The message for physician informaticists meeting near San Diego this week was one of cautious hope.
"It's a fantastic time to be doing what we do," said William Bria, M.D., president of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems at Wednesday's kickoff address of the group's annual Physician-Computer Connection symposium in Rancho Bernardo, Calif.
"Either we could do some fantastic things that we've been wanting to do for the past 25 years, or we could blow it and set things back for another 25 years."
The reason for such tempered optimism is embodied in AMDIS member David Brailer, M.D., who was appointed in May as President Bush's national health information technology coordinator.
Brailer did not attend the AMDIS conference this year, but next week he is scheduled to deliver a progress report on a national IT plan at the second National Health Information Initiative meeting in Washington, D.C. The NHII is a government-led effort to boost healthcare information technology.
Brailer is faced with the tough task of reconciling "what is something of a mess" of competing interests and standards in healthcare IT, said Bria, who called on the government to empower a commission or private organization to establish a core set of IT standards that everyone should use.
"We're going to have to be a lot more uniform if we're going to achieve what all of you have been trying to do," Bria said.
Patient access to electronic medical records is important, but patient involvement in creating those records--such as having patients fill out their own medical histories on structured electronic medical records forms--also will improve quality of care, Bria said.
"Patients always have information that surprises us," Bria said. "This needs to be a part of every future EMR strategy."
David Roberts, public policy director for HIMSS, in an address to the conference, said healthcare IT is at a tipping point, noting that IT is fast developing as a center of political gravity in Washington, with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Brailer and other political leaders effectively taking over much of the first day of the NHII conference.
Both Thompson and Bush "get it" when it comes to the potential impact of healthcare IT, Roberts said, and "many people on the Hill understand you can't do this without funding."
But don't look for money to come out of Washington anytime soon as leaders focus on the upcoming election, he said. Roberts also said to look for a likely refocusing of the NHII, and possibly a renaming the organization, to emphasize a regional approach.