How IT Entrepreneurs Can Profit from Healthcare Reform and Other Tips from Boston’s Health 2.0 Insiders

7/2/09

The healthcare industry is facing a shakeup in the way it uses information technology, and this is creating all sorts of opportunities for entrepreneurs in New England. This was the take-home message from some of the top minds in the Health 2.0 field, who we gathered together last week for a jam-packed panel discussion at the XSITE event at Boston University.

We heard from expert panelists on the front lines of this transformation in healthcare—such as John Halamka, chief information officer of both CareGroup Health System/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and Joseph Kvedar, the director of Partners HeathCare’s Center for Connected Health—about how their respective organizations are changing the way they use the Web and other technologies to improve the delivery of medical treatment, among other aspects of healthcare. And IBM’s Bruno Nardone, the company’s national segment leader for state and local healthcare, filled us in on how Big Blue is working in the Boston area on such initiatives as a virtual radiology theater to enable new ways for radiologists and their colleagues to interact online.

It’s no mistake that there was a big crowd of more than 100 people for the Health 2.0 panel; there’s a lot doing at the crossroads of IT and healthcare these days. For one, President Obama is calling for nationwide adoption of electronic health records to help control the rising costs of healthcare in the U.S., and his administration tucked $19 billion into the historic $787 billion stimulus package this year to cover some of the costs of the major undertaking. That’s a potential boon for Boston-area companies that provide electronic health records such as Athenahealth (NASDAQ:ATHN). Locally, we’ve seen a recent surge in startup activity in the Health 2.0 arena, including the launches of young firms like Connected Health and Life Image. (For details on more startups in this field, Wade delineated Boston’s growing Health 2.0 cluster about a year ago.)

Here are some of the bigger themes covered during the Health 2.0 discussion:

—Leveraging technology to reach patients wherever they need care. At Partners’ Center for Connected Health, Kvedar says, his team of doctors and innovators are searching for ways to provide care to patients away from traditional clinical settings like hospitals and closer to where most people live and work. For example, the center is spinning out a startup that to provide patients with a Web-based system to track their blood pressure at work or home.

“As payment reform rumbles through, we start to be paid more for quality and outcomes rather than the numbers of transactions,” Kvedar said, “and organizations such as ours are looking at this as a way to provide care to patients in a much more efficient and higher-quality way.”

—How the electronic health record is changing healthcare. To begin the discussion, Halamka took a moment to define some important terms in this debate. Electronic health records, he said, are electronic records that are compatible when combining multiple types of patient data such as their prescription history and medical images, among others. Electronic medical records, conversely, are not interoperable and are limited in the data included in them.

In Washington, Halamka said, he is co-chairman of a recently formed committee that will recommend important standards for how doctors will need to use electronic health records to qualify for federal subsidies. This “meaningful use” standard is expected to be a major factor in how well the government’s big investment in electronic records brings returns in the form of reduced overall healthcare costs and improved patient care.

—Moderator Jeff Fagnan wanted to know where the panelists see business opportunities, and the answers from the panelists were a bit surprising. Implementing the healthcare IT could be just as big a deal as creating new programs, Halamka said. According to Halamka, about 50,000 full-time workers will be needed to support the nationwide adoption of electronic records. About half a million doctors don’t use electronic records in the U.S., so these workers will be needed to prove implementation, support, and training to these physicians as they adopt electronic records.

“However prosaic this sounds, maybe you can come up with ways to do this with tele-training types of technologies or scaling your staff through the use of tele-presence,” Halamka said to the innovators in the room. “But create electronic health record training, implementation, and support companies.” He also acknowledged that there is $2 billion in federal money set aside to pay for support and training related to electronic records adoption. Nardone added that managed services companies would also be needed to enable doctors to manage their practices in a healthcare environment where there is greater demand for them to provide patient health information to payers.

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  • http://www.medcommons.net Patrick Rafter

    Missing from your listing of Mass “Health 2.0 insiders” MedCommons (www.medcommons.net). Through their vision for “patient centered EHRs” MedCommons has been at the forefront of Health 2.0 developments in the Commonwealth and across the country. Using an Amazon SaaS cloud— MedCommons lets medical pros, patients and designated family members securely access, share and learn from Web-based EHRs. MedCommons is pioneering a program with Mass General Hospital for a national tumor measurement service that will make it very easy for doctors anywhere to send CT and MRI studies (over the Web) without the delay and expense of couriers.