What’s Your Platform?

We’ve done some heavy dipping into the world of policy recently. In mid-September, I spent a day in Washington, D.C., with friend and advisor Tom Scully meeting researchers, senators, and a congressman.  We heard from “ONCHIT” that “CCHIT”—which, as you know is an “ATCB”—granted us Stage 1 MU!  This is great news for me, mostly because some competitors didn’t get it!  (How’s that for starting a policy blog with some serious ABCs?!)

I met with some amazingly smart and engaged reporters who now (I think, get called “researchers,” since their newspapers can no longer afford them) work for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation or NPR.  They’re the real deal.  They needed much less initial grounding in the problems we try to solve than most of the journalists we meet.  They had taken on board the assumption that the move toward ACOs means less waste (which it could for some) and can get everybody in the clinical supply chain on one system (which has been seen to work at times).

But none of them appears to have considered the idea that there is a relationship between a healthy integrated health information ecosystem and a health information exchange marketplace.  It’s still surprising to me, but precious few people correlate sustainability of any social good with the existence of a healthy marketplace with enough room for flexibility to allow innovation over time.  It’s like the single economic condition responsible for ALMOST ALL of the social progress of this nation since inception, but in health care it’s still kind of a new idea.

It was the same when I met with the Senators and a member of Congress. I got together with folks from both sides of the aisle (okay, just one Democrat) and they all rightly wanted to know one thing before anything else: Is there anything in current law that might actually HURT us?  Since the answer was mostly NO (after a small gripe about how I wish there were no HITECH incentives), they moved on to ask: Is there anything in the law that might HELP.  Here again, I was mostly in the thanks, but no thanks camp, but I tried to plant the seed of flexibility around exchange of market information.

It seems to me that:

A) We have the technology to create a confederated chart across many providers on many systems.

B) Regardless of how many systems anyone is on, maintaining a single set of information to be used by many different players takes ongoing care and feeding.

C) There are advantages to society in having the keeper-of-information function separate from the biller-for-services using that information.

Just a thought.

Jonathan Bush co-founded athenahealth, a leading provider of internet-based business services to physicians since 1997. Prior to joining athenahealth, he served as an EMT for the City of New Orleans, was trained as a medic in the U.S. Army, and worked as a management consultant with Booz Allen & Hamilton. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in the College of Social Studies from Wesleyan University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.