Potential, implementation struggles of health IT highlighted at workshop


Health information technology is fundamental to health care moving forward, said multiple speakers at the Journalism Workshop on Health Information Technology in San Francisco on Oct. 13 and 14.

“I view health IT as the circulatory system for health care,” said David Blumenthal, M.D., president of the Commonwealth Fund.

But Blumenthal and others said that now we are “struggling with the process” of realizing the full potential of health IT.

One speaker brought out a chart of the “tech hype cycle” and announced that we are in a “disillusionment part of the cycle.” That speaker, Hardeep Singh, M.D., chief of health policy, quality and informatics at the Houston VA Medical Center, said what is missing now is a shared responsibility to fix the issues in health IT today.

Issues facing health IT include lack of interoperability, poor usability and technology that doesn’t fit into provider workflows, Singh said.

The good news is there are incentives to work on these issues today. With nearly all health systems having adopted electronic health records, startups are racing to build on that platform, said Matthew Holt, founder of the Health Care Blog and co-chair of Health 2.0.

Twin forces are disrupting health care, said Robert Wachter, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. These are the move to value-based payments and the rapid transition from paper to digital records.

Vindell Washington, M.D., the national coordinator for health information technology, cited in a keynote address three ways to advance health IT: using payment design to drive changes; adopting common use standards; and creating culture change around access to information.

Washington noted that patient interest in obtaining and managing their own medical records is reliant on how providers and payers are making those records relevant. If patients can schedule appointments, view physician notes, and email their doctor, they are more likely to access their records. “I think the minute you provide the value proposition, the uptake will follow,“ he said.

Some payers are driving that interest among patients. Anthem Blue Cross of California has partnered with providers in Southern California to create Vivity. Beth Ginzinger, vice president of provider joint ventures for Anthem West, on the payer panel described Vivity as a virtual collaborative that allows providers – most that are on different EHR platforms – to share records and better coordinate care.

Kaiser Permanente, meanwhile, is moving forward with alternative visits besides in-person care. About half of Kaiser Permanente member visits are alternate visits, including emails and phone visits, said Kathleen Lindner, vice president of marketing and sales technology at Kaiser Health Plan.

In an interview, the ONC’s Washington encouraged reporters to think about health IT not as “tech” but instead as “information flow…. To ignore the technology is like having a tall skyscraper without a solid foundation,“ he said.

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