Panelists discuss promise of telemedicine, big data at HIMSS policy summit

"What can we do to expand upon the current promise of telemedicine?"

With that question, attorney Jessica Rosenworcel, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, kicked off the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Policy Summit in Washington D.C. early Thursday morning.

Looking around the room at the participants, Rosenworcel (right) remarked, "All of this is impressive, but the best is yet to come."

Citing what providers can do with FCC's Healthcare Connect Fund, established in 2012, which earmarked up to $400 million for healthcare provider access to high-bandwidth connections, Rosenworcel said the healthcare system needs to aggregate patients with rare diseases and connect them for treatment. She also said the system needs to foster aging in place, and connect patients to doctors with specialized language knowledge for cultural needs.

"We need to figure out what works nationally. ... Even with these challenges ahead, I am optimistic," Rosenworcel said. "There are simply too many good things we can accomplish with telemedicine."

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) then took the stage and made a point about how telemedicine can assist mental health efforts, using Monday's tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard--in which a disturbed former Navy reservist killed 12 people, eventually being killed by police--to bring context to his argument.

"We don't want to keep people from getting the help they need ... we need to continue research on medications and use healthcare technology to monitor those who should be on medication," Murphy (left) said.

The systems [in which mental health patient information are stored] don't talk to one another, and that internal barrier must be broken down--and health IT can help, Murphy said.

A panel of Congressional staff then offered some insight into what's ahead for Congress and health IT.

Fern Goodhart, legislative assistant for Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said that lawmakers "see health IT bringing information about the consumer to a computer or device, and making them more literate about their health, behavior and choices, and more informed, with less guessing and less duplication."

She added that she and Udall value the "bridge and benefits" that telehealth can provide.

Charlene McDonald, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) said that at the very least, the next generation should expect an interoperable exchange. There's a lot of work to do for health IT, she said, and it's often shadowed by bipartisan battles over on the hill.

Bryan Sivak (right), chief technology officer at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, meanwhile, said that the government is venerable, but can't afford to be stagnant. He added that open data is the key to innovation in healthcare.

"We're moving to a system where data is essential to drive change, and changes how the average American interacts with and manages their own care. Something more monitored and proactive," Sivak said. "We've come a long way, for sure, and the tide is starting to turn. ... Technology is the easy part. The harder thing is culture. How do we change the culture and insist data and information become one?"

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