For current health reform programs to succeed, such as accountable care organizations and patient centered medical homes, health information technology is a prerequisite, one the federal government can help facilitate, but not compel.

That was one message from Wil Yu, special assistant of innovations and research at the Dept. of Health and Human Services, who provided the keynote address at Health Data Management’s Healthcare Analytics Symposium in Chicago. Yu also underscored the urgency of such reform efforts, noting that the industry is on an unsustainable cost trajectory.

A combination of market forces and federal polices are beginning to harmonize, setting the stage for adoption of such I.T. tools as patient portals, health information exchanges and electronic health records, Yu said.  Interest in the private software sector to develop health-related applications is at an all-time high. “People who have never considered health I.T. are now flocking to it.”

For these developers, the federal government is providing data, building out infrastructure and setting exchange standards. Yu cited examples where other industries are far ahead of health care when it comes to embracing I.T. It is “easier to give access to Facebook than give anyone access to medical records,” he noted, acknowledging that privacy and security concerns can act as a hindrance to such sharing.

The pace of progress can be slow, he added, quoting a report commissioned during the Kennedy administration that called for widespread adoption of health I.T. “We’re not close to where we want to be with interoperability standards.  But we are gradually making progress. We can innovate our way out of this.”

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