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Meetings of the Minds: Mass Health Information Technology Council Stakeholder Hearings

Meetings of the Minds: Mass Health Information Technology Council Stakeholder Hearings

April 14, 2009

The Mass Health Information Technology Council kicked off its series of statewide stakeholder meetings Monday night at the Mass Medical Society. The purpose of these meetings is to elicit public opinion about how best to leverage the federal stimulus funding for health information technology in the state's quest for interoperable health records by January 1, 2015. This one, led by Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, included several Council members, E-Health Institute staff, and a good-sized audience, who were all there to hear the testimony of those who signed up to speak.

A Newburyport physician very involved in the Blue Cross Blue Shield pilot project (Newburyport is one of the Mass eHealth Collaborative test sites) spoke about the enormous lessons learned and his hope that, with the foundation of electronic health records finally in place, real interoperability (including a patient portal) will be realized. Another physician made the point that too much information can be as confusing and inefficient as too little. Someone who worked in a public hospital brought up the idea of health information exchanges having different purposes and demanding different timeframes depending on their purpose. A woman representing health centers talked about the particular challenges of being neither a standalone office nor a hospital when it came to health information sharing.

The subject of CCHIT (the organization that has been used for EHR certification) aroused strong opinions, as many people spoke positively of it and many others expressed the belief that it suppresses innovation or is just not responsive to today's needs. One speaker added that personal health records should also be certified so that individual consumers would have some method of assurance of product reliability, as consumers are also looking to become engaged in their own healthcare. And the fact that one large hospital's records cannot "talk" with the records of another hospital -- just across the street -- was reported and served to underscore the critical need for interoperability.

Many ideas and concerns were aired, but one theme that was repeated several times was the importance of Massachusetts retaining its leadership position in the health information technology arena. Balancing the very short time frames in both the federal stimulus bill and the state's implementation plan with the clear call for deliberate, thoughtful, and meaningful action will be difficult but do-able, and with the input from the public, we will have a better sense of priorities and pitfalls going forward. Having to address these pressing yet opposing needs reminds me of an expression my mother often used which always puzzled me: "Make haste slowly," she cautioned us. Finally, I understand what she meant!
Lisa Fenichel