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Health Datapalooza Day 1: Report on Digital Health in the UK

June 4, 2013
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UK plans to become the second biggest telehealth market in the world after the United States

The fourth annual Health Datapalooza event in Washington, D.C., kicked off June 3 with presentations from several high-profile speakers, including Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the hyperkinetic athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush, and noted healthcare writer Atul Guwande, M.D.

Guwande referred to a recent report on the high level of burnout among primary-care physicians. They feel like they are spending a huge amount of time documenting their work, he said. So far, the impact of automation is that it pushes more work to physicians, he explained. “Our experience of EHRs is that they are designed to push more work up the chain,” Guwande said. Physicians need tools to handle and reverse some of that workflow to be shared by others on their teams.

The audience of 2,000 attendees heard Phil Fasano, Kaiser Permanente's executive Vice President and CIO, announce an application programming interface (API) to Kaiser data (admittedly starting slowly with basic information about Kaiser facilities). There were several health data startup contest winner announcements. But I thought one of the most valuable presentations was by Jeremy Hunt, MP, Secretary of State for Health in the United Kingdom. Hunt served to remind the audience that the United States is not the only place that technology innovations are being applied to rethink how chronic conditions are treated. (One-quarter of UK citizens have chronic conditions, he noted.)

“Several transformational things are happening in the UK,” he said, “and technology is right at the heart of it.”

He listed several developments he sees as crucial. The first involves electronic health records.  The National Health Service is becoming a learning health system and to improving the transactional nature of care, so that patients can book appointments and order medication refills online. “We will soon have 50 million comprehensive patient records online that can be accessed from any part of the system. That will be a huge source of research data.”

The second involves sequencing 100,000 genomes to concentrate on cancer and a few other diseases. "We believe this will be as significant as the founding of the Internet. The sequencing of genomes combined with EHRs will transform healthcare.”

The third involves telemedicine. The UK has just completed its largest study of telehealth and telemedicine, with promising results on reducing morbidities, he said. “We hope to have 3 million people using telehealth and remote monitoring in the next three years, and become the second biggest telehealth market in the world after the United States,” Hunt said.

Hunt also talked about the importance of patient feedback and said NHS will start to publish the results of surveys about patient experiences in NHS hospitals. “People ask if we can afford to do this,” Hunt said. “But if we get it right, it will drive down costs.” The NHS isn't choosing between spending money on IT vs. hiring more nurses, he added. “Spending money on proper IT systems means nurses are not spending time filling out paperwork in the emergency room and can devote more of their attention to patients.”

Health Datapalooza is an exciting event. I'll have another blog post soon. Wait until you hear what the leaders of accountable care organizations said about their IT infrastructure needs. It may surprise you.