David Blumenthal: Healthcare's future depends on security, interoperability

New health information technologies could revolutionize the quality and convenience of future healthcare services, but privacy and security issues, as well as the looming problem of interoperability, must be dealt with first, according to David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

Blumenthal, who also served as National Coordinator for Health IT from 2009 to 2011, outlined several forward-looking scenarios an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Two include:

  • Sensors in an elderly parent's apartment that alert adult children that, according to his behavior pattern and cloud-based health record, he likely has bronchitis or pneumonia. With permission, the app could call an ambulance and alert his primary care physician and the emergency room
  • Using a patient portal both to create and participate in a virtual doctor visit for an injured ankle, and to obtain a referral to an orthopedists. The portal also could share information such as remaining insurance deductible and treatment option costs

Without assurances of privacy and security, Blumenthal said, people won't use such tools even if they are available. What's more, many care organizations and vendors currently don't want to share patient information, which would make it easier for patients to take their business elsewhere, he said.  

"Fortunately, these problems are mostly human in the making and can be solved by humans if the will exists," Blumenthal said. "If we find a way, the healthcare future will be far brighter for all of us."

Current National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo recently outlined three steps for achieving interoperability, including standardizing application programming interfaces and implementation standards along with creating an environment of trust.

One recent survey found that physicians under the age of 40 are more likely to believe the industry will reach a fully connected technology environment soon.

Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, was obviously fed up with inefficiencies in the healthcare system during his keynote speech at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference in Chicago.

He called for a "more modern infrastructure;" one that's less flashy ("I think we could do with a little less innovation on shareable and wearables") and more focused on ensuring care coordination between providers.

"It's time to get down to business and really advance the gains that have begun under health reform these last five years," he said.

To learn more:
- read the article