DeSalvo strikes interoperability chord

AHIMA audience attuned to ONC chief's call for sharing data
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ONC chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, strikes interoperability chord at AHIMA.

ONC chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, promised an audience of AHIMA members that the government would act "fast into interoperability." She drew applause when she added, "We cannot wait for 10 years to get this done."

DeSalvo emphasized that every other industry has already achieved interoperability.

The message resonated with the 2013 AHIMA conference audience whose work is dedicated to making sure healthcare data is accurate and secure. In their work, they have seen up close the difference accurate, accessible data makes to patient care.

So when DeSalvo said, "It must be plug-and-play. It's not helpful if it just sits there idle," the audience was on the same page.

[See also: DeSalvo: Interoperability 'top priority'.]

DeSalvo was third in line to speak at the Monday morning general session, the one designed to draw the largest audience with a series of keynotes. She followed two dramatic and tearful presentations, one demonstrating the promise of new robotic technology to help people who had lost their ability to walk to stand up and walk again and the other, from outgoing AHIMA President Angela Kennedy, who detailed the difficulties she had faced in navigating the healthcare system for her then 11-year-old adopted daughter diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

DeSalvo could empathize. Over a healthcare career that has included practicing physician, professor of medicine, technology champion and policy adviser, she served as chair of the medical records committee at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. It was a time when medical records were stored in the basement, she recalled.

As she sees it, healthcare has come a long way from those days, yet, "we have only just begun as a country" to realize all the potential that IT offers.

ONC will publish the federal health IT strategic plan this winter, she said.

"We want feedback," DeSalvo said, "because this is for you." The plan, she added, "must be an iterative, interactive document so that we can realize the promise of data. Data should not be hoarded but appropriately shared with others."

DeSalvo told the audience that her boss, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell thinks of consumers as "the boss."

"I hope that you hear from me that I have a sense that I work for you all," DeSalvo said, and urged the audience to "participate in the process."

DeSalvo was not the lone ONC voice to carry the message of interoperability to AHIMA. In a separate session on Monday, ONC Chief Scientist Doug Fridsma told the audience: "Interoperability, defined as the sharing and use of information, is critical to achieving successful health outcomes for patients. However, interoperability is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. ONC's vision is a health IT ecosystem where different users will have different uses for health IT."

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