Brian Ahier: HIE-vangelist, hacky sack extraordinaire
This year marks the first time that HIMSS conference and healthcare industry veteran Brian Ahier will be stationed at a vendor booth, as an employee of Aetna working in the Healthagen business of Medicity as director of standards and government affairs.
But as Ahier clarifies when speaking with Healthcare IT News, his passion for healthcare standards development is personal. It must be, since he focuses professionally on Health Information Exchange and (perhaps coincidentally) has H-I-E right there in his name.
The self-described "policy wonk and technology geek" is among the HIMSS15 Social Media Ambassadors, an eclectic and elite group of influencers credentialed by HIMSS to attend the organization’s annual conference and cover it via social networks.
Ahier says that the healthcare industry is at a critical point in history heading into this year’s conference: "We’re moving away from strictly talking about meaningful use to talking more about how we actually transform our healthcare system."
And it’s technology that will make it happen — even though the healthcare sector is not exactly at the forefront of that particular revolution.
"In every other industry, they’ve adopted technologies because they make sense, are more efficient and ultimately more profitable. And in healthcare, because of our perverse incentives, we’ve had to drag people kicking and screaming into the 21st century."
"The healthcare industry has really been leading the charge in incorporating social media into the broader marketing and communications efforts." The Mayo Clinic, for instance, has developed a great set of open source social media policies.
Ahier sees social media as a huge opportunity for healthcare players. "I have no doubt that the effective use of social media can improve patient satisfaction scores." As that affects reimbursements and bottom lines, it's no wonder healthcare organizations are taking an interest in social media.
But it's not just about using technology for it's own sake. "I always pull it back to: What does this mean to the patient, consumer, or individual” he said. “If we can improve the health of the community, then the side effect of that is that you can lower costs and people that develop these really cool technology tools can also make a lot of money."
What will it take? "A whole new set of ‘coopetition,’ where folks that are traditionally in friendly competition for market share are now aligning themselves together," Ahier posits.
Naturally, solving interoperability challenges in digitizing health data will play a key role.
"We really need to be able to aggregate data across the community to build out a longitudinal health record, so we can improve care coordination; but also so now we can start to pull in these other data sets — even patient-generated health data. From a policy standpoint, we’re seeing a lot of interest in incorporating patient-generated health data into this massive data set."
Ultimately, it's about accountability. Providers need to smartly use data to manage their patient population, even as they step outside the provider's four walls. Bringing value to the community served is the Holy Grail. "There's no magic sauce here,” Ahier points out. “It takes hard work."
From a political standpoint, Ahier is bullish about health IT as a bipartisan issue. Although folks on either side of the aisle may not agree on other issues, this is "something that we can all rally around. We want to improve health, lower costs, we can all agree about these things."
Something else he rallies around is his local community — and not just in a health-oriented context. He served four years as a City Councilor in The Dalles. He currently serves on the Mission Board of his Presbyterian Elder church. And for ten years he and his wife led their church's Middle School Youth Group.
In other words, this Oregon native isn't just all about facilitating policy and technology standards.
He's also an avid hacky sack player. Having started over 30 years ago in college, he mostly hacks solo these days. "I'm still fairly good — and it's great exercise." He quips, "I wonder if there is a wearable that can count my kicks for me."
We'll keep our eyes out for that technology. In the meantime, that's the most positive combination of health IT and hacks we've heard of!