HHS National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Blumenthal said the U.S. has four problems it must overcome to be able to have a strong healthcare IT system.
Currently, the country's healthcare IT system is challenged by a lack of adequate funding; logistical problems relating to physicians' questions and concerns about which health IT system to buy, how to implement it and whether it will become outdated; a lack of infrastructure to support health information exchanges; and a fourth barrier associated with the general public, he said.
"American people need to be convinced that the information exchanged will be private," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal made his remarks Oct. 29 at a briefing in Washington that focused on what the U.S. and other countries are learning from investment in health IT. Hosted by the Alliance for Health Reform and with support from the Commonwealth Fund, the event featured panelists from Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden who also gave presentations about health IT systems in their respective countries.
In Sweden, a country with a population of about 9 million, IT is an integrated part of the nation's healthcare system, where 100% of all documentation in primary care is electronic, and 97% of hospitals use electronic patient records, according to a presentation by Sabine Koch, the first professor of health informatics at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. A collaborative approach is effective in New Zealand, according to Thomas Bowden, CEO of HealthLink, a New Zealand-based company he co-founded in 1993 in an agreement with the New Zealand government. This is why Bowden suggested that countries involve many players in the health IT implementation effort, rather than just a few.
During the question-and-answer period, a medical student asked Blumenthal about how health IT could be used in public health and how social networking might be a useful tool in this arena. Blumenthal said the meaningful-use guidelines address public-health issues, and he also acknowledged the possibilities of social networking in the future.
"Once we get information into electronic form—all kinds of uses will be possible," Blumenthal said. "But we can't get there until the information is digitized."