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Making Jack Well: What This All Really Is About

March 11, 2013
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It’s easy to get caught up in the crazed swirl of HIMSS, but the reality of what's facing us hit me as soon as I got back from New Orleans


It’s frightfully easy to get caught up in the crazed, whirling dervish-like swirl of the HIMSS Conference. Virtually everyone at the conference has multiple plates to spin, and is either shopping for software, making deals, attending educational sessions, holding or attending receptions and networking events, listening to glamorous keynote speakers, or some combination of all of the above, and beyond. And particularly for those of us in the trade press, HIMSS can be nearly overwhelming, as there is so much to cover, and no media outlet has enough human resources to write about and comment on everything.

Still, in a way, the bottom line on HIMSS13 is rather simple, really. The healthcare industry is in great ferment moving forward on creating the new healthcare, and the requirements under both the Affordable Care Act and meaningful use, from the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, are all directed at pushing the industry forward in the direction of a healthcare system that is of higher patient care quality and patient safety, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, patient and community satisfaction, accountability and transparency. And more and more, health information technology, intelligently leveraged, is being understood as a critical and indispensible set of tools to help get us to the new healthcare. While so much more than “just” IT will be required to get us there, without IT, getting there will clearly be impossible.

That certainly was the message conveyed by federal officials, including Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., Farzad Mostashari, M.D., Judy Murphy, R.N., and numerous others, as well as by leaders from the purchaser and payer communities. So this year’s HIMSS Conference offered greater clarity and focus than ever.

Meanwhile, coming back home, I was reminded in a far more visceral way what this is all about, when a very close friend of mine, whom I’ll call Jack, ended up in the emergency department of his local hospital over the weekend, with persistent chest pain that didn’t turn out to be a heart attack, but which alarmed him and caused him to go directly to the ED on Sunday morning. One key moment that really struck me was when he recounted to me how he had forgotten one key detail from a previous chest pain incident from a few years ago, but, he noted, because the ED physician was able to contact Jack’s PCP and learn of that one key clinical detail—since Jack’s integrated health system has an integrated, interoperable electronic health record (EHR)—the ED physician was able to provide a better, more sophisticated and nuanced diagnosis in the moment she was treating Jack. Put another way, the lack of an integrated EHR would have diminished the quality of the care that Jack was receiving.

Friends, this is exactly what all this is about, though it’s easy to get lost in the details of meaningful use and ACA requirements. The simple reality is that the faster the healthcare system gets to absolutely universal electronic health records, to true health information exchange, to sophisticated and effective population health management and care management, and all the other important things it needs to get to, the better for patients like Jack and for communities like his all around the nation.

So while it’s easy to become distracted by all the whiz-bang technology on display at the HIMSS Conference (and much of it really is very impressive and worth being impressed by), or by the complexity of some of the policy mandates facing us, keeping people like Jack in mind, or people like the taxi driver who conversed with our Assistant Editor Rajiv Leventhal on Saturday evening on the way into New Orleans from the airport, will be very important. Because it’s those people who really matter. It reminds me of what my driver’s ed teacher told us ever so many years ago: “Aim high and keep focused on the big picture.” And the big picture really is my friend Jack and Rajiv’s taxi driver, and the hundreds of millions like them who are depending on healthcare IT leaders nationwide to get us to a healthcare system that supports the healthcare they need and deserve in the second decade of the 21st century.