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Leveraging IT at the Indian Health Service

June 3, 2009
by David Raths
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From the department of shameless self-promotion, I’d like to point you to an article I recently wrote for a different publication, Public CIO magazine.
I recommend the article, “Government CIOs Diagnose Health Information Technology Options,” not because of any great insights of mine, but because I got a chance to interview some very impressive public-sector CIOs about how the sudden increased emphasis on health IT is affecting their work. They include Chuck Campbell, CIO of the Military Health System, and Dr. Louis Capponi, chief medical informatics officer of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
My favorite conversation was with Dr. Theresa Cullen, CIO of the Indian Health Service (IHS), who described how her interest in technology grew out of her own primary-care practice on the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation in Arizona. Her commitment to the healthcare of the Indian people really came through in everything she said.
As Cullen explains in the article, IHS’ fiscal and human-resource constraints forced a recognition that it needed to leverage IT better.
She describes the growth of IHS’ open source clinical information system called RPMS, including the 2007 rollout of a clinical decision support aid called iCare.
The HITECH Act provides $85 million for IHS to use on health IT, and Cullen talks about the pressure that puts on her.
“It is a very exciting time, but also a burden because we want to leverage these funds in a way that provides good value and helps the Indian people,” she said. “But we also have to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money in terms of application planning.”
She also said that RPMS, because it is open source, is starting to be used in other settings, such as community health centers. Is this a model that could spread? What do you see as potential benefits and/or shortcomings?

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David Raths

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David Raths

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David Raths’ blog focuses on health IT policy issues ranging from patient privacy to health...