New models for health IT

By Bernie Monegain
11:20 AM

Kudos to David Blumenthal, MD, as he returns to his academic work after what many in the health IT realm view as a stellar two-year run (and we do mean run) as the nation’s health information technology chief. With the help of astute and creative staff and advisers and a big wad of government money, he began to dig the nation’s healthcare system out of its paper swamp to the point where it can at least come up for air.
He did so in a way that no one could have imagined back in 2004 when President George W. Bush floated the concept of a digital healthcare system in his State of the Union Address.
Blumenthal and his team at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology crafted an intricate program called Meaningful Use. Though still in Stage 1 of three stages, it has given the healthcare system a huge push into the 21st Century, and it has added substance to an incentives program that otherwise might have faltered.
Now Farzad Mostashari, MD, Blumenthal’s deputy, takes the helm at ONC – a sound choice with lots of promise, by all accounts. Mostashari can provide continuity even as he brings his own brand of thoughtful innovation to the work.
As Sean Nolan, chief architect and general manager of Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group, put it at a HIMSS11 presentation on the Direct Project, “Aneesh (Chopra) and Todd (Park) and Farzad, they kind of do business differently.”
Innovation and fresh ideas are coming from many quarters these days. An outstanding example came last month when the heads of some of the most established healthcare institutions in the country announced the Care Connectivity Consortium. Kaiser Permanente, the Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare, the Geisinger Health System and the Group Health Cooperative have begun to work together on a model – one they expect will be simple and affordable – for moving data securely from one health system to another.
The Big Five, as we’ll call them, aren’t just planning to share data among themselves. As Kaiser CEO George Halvorson noted, they don’t have that many overlapping patients – yet enough to make the project feasible. The point is to create the model that hospitals of any size in any part of the country, without the resources of the Big Five, could employ for themselves.
Halvorson called the announcement historic, and it is. Though there are plenty of examples of cooperation among healthcare systems, it’s been more the exception than the rule. But cooperation, more than competition, is becoming the new norm.
Credit goes to Halvorson for thinking outside the perimeters of Kaiser and rallying his colleagues at the other institutions.
“There is a moral imperative for groups like ours to share what we know so that others can benefit from that,” said John H. Noseworthy, MD, CEO of the Mayo Clinic. Indeed.
Mayo, the other organizations that are part of the Care Connectivity Consortium and many others across the country have stepped up repeatedly to answer that call, and it seems to be occurring more often. Last fall, for example, Kaiser announced it would donate its Convergent Medical Terminology (CMT) for open access to help boost the country's transition from paper-based medical records to electronic health records, a technology that underpins the Kaiser EHR and the result of years of work by that organization.
This model of sharing work, of collaborating, of opening things up, is an approach that Blumenthal and his deputy, Mostashari, have not only embraced, but also championed. And it’s taking hold.