Of the nearly 100 people I interviewed for my upcoming book, John Halmaka was one of the most fascinating. Halamka is CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a national leader in health IT policy. He also runs a family farm, on which he raises ducks, alpacas and llamas. His penchant for black mock turtlenecks, along with his brilliance and quirkiness, raise inevitable comparisons to Steve Jobs. I interviewed him in Boston on August 12, 2014.
Our conversation was very wide ranging, but I was particularly struck by what Halamka had to say about federal privacy regulations and HIPAA, and their impact on his job as CIO. Let’s start with that.
Halamka: Not long ago, one of our physicians went into an Apple store and bought a laptop. He returned to his office, plugged it in, and synched his e-mail. He then left for a meeting. When he came back, the laptop was gone. We looked at the video footage and saw that a known felon had entered the building, grabbed the laptop, and fled. We found him, and he was arrested.
Now, what is the likelihood that this drug fiend stole the device because he had identity theft in mind? That would be zero. But the case has now exceeded $500,000 in legal fees, forensic work, and investigations. We are close to signing a settlement agreement where we basically say, “It wasn’t our fault but here’s a set of actions Beth Israel will put in place so that no doctor is ever allowed again to bring a device into our environment and download patient data to it.”
As a primary care doctor in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I have been searching for the holy grail of patient engagement for over 15 years. My journey began with alpha-numeric pager and a medical degree. I shared my pager number with my patients along with a pledge to call them back within 15-minutes, 24-hours a day. My communications evolved into email and texting, with the predicate that by enhancing communication, I could carefully guide my patients down the byzantine corridors of healthcare – with a high probability we could avoid mistakes – if they would agree to share the ownership of their treatment plan. My life’s work has been where the rubber meets the road; where doctors interface with patients: office, hospital, home or smartphone.
Technology has washed over almost every industry and transformed it, radically. Healthcare is on the precipice of destiny. The wave is here.
Over the past three decades healthcare has lurched from one existential crisis to another; often manifested by an acronym solution: HMO, ACO, PCMH, P4P, PQRS; each a valiant attempt to reign in costs and solve for aligning incentives. However, we can’t have hospitals, doctors, health systems and payers accountable to healthy outcomes if the 300,000,000 people (patients) are not paramount to the equation.
If you haven’t been paying close attention, ‘patient engagement’ is a white-hot topic in healthcare these days. It wasn’t sexy 5 years ago. In fact, at the keynote speech at HIMSS 13 (the national Health IT conference), it was announced that the “The blockbuster drug of the 21st century is Patient Engagement”.
You got me. I still won’t cop to eating at a Cheesecake Factory, but I am all about the Apple Store. In fact, I’m a teensy bit over the top about it. Seriously, I beg of you—could we, please, have just a little genius bar with our health care?
I’m no doubt somewhat of a freak (I got up at 2:55 a.m. ET on September 19th to, you know, pre-order the iPhone 6). A month or so later, I was more than ready to upgrade my aging iPad2, so obviously at the first opportunity I ordered a new iPad Air 2 online from the Apple website. I requested pick-up at my local Apple Store—because it’s convenient—and, well, I just love going there. A few minutes after I made my online purchase, I received an email informing me that the store staff was ready for me. My new baby was waiting! Serious goose bumps.
I made my way to the mall. It was pretty crowded, as usual. I walked right past The Cheesecake Factory, into the mall, turned left and into the gleaming Apple Store—smiling, not quite skipping, all along. Several staff members greeted me almost the minute I arrived. I explained why I was there. When she understood my reason for coming to the store, the first staff person handed me off to another. I showed him the email on my iPhone. We traded some numbers. He entered those on his iPhone and went back to get my waiting . . . Air 2!!