Robert Wah is CSC’S chief medical officer and a vice president in the company’s North American Public Sector organization. Here he discusses the next big hurdle for healthcare efficiency nationwide, and how the government contracting community can be part of the solution.
How healthcare IT will play out is still uncertain. Which projects do you see with the most definition?
Robert Wah: Health Information Exchange (HIE) is an area that probably has a little better definition than others. That said, we see MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) activity at the state level at least already partially defined. We do see increases that are going to be associated with state level funding for those types of programs.
What is CSC doing to be successful in the healthcare space?
Robert Wah: We’re bringing our expertise not only at the commercial level, where we’re dealing with hospitals but also at the state and regional level. We were one of the major contributors to the first prototype for the nationwide health information network. And in the second phase of the nationwide health information network trial implementation work, we were the technology support for New York, New Mexico and Long Island – three of the nine contracts of the National Coordinator’s Office let out. We also have international experience in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. Beyond that, as a global technology company, we have huge units involved in cyber security and identity management, which is part and parcel of ensuring privacy and security of healthcare information.
We believe the nationwide level should have integrative functions. Specifically, we have 170,000 physician offices and 5,000 hospitals in this country that really don’t act in unison. We need some sort of connectivity, electronically, at the national level.”-Robert Wah
How did you gear up for Obama’s healthcare IT proposals?
Robert Wah: Through a “strategic health initiative,” we created a shared vision about where we believe health IT should be at a national, regional, and local level. We have deep expertise, for example, in installing electronic health records for hospitals. We targeted those hospitals that are 200 beds or larger as needing to be ready to qualify for the incentive dollars in the stimulus package. Those dollars begin in 2011 and it’s our point of view that people need to start today to qualify. We also put out a number of papers about what hospitals need to do to get ready and our point of view about the HITECH Act in the stimulus package. See HITECH: CSC’s Point of View.
Some have suggested that Obama’s healthcare IT initiative is just a band-aid on a fundamentally broken system. What’s your take?
Robert Wah: I believe the investment in health IT in the stimulus package is a foundational element for broader healthcare reform. First off, the National Coordinator’s Office has something like $2 billion to deploy, $300 million of which is devoted to subnational health information exchanges. We believe that it would be best if these dollars were deployed in one to three regions to really do a complete rollout of health information exchange in that region; learn lessons from that and then start rolling that out across the country. There is not enough money in the current stimulus package to do the entire country so rather than spread it across the entire country we think they ought to focus those dollars on one to three regions, really do it right, learn the lessons from that deployment and implementation and then extend it across the country with additional funding.
And how can the government contracting community be part of the healthcare solution?
Robert Wah: What we’ve tried to do is share our thought leadership in this area with our government customers. In the UK they’ve had an ongoing project called “Connecting for Health” whereby the National Health Service made the decision a number of years ago to connect all of their healthcare together electronically. There are five regions in the UK, we’ve connected 800 physician practices in three regions. If any of the 10 million people in those regions go to see any of the 800 practices that we have connected their entire electronic health record. We’ve also put in the electronic archiving of images, such as X-rays. Because of experience like that, we understand some of the technical implications of policy decisions currently being pondered here in the United States.
Can you share some of those technical implications?
Robert Wah: For instance, privacy and security was a big issue in Great Britain. They decided that citizens could have the option to opt out of the “Connecting for Health” network. They found that the number of people who chose to opt out was relatively small. Once people were informed that the choice they were making would preclude them from having their information available in an emergency, many of them chose not to have their information shut out of the electronic network.
What’s the next big hurdle for healthcare efficiency in the States?
Robert Wah: We believe the nationwide level should have integrative functions. Specifically, we have 170,000 physician offices and 5,000 hospitals in this country that really don’t act in unison. We need some sort of connectivity, electronically, at the national level. For instance, hospitals need to be able to share demographic information on patients and their coverage. Also we think there ought to be a small summary record of each patient. That should be the goal of a nationwide network. Having these integrative functions — to bring together and harness the power of physician offices and hospitals in a much more unified way — would go a long way toward improving the care in this country.
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