John Glaser, Boston’s Top Hospital Geek, Talks About Obama’s Health IT Plan and Getting Booted from Catholic School

John Glaser, chief information officer of Partners HealthCare, sits atop one of the largest health IT organizations in New England. Yet beneath his corporate shell lives a scorching wit and perhaps a somewhat reformed hell-raiser. He was kicked out of his Jesuit high school in the Bay Area during his junior year for his part in an underground newspaper that, in his words, was “all about drinking beer and [dating] 16-year-old girls.” (Read on for his stories about answering to a Jesuit tribunal at his school and hitchhiking to the Panama Canal.)

Glaser, 55, has been part of the brain trust of hospital IT experts that has advised President Barack Obama’s administration on its plan to pump $19 billion over the next several years to speed the country’s transition from paper-based health records to electronic health records (EHRs). But Glaser is not afraid to point out the failings as well as the merits of the President’s plan.

Glaser (pronounced Glass-er) understands the huge challenges of Obama’s health IT plan. Only about 6 percent of U.S. doctors actually use electronic health records for their practices today, he says. And the President has set a very bold goal of having full electronic health record adoption in this country by 2014. The vision is to eventually have networks in place so that hospitals and physician practices can access and share every American’s electronic health record.

People listen to Glaser about these big topics in health IT because he’s been thinking about them at a high level for a long time. He took over as chief information officer of Partners in 1995. The health information systems group he leads includes seven CIOs who report to him, a total of 1,500 people, and an annual budget of about $270 million, according to Glaser. (To put the size of that organization in perspective, consider that one of the largest public health IT companies in Massachusetts, Phase Forward (NASDAQ: PFWD), had a total of 939 employees at the end of last year.)

So I was thrilled to listen to Glaser’s views on the torrent of change across the health IT landscape during our brief interview at the Convergence Forum on Cape Cod earlier this month. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Xconomy: What are the big business opportunities in health IT, in your opinion?

John Glaser: I don’t know how well they are being exploited. There are a couple of threads here. One is that there is incentive federal money that will be amplified by other money for EHR adoption, particularly in the small- and medium-sized physician practices and hospitals. The bigger places like Kaiser Permanente, Partners, and Boston Medical Center have already made lots of … Next Page »

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3 responses to “John Glaser, Boston’s Top Hospital Geek, Talks About Obama’s Health IT Plan and Getting Booted from Catholic School”

  1. Given the number of private practices, one would think that software as a service (Saas) approaches to EHR access would offer considerable potential. Solving the problem of “meaningful use” for doctors in order to allow access to federal incentives and to prevent payment of penalties would seem to be a fertile area in which to build a business.

  2. The adoption of electronic medical records is a complicated issue and party due to the new technology that arrives every week for us to mill over and determine if that needs to be incorporated in to the system. I know I wrote one years ago prior to the big movement to the web, same issue though, just more client/server.

    Secondly until the issues of compensation are settled, it’s a slow go. As the old saying goes nothing happens until the bill gets paid and it’s not the stimulus money that puts meals on the table, it’s the claim revenue and right now there’s many MDs up in the air with a lot going on at once.

    I said we should certify payer algorithms before EHR software a long time ago, as why does one area go through the process without the other side? After all we are back to the money side once again. Certification is important I agree, but again we need ethics on both sides of the table here. Payer algorithm certification should come first as that is what helps keep the rest of the issues up in the air almost single handedly.

    Further more on health literacy and with patient involvement, we need role models and everyone has health so we all need to participate and role models at the top can create an atmosphere of trust too, we don’t have that.

    I know I try to speak out pretty plainly as best I can, but when I see the same companies that are paying claims for 15 years of underpayments to doctors and patients being praised and trusted for their analytic, does that not make one wonder how they do business.

    Anyway, if you add this side up to the big nest of non trust and non participants making rules and laws, no wonder so many doctors are skeptical and just seeing what I have from my small corner in life, there’s good reason as nobody appears to be earning any trust around here or making any real efforts to be mentors or role models for anyone else.

    I like technology and what it does and I know electronic medical records are the answer but the other sides of the issues are the obstacles that are holding up the show and prevent real progress.

  3. Saumitra says:

    I agree with Wellescent. May be cloud computing companies could may a foray into EHRs. By the way, I liked this candid interview. Many wouldnt have dared to ask him how he did get kicked out !