A plan by the Bush administration's top information technology policymaker to pump up national interest in healthcare IT by highlighting successful case studies and advertising strategies has apparently stalled.
Less than a month ago, David Brailer, the Bush administration's healthcare information technology czar, was combing the nation for successful case studies to help bolster the argument that the healthcare industry should embrace IT and recognize that the benefits will far outweigh costs in the long run.
Earlier this year, officials with Brailer's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology informally tapped a private marketing expert to work on a public relations campaign featuring the "business case" for how this costly new technology improves quality, reduces medical errors and ultimately will save money.
Melissa Krasner, a spokeswoman for Brailer's office, said the marketing expert was asked to collect information from vendors and healthcare providers who could offer IT success stories. The idea, she said, was to use these case studies to "get a sense of what (vendors and hospitals) are saying about these products."
As part of the initiative, the marketing expert was asked to review how vendors have used advertising to push their products in national magazines and other media.
At least some of this information, Krasner said, was designed to be fed to media outlets and reporters eager to cite instances where information technology has made a difference in areas such as cost and quality of care. "A lot of reporters call us, saying, `We're doing a story on this; do you have an example where there are positive outcomes?' " Krasner said. "We'd like to have a fair and objective list of those outcomes."
As a result, Krasner asked marketing specialist Damon Braly to "evaluate the messaging in the ads that (electronic health-record) companies have run in healthcare publications this past year," according to an e-mail he sent to Modern Healthcare in late February.
Braly is president of Vivid Ideas, which focuses on IT marketing. He declined to comment on his role at the time, other than to say, "We've been engaged to do this data collection."
But the marketing plan and Braly's paid involvement have since been presumably short-circuited.
In an interview several weeks ago, Krasner said Braly was expected to conduct research for about three months. She said at the time that other independent contractors also were involved. Last week, however, she said Braly was the only independent contractor used in a preliminary marketing plan that "was not moving forward" at this time. "It never really got off the ground to start with, as other priorities have taken over."
"It's not necessarily a priority. I just don't know if we're going to put any energy into the marketing-messaging thing," she said. She said Brailer was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Krasner described the use of outside consultants in cases like this as standard practice. Though not on the same level, the Bush administration has been criticized for using outside advertising companies and paid spokespeople to help publicize and generate support for key policy initiatives, including educational programs.
"Our office does research all the time," Krasner said in her first interview with Modern Healthcare about a month ago. "We need to build a good body of research that we can continually cite. We've asked different hospitals, `What's your success story? What product are you using?' But we haven't had time to organize and review them. We're trying to formalize this into a knowledge database so we know who the market leaders are."
She said members of Brailer's staff have been careful not to give the appearance that they are endorsing any particular vendor, provider or technology when they cite these "success stories." The stakes are high: Experts have said that a fully functional national system of healthcare data exchange could cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.