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Report from the Wharton Health Care Business Conference

March 2, 2011
by David Raths
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HHS’ CTO, Cleveland Clinic’s CIO inspire business students to get involved in health IT innovation

Two leaders in health information technology took their turns inspiring future business leaders on Feb. 26 at a healthcare-focused conference put on by students at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Todd Park, chief technology officer for the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and C. Martin Harris, M.D., chief information officer at Cleveland Clinic, described how IT and innovation can improve health and sought to get Wharton students excited about the idea of working on creating startups at the intersection of health and IT.

“This is a humongous opportunity for innovation,” Park stressed during his presentation. Describing the HITECH Act as the appetizer and the Accountable Care Act (ACA) as the main course, Park said the huge change coming to healthcare over the next decade is going to require data mining and analytics, care integration tools, decision support software, and technology to extend physician read as well as consumer engagement tools. Providers will need to work with innovative companies to help create those tools, he added.

“I think someone in this room is going to create the Google, the Amazon or the Facebook of healthcare,” said Park, who came to HHS from electronic health record system vendor Athenahealth Inc., where he was a co-founder.

But it’s clear that budding entrepreneurs need to do their homework on this topic. Park asked the Wharton audience for a show of hands of people who knew about the HITECH Act and meaningful use. About 40 percent of attendees raised their hands. Then he asked how many knew about the payment reforms in the ACA and very few hands went up. “The most important thing you could do is sit down and familiarize yourself with those payment reform provisions,” he said.

Park also spoke about the Health Data Initiative, which he described as an attempt to morph HHS into the “NOAA of health data.” Park noted that NOAA collects and delivers weather data widely to other organizations, which disseminate it to the public in many forms; HHS is starting to open up application programming interfaces to its data, so that developers can create useful applications with it. “The goal,” he said, “is a self-propelled health data ecosystem.”

Dr. Harris, who chaired the HIMSS conference in Orlando, Fla., used Cleveland Clinic’s approach as an example of how the application of technology might transform the way we think about the delivery of care, especially about managing care across broad geographic areas.

As far back as 2001, when Cleveland Clinic was first formulating an Internet strategy, it decided not to focus on health information content but on actual services that could be delivered online. As it developed its MyPractice EMR, based on Epic’s system, it created a tool not just for doctors but also for the whole enterprise. “It is the same tool for schedulers, front desk staff, and researchers,” Harris said, “and the tools that patients are using are hooked off that same system. The system now has more than 34,000 clinical end users and 6.1 million patient records, he noted.

Harris then talked about how Cleveland Clinic has worked with personal health record developers Google and Microsoft to make care more patient-centric. He used the example of a patient who lives in Arizona and is planning to travel to Cleveland Clinic for a surgery. The clinic may ask the patient to sign up for Google Health and gather as much information in their record as they can. Data can flow in a structured format between that PHR and their MyChart patient record. Their local physician can sign up for Cleveland Clinic’s “DrConnect” service so they can be active participants in the care. Then when the patient returns home, the data can flow the other way—from MyChart to the PHR and to their clinician’s EHR.

“Care traditionally has been provider-centric. We are starting to put the patient in the middle and are empowering them to be engaged,” Harris said. “This creates a whole new way of requesting and receiving a variety of health-related services.”