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eHealth Initiative Annual Conference: “Technology is the Vehicle”

The commencement of the eHealth Initiative Annual Conference held Oct. 11 & 12, 2007 in Washington, D.C. began as a celebration over the release of the eHealth Initiative Blueprint: Building Consensus for Common Action, a document which represents a multi-stakeholder agreement for a "[...] shared vision and a set of principles, strategies and actions for improving health and healthcare through information and information technology (IT)." The subsequent agenda for the conference sessions integrated the chief findings from the Blueprint.

The dominant trends and insights emphasized throughout the conference were the patient-centric system, incremental adoption rates thus far, privacy and security as the major barriers, positive outcomes amongst early adopters and the overriding premise that technology is not the problem, networks are. In his opening speech, Edward Wagner, Director of the W.A. MacColl Institute for Health Care Innovation, indicated that IT has the potential to accelerate improvement in health care and went on to discuss the significance of engaged, responsible, and activated patients. Mr. Wagner noted that through an electronic health record (EHR), with web portal access, there is the increased ability to collaborate and provide care in the absence of a conventional doctor room visit.

Robert Kolonder, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, US Department of Health and Human Services, touched upon the incremental adoption rates thus far. He noted that statistics show that in 2005 there was a 10% fully implemented EHR adoption rate amongst providers and in 2007 11% of hospitals had fully implemented EHR adoption. He believes that the "tipping point" for widespread adoption will likely occur around the 2012-2014 timeframe. Kolonder, along with multiple other speakers and panelists, stressed that privacy and security are the major roadblocks; which once sorted out will enable accelerated adoption. Mr. Wagner mentioned in his speech that findings from a clinical care model study indicate that the greatest impact of electronic medical records (EMR) thus far have been the disease registry and reminder functionality. He noted that EHRs don't have these same capabilities. Finally, the sentiment that has been reiterated amongst industry experts continually was once again cited; technology is not the problem, networks are in their lack of interoperability standards and policies. Nor is technology the solution, it is simply the vehicle.

Wrapping up the conference, Laura Adams, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a state continually at the forefront of health IT, demonstrated through a passionate speech that RI intends to remain an innovator. Ms. Adams highlighted the ethical basis for sharing patient data and the need to eliminate competition barriers amongst providers.

GovWin's Take:

  • States are making headway in formulating legislation on privacy and security policies, but major resolutions are still beyond the horizon for most. Following health IT-related legislation in each state is a crucial indicator of future intentions, initiatives and funding.
  • Hesitancy towards purchasing EHRs amongst providers does not seem to revolve around cost, as much as the lack of standards, privacy and security. Technology is not the issue, the policies, networks and standards are the leading concerns.

  • Where applicable, providing partnership support and expertise to Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIO) and HIEs in addressing the choppy waters of interoperability standards and policies could help to create standards that are aligned with the technologies.

  • EHR vendors can continue to innovate EHR system capabilities, such as including disease registry and reminder functionality, which were noted as having a major positive impact.

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