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Digital Healthcare Conference 2007: Mounting obstacles for health IT

Madison, Wis. - As the adoption of healthcare information technology continues its slow but steady march, new issues seem to arise faster than others are resolved.

The progress that has been made, and the issues still to address, will be the focus of the annual Digital Healthcare Conference set for May 9 and 10 at the Fluno Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Dr. Barry Chaiken
Dr. Barry Chaiken, associate chief medical officer of BearingPoint and chairman of the conference advisory board, said some of the initial excitement about digital healthcare has abated, and people are more realistic about the obstacles of transitioning from paper to digital records.

He remains confident that healthcare IT will deliver significant results for patient safety, but he said there is a better understanding of the challenges ahead. “We've made some incremental steps, but we're still struggling to establish the foundation,” Chaiken said. “Sometimes, building the foundation can take longer than the rest of the building.”

The Agenda
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In building the conference agenda, Chaiken said the advisory board tried to identify people who are thought leaders and would reflect the diverse nature of the players involved in healthcare IT: clinical, non-clinical, legal, and administrative.

“We've also tried to get people to speak about issues outside their domain space so that we can cross-fertilize ideas,” he said.

The opening keynote address will be delivered by John Wade, vice president and CIO of St. Luke's Health System in Kansas City. In metropolitan Kansas City, Wade has been on the forefront of both the adoption of electronic medical records and regional patient data exchange, and he will describe the potential impact of information technology on healthcare.

One of the sessions presents a case study to illustrate the difficulties of expanding patient data exchange, as hospitals and clinics in Madison and Milwaukee are attempting to do. While the case study is a hypothetical one, Chaiken believes it illustrates the key issues involved with securing patient data and “what we still need to get answers to.”

Most of those issues center on ensuring privacy and have more to do with clinical and business processes than with the enabling technology.

Beth DeLair, director of compliance for University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, said liability questions are the biggest stumbling block to patient data exchange between healthcare institutions within states and within regions.

“Most every state has its own specific laws on patient medical records and how they are to be stored, how long they need to be retained, and under what circumstances and to whom they can be released,” she noted.

DeLair said the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which sets a minimum national standard, was passed in the 1990s because some states had no rules pertaining to the privacy of patient medical records. When states have their own laws, they have to compare the federal law with state law and determine which sets a higher standard.

“That's what makes a regional or a national health information exchange very challenging,” she said.

Not-so-smooth operators

The conference also will highlight implementation issues unique to healthcare technology. The opening session will explore ways to control exploding health IT costs, particularly the unique costs of ownership that follow implementation.

Austin Park, vice president of infrastructure services for Paragon Development Systems, said the cost of operating information technology often is overlooked when making the business case for technology. Those operating costs come in the form of power, storage, cooling, and the staff resources to manage equipment.

“We are still very focused on the capital expenses of implementation,” he said, “but we gloss over the additional costs of operation.

“With processing power advancing faster and faster, the amount of power needed and the cooling costs will, over a three-year period, be more than it cost to buy.”

Park said the session will explore ways to control these costs, including workload optimization techniques and systems-management and capacity-planning tools.

eHealth wrap

Other topics will explore managing the growth in digital imaging, building a paperless (and wireless) hospital, and the use of electronic games to train clinicians.

The conference will wrap up with a keynote address by Kevin Hayden, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. Hayden, the former president and chief administrative officer for Dean Health Systems, will describe the progress of the Wisconsin's eHealth Initiative, a statewide planning effort to promote healthcare IT adoption.

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