Tennessee governor: Get moving with health IT, offers goals to simplify

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Governor Phil Breseden of Tennessee urged simplicity in the march towards advancing eHealth initiatives nationally during his keynote address at the HIMSS 2007 conference in New Orleans today. Breseden is the co-chair of the National Governor Association’s (NGA) national eHealth Alliance and is deeply involved in a number of initiatives to drive state health IT efforts. 

Though he claimed to be no expert on eHealth matters, he said his main goal in addressing HIMSS members was to challenge them “to simplify.” Breseden said that he believes that healthcare is still very much a “cottage industry” which must be updated, and that if we don’t act, it will “bite us as an industry.”

“We’ve gotten ourselves in the complexity business which is never a good thing,” he declared, and urged common ground so that more progress is made with less discussion of all of the countless technologies, initiatives, and grants that bog us down.

If we can tackle eHealth implementation in this country, he said, we may be better prepared to deal with other difficult challenges we have yet to face in the U.S.

Generally, Breseden believes there is a need for a system that is focused on individuals and that is far less fragmented and much more centralization. Another crucial step is to begin altering the economics surrounding healthcare, he said.

If we can accomplish these general things we’ll be able to “move eHealth out of the lab and into the real world,” he said.

Breseden offered three concrete ways to accomplish these goals:

  • Establish simple standards as a “toolbox” – the internet is an example of a large system built on simple protocols, he said. There has been progress towards this aim, such as the HITSP (Health Information Technology Standards Panel) efforts. However, the basic system that exists for standards in healthcare is itself very, very complicated. He quoted a standards expert he had spoken to that said “the good thing about standards is that there are so many of them.” Breseden pointed to communications standards for emailing which are fine examples of simple standards that allow any computer to communicate with another. ePrescribing, he said, is a good technological place to start standardizing for the industry;

  • He urged stakeholders to reduce the landscape we are working with, focusing on one problem and working on it, rather than countless ones; and
  • The industry should prioritize implementation of IT into day-to-day medical practices.  “Without this penetration we don’t have anything,” he said. To promote adoption we should create strong incentives from an authoritative body such as Health & Human Services (HHS). The incentives could be strongly connected to sound medicine but also tied to reimbursements.

Simplifying is not a retreat from bigger goals, Breseden said near his conclusion, adding that success is contagious.