A Few Reflections from the National Health Information Network Forum

One of the great advantages of living in Washington, DC, is access to lots of great (and affordable) learning opportunities, and this week’s National Health Information Network Forum was one of them.

The most important thing I learned is that there is one (a NHIN), and through the days’ demonstrations that progress is being made. I should qualify my comments with the fact that a good family practitioner knows what they don’t know, and this part of HIT is not central to my area of expertise, which is more focused on interactions closer to patients and providers in large heathcare systems.

In any event, I livetweeted my impressions on the fly, which you can read here, and will add some bullet points:

  • As a learning session, the Forum was executed really well. Scripts were prepared and there were teams of people accessing live systems on the side (see photographs) while panelists described what was going on.
  • A bright spot for me was to learn (more) about our Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative . It is going to enter a “2.0” stage in January, 2009, and seems to have all of the abilities that could make this very simple genetic test (family history) more widely available in health care, including being open-source based, brandable, and based on standards. I especially applaud this effort because one of the great things about family history is that it is a test that involves listening to patients – the act of obtaining the information as well as using it is therapeutic in my opinion.
  • I got to see some of the use cases I have studied, like the Consumer Empowerment Use Case, acted out using real systems. The patient experience was followed from PHR through to physician’s office through to NHIN and back. This was impressive.
  • I saw a session on the Emergency Responder Use Case which did not cover the area that I’ve had a little bit of interest in on the personal health record side of things, the times when the responder encounters someone who cannot provide identifying information. As I have discussed previously, this is an area where personal health records linked to other identifying information (consented to by the patient) such as vehicle identification number or employee identification, may improve the ability to provide care in emergency situations. Beyond that specific situation, however, interagency/provider connections were demonstrated well.
  • I saw good demonstrations of health information exchange across various boundaries. It would be interesting to see some of these great projects in the communities where they are being used.
  • It would be great in the future if there were unaffiliated patients on panels, and if groups also talked about how they involved patients in the development of their work.

Overall, I am very thankful for the generosity of our Department of Health and Human Services for putting this public forum together. Many of the comments and thinking were well received by me, such as Secretary Mike Leavitt’s comment that the days of test results delivered at the convenience of the physician should end.

Photos at the top of this post, click on any to see larger.

Ted Eytan, MD