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Looking at Health IT from Multiple Perspectives

June 6, 2012
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I.T.’s impact on transformative healthcare from Facebook to readmissions

Technology’s role in the ongoing healthcare transformation is a widely discussed topic at Healthcare Informatics. In fact, it’s one of our core conversational subjects. With this in mind, I was highly intrigued to catch a recent panel at the MIT CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass, which focused on this very subject. You’ll remember last week, I talked about the Symposium’s keynote panel. As scintillating as that was, the healthcare panel, called “Navigating the Transformation of Healthcare,” was directly in my wheelhouse.

It featured four panelists: HCI Editorial Board Member, Chuck Podesta, senior vice president and CIO at the Burlington, Va.-based Fletcher Allen Health Care; Catherine Bruno, vice president and CIO of Bangor, Maine-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems; Sue Schade, vice president and CIO at Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Joe Alea, senior vice president and chief technology officer at industry vendor Curaspan Health Group.

Over the course of an hour, the panel discussed everything from readmissions to how Facebook could apply to healthcare. The three provider panelists, coming from different areas of the industry, provided some worthwhile insights. Here were a few of the highlights:

Tech and Improvements: In the opening minutes of the panel, moderator Sreedhar Potarazu, M.D., the founder and CEO of Vital Spring Technologies, asked a question that I’m sure many have wondered out loud in the past. How exactly has technology helped the consumer in healthcare? Schade gave a common answer and talked about the patient portal, which for her organization was internally developed and is “easy to use.” She also talked about telemedicine. Alea, Podesta and Bruno talked about care transitions, and specifically reducing readmissions after a patient has been discharged. The consensus from the provider side was that there was definitely room for improvement in this area.

Government Involvement: When Potarazu asked the panel about government involvement and how it has impacted technology in healthcare, there were some interesting responses. Bruno, who would go on to win the MIT CIO Innovation Award later that day, said government incentives from meaningful use are, “putting everyone up to a level which we’ve never had before. At Eastern Maine, we are leaders, but we would not moving as quickly as we are now [if not for meaningful use].”  Schade said Brigham and Women’s, although a leader in her eyes for investments into their ambulatory EMR and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system, still has a ways to go because the meaningful use criteria are so specific.  

Negative Sentiment: One of the interesting points of the panel was made by Podesta, who addressed a question from Potarazu about why there is a negative sentiment from the public on changing the system. “If you look at the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act], even for us, it’s very difficult to understand the various components of healthcare reform, and what’s actually going to change…How can you expect the community to understand how it’s going to be good for them?”

Analytics: Big Data was a topic, on this panel and throughout the conference. Both Podesta and Bruno say there is a lot of work to be done in analytics. According to Podesta, there is no off-the-shelf, all-in-one solution that can spit out analytics. There are issues around natural language processing, textual data, normalizing data, and figuring out lab values. “I think we’re a long way off, just getting the tools and the understanding,” he said. “It’s at the early stages of maturity.” Bruno said in her organization there has been the use of guidelines, but they are not familiar with analyzing data over large groups of populations quite yet.

The Facebook Question: Facebook has been mentioned recently a lot when it comes to healthcare. Schade, Podesta, and Bruno talked about their own organizations proposing Facebook like applications for patient engagement and collaboration purposes. Schade’s organization’s proposal was to use the application to have patients understand which doctor is taking care of them. Instead of a separate application, Podesta says his organization monitors Facebook itself, to see where patients have had a bad experience, and they intervene through Facebook. Bruno said Cerner invited organizations in to use a Facebook like application, called uCern, which allows for better social collaboration with industry peers.