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Building a improved national health care infrastructure

MADISON - National health care leaders gathered in Wisconsin yesterday to debate how information technology can be leveraged to improve patient safety and quality healthcare. The discussion was the focus on of symposium titled the Digital Healthcare Conference and was presented by UW Health, University of Wisconsin -Madison Medical School, College of Engineering and School of Nursing. The conference was developed and produced by the Wisconsin Technology Network. Attendees and speakers from throughout the U.S. including two officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were in attendance.

According to Dr. Barry Chaiken, chief medical officer for the American Board for Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians, the conference brought together “visionaries, developers, engineers and end users to help with the development of an incremental road map that details the steps along the way so that outcomes are reached using a process that meets the needs of all stakeholders.”

William A. Yasnoff, MD, PhD, FACMI, Sr Advisor, National Health Information Infrastructure and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, delivered a conference keynote address during which he discussed how the health care industry, which drives almost one-seventh of the national economy, currently faces inconsistent quality and high error rates due to its outdated systems. Yasnoff shared the vision for a network of systems and files that operate in concert to streamline the sharing of information. He argued that the most viable solution for existing problems is using information technology, citing it as the best method to provide “anywhere, anytime health care information and decision support.” The system begins with electronic health record (EHR) systems, which keep the information separate from other servers and serve as the building blocks for NHII. Once brought together, EHRs are then able to connect on many levels for personal, public, clinical and research applications. Yasnoff stated that the benefits of this widespread NHII system are enormous. The system will be able to supply and access a complete medical record on a patient at any time and will cut down on a great deal of bureaucratic damages which can exist to files. The links to medical care and public health would enable further prevention against bioterrorism, and the continual access to files would eliminate the need for repeated tests and x-rays. A consumer would also always have access to their own records, so they can address each need individually. The NHII system, according to Yasnoff, also has the potential to provide $131 billion of net savings.

Conference producer, Mike Klein, who also serves as the editorial director for the Wisconsin Technology Network said, “Improving patient safety through the use of information technology is now a national issue with bi-partisan support. From President Bush to Senators Kerry, Clinton and Kennedy as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Thompson are all passionate about accelerating the quality of health care into the 21st century.

Kathleen Heuer, Deputy Assistant Secretary Budget for the Technology and Finance U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services discussed the development and implementation of the a Federal Health Architecture (FHA) which will facilitate communication between multiple branches of the government and the private sector in an effort to reduce medical mistakes and ultimately save money. Heuer noted while information technology will be used to help the government meet their goals of successfully sharing information and improving the quality of health care, IT alone is not a goal itself. “Information technology should always be thought of as a support mechanism for how we do business,” Heuer said, “But IT in and of itself is not the solution.” In order to ensure the FHA is convenient and user friendly for the private sector, Heuer promised extensive outreach efforts and an on-going effort to better understand what industry needs and how the process is working for them. As she said “It’s about how we can we work together to make this an achievable vision.”
Jeffrey Grossman, MD, CEO of UW Medical Foundation, delivered a visionary keynote address that shared his vision for the future information needs of healthcare providers. He emphasized the importance of relating to patients in the information-soaked world of medicine.

“Information technology really can be the link between our hearts and minds and we need to use it.” Grossman said.

Dr. Grossman commented on the backlash against technology within the medical community; and said that some heath care providers feel new technology can help within a specialized field, but are averse to overarching knowledge-management technology. Dr. Grossman called for physician leaders to develop a vision that embraces and leverages technology to improve health care while dismissing the notion that current technology is inadequate to improve patient care.

The Digital Healthcare Conference featured presenters that are leaders in the fields of healthcare delivery, information technology, and law, and included: Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, Dr. William A. Yasnoff, Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Jorge Gomez, Kathleen Heuer, Dennis Dassenko, Thomas R. Hefty, and more.

For more news, information, and to view conference presentations about the Digital Healthcare Conference and the presentations visit

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