28 Jun A national call to use IT for improved health care
Wisconsin leaders are major players in this effort – will entrepreneurs seize the moment?
MADISON – The health care industry – which represents one-seventh of the U.S. economy – is about to change the way it does business. This means that there is a whole lot of money coming down the pipeline. Fortunately, entrepreneurs from Wisconsin are uniquely qualified to capture a huge chunk of it.
On Wednesday, June 23, Kathleen Heuer, deputy assistant secretary for budget, technology and finance in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told a packed audience at the Digital Healthcare Conference how the federal government is setting the standards for the nation’s future Federal Health Information Technology Architecture.
Unfortunately, the presentation was highly technical, and few in the audience seemed to comprehend the opportunity that was being dropped into their laps.
On April 27, President Bush issued an executive order creating the new position of national health information technology coordinator. The national health IT coordinator is responsible for developing, maintaining and directing the implementation of a strategic plan to help the United States create electronic health records for all Americans within 10 years.
This is a massive undertaking, and a colossal opportunity.
Anyone who has ever walked through a doctor’s office and seen the walls lined with filing cabinets knows how much time our nation’s existing, paper-based health records take up. Now, the president has set the goal of getting every single health record for every single American transformed into an electronic format within the next 10 years.
How on Earth is he going to do it?
The president’s first step was relatively straightforward: appoint somebody to take responsibility. On May 6, Dr. David Brailer was appointed National Health Information Technology Coordinator.
Ms. Heuer believes that Dr. Brailer is “aggressively” moving forward with the strategic plan, although it’s clear that he needs a lot of help from the private sector. “Collaboration between Government and Industry will play a crucial role in the success of National Health IT Implementation,” Ms. Heuer wrote, in bold print, on one of her slides.
This means that the government wants the private sector to tell it what to do. This means that people like Dr. David Brailer would really like to get some help from IT folks who know a thing or two about getting health records into electronic format.
There is going to be a conference on the new National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII) July 20, and Dr. David Brailer is going to be there.
Are any Wisconsin entrepreneurs going to show up?
Dr. Brailer will use the conference to unveil his new “strategic framework for action.” He’ll also use the conference to get feedback from the private sector about what would be the best way to go about implementing this massive plan.
People who attend the conference can help Dr. Brailer set the technology standards for the new national health information infrastructure.
This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
To fully understand why this conference is so important, consider how standards are set in another area that touches us all: the Internet. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) holds one of its meetings to set the standards for protocols related to the Internet. Engineers from all over the world flock to these events.
Internet engineers know how valuable standards are. They know how much money companies can make if their proprietary technology solutions happen to be adopted as the worldwide standard. As soon as something is adopted as standard, the other non-standard technologies become obsolete. Some companies are able to get a leg up on the process. They know in advance which standards are going to be adopted, and they create their product offerings with these standards in mind. These companies have a market advantage when the standards are adopted.
The opportunity to set standards in the Internet space is so valuable that impoverished nerds from as far away as New Zealand were willing to spend their own money to fly to London to participate in a recent Internet Engineering Task Force meeting. The opportunity was so great that nerds would double up, sleeping on the floor of crowded London hotel rooms for the privilege of being there.
The big technology companies are keenly aware of the magnitude of the opportunity that exists at the IETF. They are perfectly willing to pay the travel expenses of 50 or so of their savviest engineers who can argue convincingly in their favor on minute, but substantial, technical points.
The practice of packing the audience with one’s employees is so widespread at IETF meetings that conference administrators have established strict rules about “representing yourself, and not the company you work for” when it’s time to vote on Internet standards.
No such rules exist at the born-yesterday National Health Information Infrastructure Conference. Yet the amount of money to be spent complying with the president’s Health Information Infrastructure is likely to dwarf the amount spent on compliance with Internet protocols.
We’re talking about one-seventh of the U.S. economy here.
And we’re talking about something as serious as medical records – documents that affect whether people live or die.
Clearly, there is a huge opportunity here to influence Dr. David Brailer to adopt standards that will benefit one company over another. Wisconsin companies are uniquely qualified to grasp this opportunity because the coordinator of all of this, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, is Wisconsin’s former governor. Kathleen Heuer, herself a UW alum and former controller for the UW Medical Foundation, wouldn’t mind at all if Wisconsin companies and institutions played an active role in developing standards that are used throughout the rest of the country. “The secretary could use some demonstration projects from his home state,” she said.
When asked for advice about how Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs could get involved, she invited participation. “E-mail is probably the best way” to express one’s interests, Heuer said. “Our mail in Washington is very slow, because they irradiate it.” When asked how entrepreneurs can get the jump on their competition, Heuer said “I would stay close to Dr. David Brailer. Watch for his strategic plan. Watch for opportunities to collaborate so you can be part of informing the process.”
It’s no accident that Wisconsin owns the cabinet position of secretary of health and human services. The rest of the nation would do well to follow health care standards developed by Wisconsin companies.
Teresa Esser is a contributing columnist for the Wisconsin Technology Network and author of the book, The Venture Café. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.