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Notes from Washington DC

September 25, 2009
by Neal Ganguly
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This week was National Health IT Week. And there were many events in the nation’s capital to educate our representatives on the benefits of the effective use of IT in healthcare. I was fortunate to be able to participate in a number of the week’s events and wanted to share my observations with our HIT community.

Sponsored by HIMSS, CHIME and a range of other interested organizations, the event kicked off with a press conference on Capitol Hill attended by a number of legislators and representatives of the HIT constituency and was covered by CNN. I wasn't there – but heard it was a success.

CHIME held a CIO Advocacy event at the Canadian embassy with Julie Boughn, CIO of CMS as the keynote speaker. It was interesting to hear the perspective of a CIO colleague who sat on the ‘other side’ and how she had to deal with the constant stream of changes that emerge from CMS. Julie pushed the assembled CIOs to consider our vision for the future of healthcare and I have to confess, it took us a while to get going on that topic. So many of us are neck deep in the changes around meaningful use (which she shed no additional light on) and interoperability in addition to keeping the lights on, that it took a few minutes to refocus our brains (at least my brain). Still, a good exercise and a great presentation. Randy McCleese (CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Kentucky) and I both presented about State level advocacy efforts as well.

That same evening, HIMSS convened it’s 8th annual policy summit. This is, in many ways, the highlight of the week.. At that meeting the over 400 attendees learned about policy, how to speak with legislators (and aides), and about the requests (also known as ‘asks’) that we would be making on behalf of HIMSS the following day. If you’re interested in the asks – visit www.himss.org and click on the advocacy and public policy link.

The following day there were more speakers and then finally the assembled 400 plus were ready to board buses to the Hill (did I mention 42 of the 400 were from New Jersey!). There were many meetings held that afternoon in the offices of Senators and Congressmen. Most were held with Legislative Aides, but some representatives met directly with their constituents. The NJ delegation was honored to meet directly with Representatives Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, and Steven Rothman.

The one thing that is clear is the lack of awareness and knowledge. Though the billions of dollars put into the stimulus bill put HIT on the radar, most of our representatives still don’t understand it. It’s up to us as a community to educate them and enable them to represent the needs of our community.

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Comments

Hi Neal,
I'm sorry I missed all this activity in D.C. at the end of September. I was traveling in Europe. But I wanted to respond to your post to let you know that my reporting has turned up the same challenge in advocating to legislators that you describe herea lack of awareness of the issues. I wrote something recently for Behavioral Healthcare magazine about community behavioral health providers' concerns that they were left out of the stimulus bill's Medicare and Medicaid funding incentives. Alexa Eggleston, director of public policy for National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, told me that many representatives who voted for the bill are surprised to learn that behavioral health is not included, so it is a real challenge for them to educate representatives on this issue. They have a letter-writing campaign under way and hope to see the legislation amended.

David, I hope they're successful. As an industry, we will need to focus on continued education of our legislators, and perhaps more importantly, their legislative aides. Good Luck!

Neal Ganguly

CIO, CentraState Healthcare System, Freehold, New Jersey

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