Obviously I recognized some of these names – certainly your name, Paul Tang, and Judy Faulkner. Do you expect to work with those individuals (Paul and Judy) pretty closely, or would you not put Judy in that group?