With the launch of major Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society educational programs in Europe and Asia this year, we have learned that the healthcare issues faced on those continents, as well as here in the U.S., have more in common than not. Whether in New Orleans, Geneva or Singapore, healthcare professionals and their patients face similar concerns and challenges about healthcare delivery.
Such a universal foundation, one focused on the quality and efficacy of care, establishes a basic premise for our industry: All healthcare is local and global. Consistently, we hear of a common set of central concerns faced across the globe by anyone who receives, delivers or is in need of patient care: cost; quality of care/medical errors; payment (both the process and who will pay); and privacy and security.
No matter where they come from, we need to learn from global best practices and best failures.Think about visiting a personal physician, an individual who represents a trusted source of medical guidance and care in a patients own community. This relationship depends on local, and often immediate, access to ensure quality patient care. But the success of that encounter can be influenced by global factors affecting the practice of medicine.
Establishing the healthcare balance depends on both local and global solutions. For example, while the delivery of healthcare operates differently in small towns in the U.S., Austria or China, commonalities also exist. Implementing information technology solutions in healthcare depends on the industry coming together in a variety of places to share experiencesthose best practices that make it easier to know what to do and what not to do.
In fact, global healthcare communities know the benefits of shared experiences in dealing with SARS, avian flu and other pandemic situations. Not all of those experiences focused on technology, but they did generate globally integrated and, therefore, more successful solutions in responding to these conditions.
Government is a player in healthcare. The same can be said for policy. Health information exchange is local; the policy decisions affecting health information exchange are regional, national and global.
For example, Democratic California State Sen. Elaine Alquist recently introduced a bill to create the California Healthcare Information Infrastructure Program. It is designed to establish and operate the states health IT program, to improve the quality of healthcare in California and to reduce the cost of healthcare through the advancement of health IT.
Language in the bill states that use of electronic health records could save as much as $8 billion annually in California through improvements in healthcare delivery efficiency. Healthcare information technology-enabled improvements in disease prevention and management could more than double those savings, while lowering age-adjusted mortality by as much as 18% and reducing annual employee sick days.
While this legislation, if passed, would affect only California residents, its effect would have influence far beyond the West Coast. Efficiency and accuracy in healthcare delivery, disease prevention and management, and overall better health for employees are universal initiatives in the U.S. and across the globe. Crossing government boundaries locally and with different governments globally will help achieve specific and much-desired patient outcomes.
Standards make it easier and quicker to find solutions. Healthcare standards are also neither state-specific nor nation-specific, yet they offer a tool to share data more easily and to find solutions more quickly.
In January, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced his acceptance of 30 consensus standards recommended by the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel, a decision that brings the U.S. one step closer to developing a nationwide health information network.
But if HHS and the HITSP stop the discussion at the U.S. borders, we run the risk of repeating past mistakes and creating new, impenetrable silos of patient data.Similar standards efforts are under way among European Union member states, and in Australia, Canada and elsewhere. If each develops its own definition of standardization, we will have failed to recognize the value of global healthcare information exchange and made such exchange difficult if not impossible.
Improving healthcare in the U.S. and across the globe requires understanding and learning from cultural differences.
We do have global success stories to promulgate. One of the most relevant examples of global health information exchange is Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise. IHE, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, represents the largest industrywide effort to achieve demonstrated interoperability. HIMSS and the Radiological Society of North America embarked on this initiative in 1997 to establish a common framework for the exchange of patient health information.Since then, others, such as the American College of Cardiology, have joined the initiative, and it has spread to Europe and Asia. The pointand lesson learnedis that global efforts can be successful in reconciling local requirements with global expectations.
At the 2007 Annual HIMSS Conference & Exhibition this week in New Orleans, the convergence of local and global healthcare solutions will be evident throughout the conference in discussions and debates on the premise: If healthcare issues are local and global then so must be the solutions.
Stephen LieberPresident and CEOHealthcare Information Management Systems SocietyChicago
This story initially appeared in this week's edition of Modern Healthcare magazine.To submit a letter to YOUR VIEWS, click here . Please include your name, title and hometown.