HIMSS chief forecasts 'seismic shifts' for health IT

H. Stephen Lieber

No matter what happens politically or in policy circles, "seismic shifts" are going to occur in healthcare, and IT needs to be a major part of reshaping the landscape, according to H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

"The change in healthcare to be more like the rest of American business … is underway and will not be stopped," Lieber said Thursday at the IBM Healthcare Leadership Exchange event, held at a new IBM innovation center in downtown Chicago.

Finally, the healthcare industry is recognizing its quality shortcomings and looking at IT to fix the many problems. "Imagine what the cost of healthcare would be if we hadn't done what we’ve done for the past decade or so," Lieber said about the national push to bring healthcare into the digital age.

Fresh off a trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Lieber spoke about U.S. healthcare policy, and not necessarily IT aspects of it. He talked of a "healthcare policy conundrum" around the three key issues of cost, quality and access, a long-running struggle between left and right over whether healthcare is a right or a privilege and other divisive issues. Current budgetary constraints have only inflamed the tension, the HIMSS boss said.

For health reform to succeed, it needs to deal with rising costs, uneven quality, the millions of uninsured Americans and the challenges of an aging population with multiple chronic diseases.

Still, he said politicians keep pushing the "day of reckoning" down the road. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may turn out to be true reform, or it may just be a temporary response. "For payers, it's a return to managed care," Lieber said. The terminology may have changed to value-based purchasing and Accountable Care Organizations, but the idea is the same. "All we can hope is that government, payers and providers learn from the past," said Lieber.

Regardless of what happens at the policy level, it's clear to Lieber that the healthcare industry needs to learn to use analytics to drive clinical changes. "It really is about the information and not the technology," he said.

"The greatest failures in technology are always when you don't address workflow and process change," Lieber added.