Electronic Data Sharing, Cloud-Computing, and Collaboration: The WBBA Talks on the Future of Health IT

“What is healthcare IT?” That was the question that kicked off the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association (WBBA)’s Health IT event last week, which was focused on recognizing the important role that information technology plays within the healthcare industry, finding ways to use technology to improve healthcare in the future, and looking forward to the innovations in health IT coming our way before 2015.

To spearhead the discussion, which was held at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, the WBBA brought in Eric Schadt, the chief scientific officer at Pacific Biosciences. Schadt led a panel that included Jac Davies, director of the Beacon Community of the Inland Northwest (a collaboration with Inland Northwest Health Services), physician and Sage Bionetworks president and co-founder Stephen Friend, Swedish Medical Center chief executive Rod Hochman, senior director of Microsoft’s applied research and technology division Jim Karkanias, and Insilicos president Erik Nilsson.

While topics ranged from electronic medical records to video-based primary care, the panelists all seemed to agree that the future of health IT will involve bringing together the patient, physician, and research scientist. As we near 2015, many in the industry predict healthcare will see an integration of social media, cloud computing, and collaborative commons—creating resources that allow consumers to more actively engage with their health through information technology. Here are some of the highlights from each of the panelists:

Jac Davies, Beacon Community of the Inland Northwest (BCIN):

The BCIN is a federally funded program aimed at improving healthcare in communities throughout eastern Washington and northern Idaho through innovation and collaboration involving information technology. In May, the Inland Northwest Health Services, BCIN’s parent organization, was awarded a three-year, $15.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the meaningful implementation and use of health IT across 14 counties in the region, with an emphasis on prevention and improved management of diabetes.

The fundamental question the BCIN is asking in implementing this program is, “Does the information technology really make a difference—where should we be going?” Davies said.

Eastern Washington and northern Idaho have had a traditionally high adoption rate of electronic medical records, Davies said, but “what doesn’t exist very well is the ability to move that information from one office to another.” Davies said. What’s more, she said, primary care facilities and hospitals are not capitalizing on the existence of electronic resources to provide better care for patients and improve efficiency for healthcare providers. BCIN aims to turn that around, in part by expanding on the support systems and integration tools for existing health IT services, and to bolster preventative health services for diseases like diabetes.

“Ultimately we hope to reduce the number of people who show up in the emergency care environment with diabetes-related issues,” she said. “We really look to be able to use technology to bridge gaps—there are so many gaps in our healthcare system,” she said.

Rod Hochman, Swedish Medical Center:

Swedish Medical Center is the largest non-profit health provider in the Seattle Metropolitan area. One of its primary campaigns has been promoting the use of the hospital’s electronic medical record system, called Epic, at independent physicians offices, “so you have the same records wherever you are.” Hochman said. “Healthcare is the last bastion of mom and pop stores,” he added. “The frustration for all of us as patients as you move from one place to another is that you’re almost a new person at each new place.”

“The first step in healthcare is to make everything digital,” Hochman said. “The next step is to takes what’s digital, and make sense of it—to make some intelligence out of the information you already have.” One example would be using personalized data from electronic medical records, combined with data from available studies, to create individualized predictive care models. This is something Hochman hopes to see as developing over the next few years.

Jim Karkanias, Microsoft:

Karkanias joined Microsoft in 2006 to work on the Health Solutions Group, a new venture aimed at revolutionizing healthcare through the integration of business, process, and technology. “Arguably healthcare is a data problem, and we’re trying to pioneer a new kind of healthcare that is data-driven,” Karkanias said.

Karkanias said that the issue faced by many organizations—Microsoft included—is how to bring medical diagnosis, resources, predictive modeling, and anticipatory medicine all together for analysis without short-changing any one area.

Looking ahead to 2015, Karkanias says consumers will likely be able to interact with their medical data and key players in their health and wellness world, like physicians and family members, using … Next Page »

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