As the Chairman of the board of HIMSS, the Health Information Management Systems Society, which is the largest information technology organization in the world, I’ve been very busy at our annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
As I move through this enormous venue, talking to as many of our 30,000 attending members as possible, I can’t help but think about how much work we all have to do in the coming years.
As healthcare and IT professionals, we are privileged to live at a moment in history when the work we do, the product of our shared passion, the professional discipline to which we devote so much of ourselves, is taking its place as the central catalyst of a transformation in healthcare that is in many ways, unprecedented.
Whereas previous breakthroughs in medical technology, such as the invention of the X-ray or the discovery of antibiotics, have obviously been profound, and powerful; I can think of none that ever impacted the entire medical practice model.
And that is exactly what the technology-driven transformation of healthcare is poised to deliver.
For example, patients will see us move, in just a few short years, from a world in which each of us must act as our own personal health information historian, to a model where a secure information technology infrastructure will function on the patient’s behalf. Soon, the information contained in any patient’s personal electronic health record, which will always be accurate and up-to-date, will be securely and instantly available to any treating clinician where and when it’s needed. This information will include medications, diagnoses and instructions from different physicians, at different times and different locations, eliminating the need for unnecessary repeat testing, reducing the risk of medical errors and support the clinician’s ability to make the best possible treatment decisions with, and for their patients.
We will see the promise of medical research realized in ways that have, been, quite simply, impossible before. Research is driven by data, and soon, an interoperable HIT infrastructure will connect researchers to vast stores of searchable information they can analyze and leverage in their battle against disease.
And when that same infrastructure can be used to determine which treatments are most effective based on actual outcomes evidence, patients will receive the right treatment, at the right time, from the right provider, at a lower overall cost as complications are reduced, and efficiencies are achieved.
In 2010, meaningful use discussions produced an initial set of standards we will all use to begin building tomorrow’s interoperable medical environment. We saw the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology authorize the first certification bodies to test and authenticate HIT systems as meaningful use ready. And, as our latest HIMSS survey demonstrates, the best use of information technology to transform the medical practice model is the topic of serious discussion in healthcare organizations, large and small, all across the country.
But as I said at our conference’s opening session this morning, we cannot allow ourselves to focus exclusively on near term goals. Our real goal is a technology-driven transformation of healthcare that will never stop. A true transformation is a process of lessons learned and applied, that continually open broad new horizons of opportunity.
Meaningful use is just the beginning, the spark that will kick-start an entirely new world in which we will pursue the goals of relieving human suffering and extending the length and quality of human life with new, more effective information tools.
These tools will be the product of imagination, innovation, cooperation, and hard work that will be done by technology professionals, clinicians, and patients, because the needs of the patients we serve every day are at the very heart of our efforts around improving the way healthcare is delivered in the 21st century.
C. Martin Harris, MD, is Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Information Officer and Chairman of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).