By Ken Congdon
Follow Me On Twitter @KenOnHIT
“Is the time now?”
These are the words that echoed through the Great Hall of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building to kickoff National Health IT Week, which is taking place this week (September 16-20) in Washington D.C. This simple question was posed by outgoing National Coordinator for Health IT, Farzad Mostashari during a meeting focused on patient engagement.
To Mostashari, the IT revolution in healthcare has traditionally been championed by a passionate band of misfits, and he is hopeful that we’re now entering an era where this movement finally goes mainstream. He challenged the federal officials and health IT stakeholders in attendance to provide the tools, education, and data to make his hope a reality.
Some may view National Health IT Week simply as a political lobbying opportunity, but it is really much more than that. According to Tom Leary, Vice President of Government Relations at HIMSS, this nationally recognized week is really all about advocacy. And there was no shortage of health IT advocates voicing their opinions this week. Not only were national figureheads like Dr. Mostashari in attendance, but so too were executives from leading healthcare providers, representatives from key health IT technology vendors, and even patient activists like Dave deBronkart (aka e-patient Dave).
deBronkart used this national stage as an opportunity to stress the importance of getting patients more involved in their own healthcare. To deBronkart, this all starts by providing patients with access to their own health data. deBronkart argues that only when patients are truly informed about their health will they become active participants in keeping themselves well.
So, what does this type of advocacy accomplish? What good does it do? What value does a National Health IT Week provide the healthcare industry at large? Well, at the very least, it accomplishes a couple of significant objectives. First, it draws key healthcare stakeholders (i.e. politicians, providers, payers vendors, and patients) to a single destination to work toward a common goal — leveraging IT to cut healthcare costs and improve care. This is one of the few times throughout the year where these different stakeholders convene. Whenever key challenges, needs, and strategies are presented to a roomful of people with the collective power, resources, and passion to address them — that’s when change happens. That’s when progress is made.
Second, National Health IT Week extends the health IT conversation beyond the chosen venues in Washington D.C. It promotes health IT education and advocacy via blogs, press releases, and most importantly social media. Even those of us passionate about health IT that were unable to attend the festivities in D.C. were able to participate in the week in our own way. We shared articles, news, and announcements that drove home some of HIMSS’ key objectives for National Health IT Week (e.g. advocate consistent nationwide patient data, an alignment of healthcare quality, and consistent adoption of health IT) using the #NHITWeek hash tag. The week helps draw attention to a cause and promotes involvement. It gets more soldiers engaged in the fight to educate the masses on health IT issues and keeps the conversation going. This characteristic of National Health IT Week, probably more than any other, has the potential to take the health IT movement mainstream as Dr. Mostashari envisions.