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Health IT Panel: Use Technology Now to Help Transform Healthcare

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media, January 26, 2010

Healthcare transformation is long overdue—especially as it relates to technology, according to a panel of technology executives who spoke at a Nashville Health Care Council luncheon last week about the future and current state of healthcare information technology.

Panelists included Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO; Harry Greenspun, MD, chief medical officer of Plano, TX-based Dell Perot Systems; George Lazenby, CEO of Nashville, TN-based Emdeon; and Glen Tullman, CEO of Chicago-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc.

Greenspun says healthcare IT is about a decade behind other industries, and he is amazed that healthcare consumers have tolerated it given the fact that you can make dinner reservations online but not necessarily doctor appointments. "On my iPhone I can get a custom-made burrito at the nearest Chipotle," he says. "But if I get hit by a truck, I can't find, with that same iPhone, a qualified orthopedic surgeon who takes my insurance."

Healthcare and education are the two least automated industries in the Unites States, which is interesting because in healthcare—more than in many industries—it is all about getting information at the right time to the right person, says Ballmer. "You look at the health industry and it is all about information—quality, cost, competition—all of those things need information," he says. "But how do you really capture, share, and present the totality of the information across the constituencies? That is hard to do."

The panel agreed that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a necessary catalyst to increase the adoption of electronic health records—especially for small physician offices with fewer than 10 physicians. The adoption rate of EHRs at that level has been limited—hovering around 5% to 10%.

"The problem for healthcare is that it is exacerbated by the percentage of healthcare that is in small business," says Ballmer. "Small business is a tough market for health information technology because it has custom workflows and they want to be served by other small businesses."

The good news is that the stimulus package won't hinder innovation in healthcare IT, says Lazenby. "Once you have the appropriate base of technology, the innovation will happen."

Greenspun agrees, adding that innovation in technology will lead to innovation in care delivery.

"This is not a technology issue," says Tullman. "It is a human behavior issue—getting physicians to change behavior and workflow in these offices."

The panel questioned whether consumers can be adequately engaged in their health through technology. Lazenby wasn't sure how to engage consumers until the healthcare industry is digitized.

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