A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Center for ConnectedHealth Symposium 2008

Center for ConnectedHealth Symposium 2008

October 29, 2008

Who Provides, Who Decides, Who Pays: Consumers, Clinicians and Business Models in the Connected Care Era
(Or: the Privac-e-Lephant in the Room)

For two VERY full days, Harvard Medical School was the site of the Center for ConnectedHealth Symposium, which was an excellent, robust, extremely well-attended conference, covering an incredible range of Health Information Technology issues, projects, and inventions. Starting with an opening speech by Senator John Kerry, all of the speakers could be considered among the Who's Who in healthcare and HIT.

There was too much going on, clearly, for one person to attend everything, but among the highlights for me was hearing about new cool and simple inventions to help patients adhere to medication regimens (a pill bottle cap that can call your phone to remind you!), listening to employers talk about getting employees to join workplace wellness programs, e-prescribing from the pharmacist's point of view, Micky Tripathi of the Mass eHealth Collaborative reflecting on some lessons learned, Carol Diamond from Connecting for Health directing a conversation about personal health records, and a moving account by a patient and physician of an odyssey starting with a cancer diagnosis and starring e-health records, online cancer support and resources, and wonderful personal relationships.

Although patient-centered, patient-driven healthcare are the watchwords of the day, and although there was much talk about patients, what they need, and why they act the way they do, there was very little mention of one of the biggest barriers to patient adoption of e-health technologies: fear of privacy breaches because of the enormous impact that can have on an individual's life -- besides the stigma or humiliation it can cause -- such as loss of insurance, credit, and job. And financial, cultural, and ethnic disparities were equally absent from the discussion.

In spite of the fact that a clear goal of all of these e-health products and efforts is to improve health quality and lower costs, the privacy hole -- unless filled in with a legal framework, standards, and policies that address these concerns realistically and robustly, giving patients reason to trust and ways to remedy breaches -- will remain greater than the sum of e-parts.

For more information on the symposium, go to www.connected-health.org.

Lisa Fenichel