George W. Bush on health IT: 'Logical solutions become inevitable'
Former President George W. Bush took the stage at HIMSS15 on Wednesday afternoon for a conversation with HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber. The tone was informal, and while it touched on Bush’s early role in creating a national policy on digital health, it was for the most part an entertaining series of observations about everything from Bush’s newfound passion for art to his 28 meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked about his old pal, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said he's a great guy and great friend – but he doesn't hang out with him much anymore. "Something that's really boring is sitting around with former leaders," he said to much laughter. "The has-been club." But this conversation was anything but boring.
Bush was the first president to advance electronic health records as government policy, mentioning them in his 2004 State of the Union address. He then created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT by executive order. He explained that his understanding of the need for digital records was simple: if a person was in an accident, there should be an electronic means to provide a medical history for doctors.
It's a "logical solution," he said. "Logical solutions become inevitable." Sure, more than 10 years later there are still challenges related to, say, more widespread interoperability. But "it's coming. Things don't happen overnight."
This past spring, Bush received a partial knee replacement (at nearby Rush University Medical Center). He's also had a coronary stent implanted since leaving the White House. "When you get to be over 65, you talk about health," he says. "America has got the best healthcare in the world. Technology is one way to keep it that way."
Beyond health IT, Bush weighed in on plenty of topics, both light-hearted and serious.
On his newfound artistic hobby: Bush said he became interested in painting after reading Winston Churchill's essay, "Painting as a Pastime." He decided, "If this guy can paint, I can paint." The former president recounted his first conversation with the woman who would become his art teacher, a woman who "like most of the art community, was not a 43 fan." Asked to explain why he wanted to study painting, he said, "there's a Rembrandt trapped in this body!"
On the Bush family legacy – and the prospect of a Bush 45: His brother hasn’t declared, but it "sounds like he might run." If he does, however, "he's got a problem… me. It's an easy line to say, 'Haven't we had enough Bushes?' My own mother said yeah! But he is totally different from me, thankfully for him."
On his own presidency's commitment of billions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa: It would be "morally shameful to do nothing," he said. "If you've been given much you must give back."
On recent good news from the world stage: "Mexico is developing a middle class," he said. "We want our neighborhood to be prosperous." Also, the U.S. is becoming "more energy independent from the Middle East."
On lingering challenges on the world stage: Bush said he's concerned about the influence of Iran in the region. "The only way to achieve peace in the long-run people must be free," he said.
On the lessons of September 11, 2001: When he was growing up, Pearl Harbor was already "a few paragraph in a history book," said Bush. For an entire new generation of Americans, "9/11 is rapidly approaching that state." But the lessons of that day still ring true: "How other people live matters to our security."
On the "toughest decision" of his presidency: "By far the hardest was putting troops into harm’s way," said Bush.
On the need to get returning service members the jobs they deserve: There's a "language difference" between veterans and most Americans, said Bush, that's not always easily communicable. Prospective employers should recognize that success on the battlefield can be translated to the workplace: "I'm cool under pressure, I work hard."
On Thursday at HIMSS15, Jaime Parent, vice president of IT operations and associate CIO at Rush University Medical Center, will present a session on just that topic: "Building a Veteran Healthcare IT Internship," from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in room W196A. Read more about it here.