(L-R) TECHNOLOGY GURUS STEVE BALLMER (MICROSOFT), GEORGE LAZENBY (EMDEON) AND GLEN TULLMAN (ALLSCRIPTS) DISCUSS THE MERITS OF HIT. PHOTO : BILL THORUP
In late January, the Nashville Health Care Council welcomed a distinguished panel of experts for a discussion on the current state of health information technology and the potential going forward to utilize HIT to transform health and healthcare in America.
Playing to a packed house, “Technology in Health Care: The Value and The Vision” shared the perspectives of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; Harry Greenspun, MD, chief medical officer for Perot Systems Healthcare Group; George Lazenby, CEO of Nashville-based Emdeon; and Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts.
The event was moderated by Brad Perkins, MD, chief strategy officer for Vanguard Health Systems, and sponsored by McKesson. Perkins asked the panel how health information technology could be game changing when it comes to healthcare.
With regards to the HITECH portion of ARRA and what it could mean to the rate of HIT adoption by providers, Tullman said, “We believe that we’re at the beginning of what will be the single fastest transformation of a major industry in the United States, and that is the healthcare industry.” He continued, “We make that conclusion for a few reasons. One, the conditions are very ripe for change.”
Pointing to the investment of federal dollars toward encouraging meaningful use of electronic health records, Tullman added, “Physicians will benefit to the tune of about $44,000 to $63,000 per physician for adopting this technology, and what’s interesting about it is it’s time stamped so 70 percent of those funds will be spent in the next three years so we expect that’s going to lead to a very dramatic change.
“We see technology playing a critical role in that change, and we see that change coming very rapidly — in part due to these incentives provided by the government, in part due to the pressure from employers, from payers and from patients,” he said.
Greenspun noted, “The transformation of healthcare is long overdue. I think it’s fascinating that we, as consumers of healthcare, tolerate what we do.” He pointed out that he could stand in the street and order a custom-made burrito from his iPhone; but if a truck hit him while placing the order, he wouldn’t be able to use that same phone to find a qualified orthopedic surgeon who accepts his insurance.
Drawing on Emdeon’s expertise in connecting healthcare stakeholders to improve efficiencies, Lazenby said, “We believe, based on this experience on the administrative side, that the evolution of healthcare and accelerated change will be a result of moving relevant data to the point of decision.”
With the stimulus money effectively hitting a fast-forward button on technology adoption, Lazenby noted, “Our challenge as an industry is to embrace this time and this change.”
Ballmer stressed healthcare and education are the two least automated businesses in the United States and also the two largest. He also found it ironic that the two sectors that have been the slowest to adopt information technology are both information driven industries.
“Our company grew up giving tools to people to be effective in accessing, using, analyzing and communicating information. When you take a look at the health industry, you say, ‘it’s not working.’ And yet, more than most industries, it is all about information … getting the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Ballmer.
He continued, “The only vertical industry we’ve actually decided we’re really going to invest in is health because it is so under automated and so large and so rapidly growing, it deserves the best of everybody’s innovation.”
Ballmer added there are two primary reasons why healthcare is 10 years behind other industries. “Number one, nobody knows exactly what they’re buying and selling … you automate what you buy and sell,” he said. “The second thing is this is a cottage industry from an industry structure perspective.” He added that small practices probably don’t have an IT specialist on staff. As a result, it’s been challenging to introduce technology in the past. However, now small and large facilities alike must get on board to take advantage of stimulus dollars and avoid reimbursement penalties down the road.
“It’s local, and we believe that,” Tulman concurred of the cottage industry nature of healthcare practices, “but therefore, the ability to change and transform starts locally. Just imagine if every physician in Nashville was connected … if every patient required their physicians get off paper and start to use automated systems to write and transfer their prescriptions … that’s the beginning of change.”
All the panelists were keenly aware of the massive scope of fully automating the industry, but all equally agreed the end result would indeed be a game changer … true healthcare reform with increased efficiency, improved quality, enhanced service and heightened communication.
“We’re not doing something small here. This is an opportunity to do something really big,” said Greenspun. Tullman concluded, “Big picture — this is an enormous elephant to solve. But how do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite.”