Powell calls for government to empower health IT professionals

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Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell gave a rousing speech to an energetic near-capacity crowd at the HIMSS 2007 conference in New Orleans yesterday. Though the speech jumped around a great deal from his early days as a soldier, to being a General, through his work in the Reagan administration, his more recent work as secretary of state for the current administration, and finally his current private endeavors, his often funny speech focused largely on the value of leadership.

“The one thing that is common in both opportunity and crisis is that leadership is key,” Powell said.

Powell explained that he looks at the world as having been fundamentally changed in recent years. No longer do we live in a world simply divided by Cold War mentality. What we have now is highly complicated, but it is also highly exciting because of the opportunities that information provides. Despite the obvious conflicts we have in Iraq and elsewhere, today the world is no longer a place to be viewed so much as a battlefield, but rather as filled with “playing fields” full of opportunity, he emphasized.

Nowadays, no longer the country’s top diplomat, Powell fills his time with endeavors in “healthcare, IT, and Silicon Valley,” he said. He joked several times that his big impetus for working in his post-military life has been his wife’s desire to get him out of the house.

Powell said he was pleased to see HIMSS coming to New Orleans, “a city that needs this kind of show of support.” He said that having so many health information professions here “is an expression of that support” and generally thanked attendees for what they are “doing to help repair the healthcare system” in general.

Powell’s own involvement in finding health IT solutions includes being an investor and partner in Revolution Health Group ( www.revolutionhealth.com), another in the growing list of companies looking to provide solutions that put individual in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own medical information. Revolution is doing this through a newly-launched Web portal.

The organization is “trying to put the consumer into the center of the healthcare dialogue,” he said. Revolution’s portal can “record all of your health information” and enables individuals to control access. And it is designed to help empower people to create the types of health plans they want rather than having it dictated to them by insurers.

Another Revolution project is trying to provide patients ways to grade physicians and healthcare facilities in their community. “It takes the power of the information revolution and puts it in one place to ensure that a patient has as much power as anybody else” to control their healthcare, Powell said.

Like similar efforts, moving paper records into these systems is challenging, and people will be concerned with privacy and security, but Powell encouraged the HIMSS crowd not to be afraid of challenges and difficulty, or to fear imperfection along the way as long as we are moving forward.

The healthcare situation in this country will be a challenge for years to come, and it will cost us prosperity if we do not address it. The government must empower healthcare IT professionals to do what they do best so that an integrated, low cost healthcare system can be created, he said.

This was the second time Powell has spoken at HIMSS, first having addressed the assembly 11 years ago.