Tech Council of Maryland Hosts Health IT Conference; Speakers Emphasize that Health IT Offers Huge Opportunities
By Vicki Stearn
Rick Harris, Executive Director MD Tech, greets an attendee
Maryland businesses have the opportunity to lead the nation in the development of information technologies for health care and leverage the tens of billions of dollars available from both federal and state governments for ehealth. At least so said the speakers at the Tech Council of Maryland Health IT Conference at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.
In her introduction to the conference, which focused on this rapidly expanding and multi-faceted market, Tech Council CEO Renee Winsky summarized the importance of this industry: “The broad use of Health IT has the potential to improve health care quality, prevent medical errors, increase the efficiency of care provision and reduce unnecessary health care costs, increase administrative efficiencies, decrease paperwork, expand access to affordable care and improve population health.”
Winsky pointed out that the federal government alone “is making a huge investment in moving Health IT forward with the monies allocated in last year’s Recovery Act and grants being awarded to states to implement the meaningful use of Health IT. Through January 31st of this year, the Department of Health and Human Services has used $25.8 billion in recovery funds just on Health IT.” Maryland’s strong IT community and medical communities are well-positioned to deliver Health IT solutions for the country.
The conferences’ keynote speaker, John Colmers, Secretary of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said,
Maryland “is taking steps to make sure it remains ahead of the curve and takes the leadership role in prioritizing the adoption of EHRs [Electronic Health Records] and the development of a consumer-centric HIE [Health Information Exchanges] with sound privacy and security policies.”
Colmers offered the more than 100 executives present an overview on how Maryland is supporting and extending the federal government’s financial, legislative and regulatory commitment to Health IT and outlined opportunities made available by the federal government and various Maryland state programs.
Speakers on two panels discussed the larger eco-system that a technology firm entering the Heath IT arena would encounter, from financing and regulations to the unique characteristics of the health care industry. They also drilled down into the nuts and bolts of how companies can expand their businesses into health care and help develop much needed solutions to the challenges faced by many health care stakeholders from patients and doctors to public and private payers.
An Insider’s View
Speaking from the vantage point of a health care provider, Kathleen Dyer, vice president and chief information officer for Adventist HealthCare, gave an insider’s view of the complexity of the drivers of both the health care and technology industries.
She emphasized that IT businesses need to look at the big picture beyond their individual solutions and “address real-life, complex health care challenges.”
She said these companies need to assist clients in developing strong business cases for technology implementation, identifying funding sources, demonstrating effective and practical methodologies to streamline implementation, and incorporating solutions into management workflow. And, they must “demonstrate a strong architectural and systems integration approach to a complex technology environment including... EMR systems, specialty and ancillary service systems, medical device systems, interface engines, evidence-based content systems, clinical analytics, revenue cycle and patient financial management systems, etc.”
The Scope of the Opportunity
Rebekah Plowman, of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough attorneys at law, pointed to the creation of the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as an example of how seriously the current administration takes this issue. Plowman divided the government focus into two buckets – the carrot and the stick – and said both offer business opportunities for information technologies companies.
On the one hand, tens of billions (yes, that’s billions, with a B) of the dollars are being made available to states, universities, non-profits, hospitals and individual medical practices to upgrade to meaningful use electronic health record systems. On the other hand, it is required that privacy and security are aggressively defended.
To give a sense of the size of the business opportunity, she pointed to one estimate that a three-physician office will need to spend between $173,000 and $296,000 on EHR systems.
Michele Perry, chief operating officer of the GetWellNetwork, pointed out that the possibilities in health care technologies are extensive, in part, because the medical community today is where many other industries were 20 years ago in terms of developing and using electronic technologies to organize their records and communicate among professionals and with patients.
Perry, whose background is in cybersecurity, focused a company’s role in the “Patient Care Continuum” and the hospital and care giver partnerships her company has forged. She also emphasized the importance of the private sector’s commitment to high-quality patient experiences and outcomes.
Alexis Gilroy of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough outlined the “hurdles” companies face when entering the industry, including issues of licensure, malpractice and intellectual property, government regulation, informed consent and privacy, and limits to the “corporate practice of medicine.”
C-TEL (the Center for Telehealth & eHealth Law) offers many tools to help companies understand and deal with these complicated and important issues, including a monthly webinar. C-TEL’s Greg Billings delineated some of the issues, including what services are defined as “telehealth” or “telemedicine” and how they will be paid for as well as licensure, credentialing and hospital privileging.
Gilroy emphased that these are “hurdles,” not obstacles, to successfully building a business in health information technology.
Vicki Stearn is a Bethesda-based strategic communications consultant with over 20 years experience launching new consumer products and services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.