When HIMSS keynote speakers Kathleen Sebelius and David Blumenthal, M.D., finally got down to business Wednesday morning, they talked business. The message was pretty straightforward: health I.T. is perceived by the Obama administration and other Washington powers an economic engine that needs to keep expanding domestically and overseas.

HHS Secretary Sebelius, coming on after an introductory video strikingly similar to a UFC pay-per-view spot, jumped right in by saying the “Top 5” Internet companies were all American (her term) and those companies had grown their domestic workforces by 600 percent over the past decade. After lauding the progress made towards EHR adoption in the past two years, she looped back to the potential growth engine health I.T. represents.

“Health I.T. is one of our most promising frontiers,” she told the packed auditorium. “There are 231 companies that have certified EHR products, and two-third of those has 50 employees or less. Is the next Google in there?” She also reiterated President Obama’s recent declaration that the United States need to out-innovate the world to remain an economic power this century, and that principle is especially true in health I.T., which has plenty of room to grow.

Sebelius almost tried to relieve market anxiety about the budget battles in Washington, saying that while there’s some real rows over health issues (“In case you hadn’t noticed,” she quipped) there continues to be bi-partisan support for health I.T. … again, owing to a bi-partisan consensus that the industry could be a job creator in the next few years. She noted that the Office for the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology saw its budget rise 25 percent in the last federal fiscal plan, and no one in Washington’s ready to throw away the investments already made in health I.T.

National Health IT Coordinator Blumenthal, who’s leaving the office this spring, also threw in about health I.T. economic potential, noting that the work around interoperability standards and HER certification are being done to create products not only for the domestic market, but to enable U.S.-based vendors to sell into overseas markets.

But much of Blumenthal’s speech focused on how all pistons are starting to fire with ONCHIT initiatives in what he dubbed “The Age of Meaningful Use.” Regional extension centers, created to practices and other I.T.-bereft provider facilities, have signed up 47,000 organizations seeking I.T. help, with 6,000 being added a week. Health I.T. worker training programs offered by 84 colleges nationwide will deliver 3,400 workers to the market this spring, progress in the program’s goal of training 10,000 new workers. And 34 states have approved blueprints for statewide health information exchanges, another program fueled by federal dollars.

Blumenthal finished by giving a few hints about what’s on the minds at ONCHIT. He said Stage 2 meaningful use criteria will have “much more exacting” requirements for interoperability, mentioned in nearly the same breath as the need to prime U.S. companies for overseas markets. In addition, he said the office has its Tiger Team working on recommendations to create “conditions of trust” in terms of privacy and security to support health data exchange.

More HIMSS11 news is available at http://www.healthdatamanagement.com/himss

--Greg Gillespie


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