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Health IT Experts Share Advice With Local Entrepreneurs

health IT breakfast

Imagine sitting on the beach, on vacation, when your eczema flares.

Is vacation over?

Not if you take a picture of the rash with your mobile phone, send it to your doctor and have your doctor call in a prescription.

That is one anecdote shared by Dr. Manish Jain at the most recent Health IT Forum, a community partnership co-sponsored by the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, TechCouncil of Maryland and Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and hosted by Johns Hopkins – Montgomery County. Jain is the assistant chief of adult medicine and the technology chief for Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States.

The forum, which addressed “Mobile Devices and Healthcare: Security Information, Protecting Privacy,” attracted more than 100 entrepreneurs and business owners from the region. The forums, held several times a year, are a way for academics, business leaders, government representatives, researchers and others to share ideas and educate the current technology workforce.

As technology evolves and more patients want quick, easy access to health records and medical advice, issues of security, privacy and convenience become paramount. The passage of the Affordable Care Act and its provisions about health providers becoming meaningful users of health information technology is further propelling these topics to the forefront of debate and discussion.

The Health IT forum gave participants an opportunity to hear from some of the leading experts in the field.

Jain explained how electronic medical records allow patients and physicians to better engage in the exam room – and beyond – while also enabling doctors to help more patients in a day.

In the exam room, patients can check the accuracy of their records. From home or elsewhere, they can sign on from laptops or mobile devices, see test results, email their doctors, make appointments and check immunization records, among other services.

“It’s available. It’s everywhere,” Jain said. “It really brings care home.”

Another speaker, Dr. Anand Iyer, president and chief operating officer of WellDoc, elaborated on those points. Iyer’s healthcare company uses technology to help patients manage their diseases and reduce health care costs. WellDoc’s focus is diabetes management; Iyer, himself, is a Type 2 diabetic.

Diabetics measure their blood sugar levels regularly. That is data, Iyer explained. But what can diabetics then do with that data? How about inputting that data into a mobile device and getting back advice on what to eat and drink and whether to take medicine?

“You want information, outcomes, actions,” Iyer said.

But does convenience sacrifice security?

health IT breakfast panel

Bring in Eric Ashman, vice president of engineering for KoolSpan. His goal is to keep sensitive information – such as health information – safe on mobile devices. Lose your iPhone or BlackBerry, he said, and the person who finds it could have access to a wealth of personal information.

Ashman’s company has developed a memory chip that fits in the pack of phones that can encrypt information. KoolSpan is developing secure mobile communications software to use with the chip.

“We feel really strongly there can’t be enough security,” Ashman said.

Same goes for Alice Leiter, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, who spoke about security from a policy perspective.

Though patients are increasingly using mobile devices to stay healthy and as a link to their doctors, doing so brings risk of privacy breaches, Leiter said.

This concern has become particularly paramount after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Under the health care law, incentives are given to providers who become meaningful users of health information technology. Patients need to be given the ability to review, download and transmit their health information.

But access needs to health records needs to be done in such a way as to build public trust, Leiter said, and mobile devices offer unique challenges in securing personal information.

“We want to build trust,” Leiter said, but also “be cognizant of the level of risk.”


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