If you never heard Scott Wallace speak in the past five years hes been running the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, you may not know how the lawyer and entrepreneur got into healthcare IT.
Wallaces father, Thom, suffered through a host of preventable medical errors that severely compromised the quality of his last years of life, the son wrote in a preamble to a 2005 report by the congressionally mandated Commission on Systemic Interoperability, which he chaired at the behest of President Bush.
Wallace, 46, often repeated the story in the dozens of public speeches he delivered as one of the nations more prominent healthcare IT boosters and told a version of it again Wednesday in a telephone interview after it was announced he had stepped down as the president and chief executive officer of NAHIT, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization hed led since April 2003.
About half a year earlier, the American Hospital Association had led an industry coalition to form NAHIT, but they didnt actually have a staff for it, said Wallace. Mary Pittman, president of the Health Research & Educational Trust of the AHA was part of the formation committee for the alliance, Wallace said.
I was coaching Marys son in soccer and she knew my fathers story, Wallace said. She knew I was managing his care and I moved him from private healthcare to the VA because they had coordinated care. She said, what you did for your father you could do for other people. That was kind of the start. The only problems were I had never run a not-for-profit, I wasnt an IT guy and I didnt know anything about healthcare.
But, Wallace said, he met with then-NAHIT and former AHA board Chairman Gary Mecklenburg, then the president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, Chicago. We felt like we could be a productive team and that was the start.
NAHIT and two other Chicago-based organizations, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the American Health Information Management Association, teamed up in 2004 to bankroll the launch of the not-for-profit Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, which now receives federal support to test and certify healthcare IT systems. Wallace ranks his work on NAHIT, CCHIT and the Commission on Systemic Interoperability among the highlights of his healthcare career, thus far.
Im pleased at what weve done in five years, he said. The certification commission is a great success.
Wallace said the road map put out by the Commission on Systemic Interoperability remains valid today. And while the commission was separate from NAHIT, I got a tremendous amount of support from the alliance to make all that happen. I count the CSI achievement as an alliance achievement.
One failing of all healthcare IT promotional efforts thus far within and outside of the government has been the persistently low level of adoption of electronic health-record systems by office-based physiciansabout 14% for all office-based physicians and just 6% for solo practitioners who make up more than one-third of all office-based physicians, according to a recent survey.
Wallace said neither he nor NAHIT can be blamed for that.
The alliance really wasnt designed to promote physician-level adoptions, Wallace said. The initial goal of the alliance was: How do we mainstream this issue? If you go back five years, people were really nervous, you had the Leapfrog mandates and some really high profile failures and a fear of government action.
Wallace said he will continue to work in the area of healthcare IT at, something really exciting, but Im not quite ready to announce it yet. Ive got another six weeks of really intensive work before I can announce it.
I really want to get back into for-profit business, he said. When I took this on, I agreed to do it for three to five years. I think weve done what we set out to do in the format I agreed to work in.
Curt Selquist, NAHIT's board chairman who is the retired company group chairman and worldwide franchise chairman of the medical devices and diagnostics group at Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, is serving as interim CEO of NAHIT.
AHA spokesman Richard Wade said his organization is satisfied both with Wallaces performance and that of NAHIT, which was formed in response to the requests of AHA members to provide them with guidance in the healthcare IT arena, particularly in the area of standards for interoperability.
Not long after NAHIT got started, the federal government started to wake up; and we wanted to get involved in that too, Wade said, referring to President Bushs mention of healthcare IT in his 2004 State of the Union address. Bush followed up that spring by creating the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology within HHS and setting a national goal of making electronic medical records available to most Americans by 2014.
Scott, being an energetic person that he was, really took on a broad agenda, Wade said. At the time, we were all talking past each other and NAHIT was a place to convene everybody and then try to influence federal policy. We all were convinced we had to pursue all of those things. Then you realize you need to narrow the focus and thats the crossroads where I believe NAHIT is at today.
We were very satisfied with the work that NAHIT did, except that we realized it had to be a different organization in the future, Wade said. The big issue today for our members is going to be performance improvement and their current concern with health information technologies is whether those technologies are going to take them down the road to performance improvement.
In an e-mail, Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of HIMSS, said, The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society recognizes the contributions that Scott Wallace and NAHIT members and staff have made to furthering the adoption of health IT and management systems.
In our industry, collaboration is vital to moving ahead the implementation of interoperable electronic medical records, Lieber said. HIMSS and our members have worked with NAHIT in the formation of CCHIT, a collaboration that also included AHIMA. At our annual meeting in Orlando last month, the program included two town hall meetings to gather input on the work that BearingPoint, and NAHIT as a subcontractor, are managing under an HHS contract to develop consensus definitions for commonly used healthcare IT terms. We know that this is a transition period for NAHIT and look forward to the opportunity to work with the organization again.
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