Collaborative starts 2nd phase of connectivity push

Incremental road map part of continuing efforts

Connecting for Health, a collaborative of public and private stakeholders, will be launching a new phase of its effort to promote electronic connectivity in health care. The project’s steering group, comprising more than 50 leaders and decision makers in the health care industry is committed to creating an incremental road map to achieving electronic connectivity.

The road map is necessary, they say, for prioritizing actions, fostering innovation, and leveraging efforts across the public and private sector.

"Patients deserve to have a safe and reliable health care system that provides quality care. The only way we’re going to get there is if public and private sectors come together to create an interoperable electronic infrastructure for health care," says John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ, and chair of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will be joining the Markle Foundation, which established Connecting for Health, as a funding partner.

Since Connecting for Health began its work in September 2002, it has:

  • built consensus on an initial set of health care data standards;
  • developed case studies of places where privacy and security practices may provide a model for others;
  • advanced understanding of the consumer’s role in an interconnected health care system by defining the personal health record and its use.

Ongoing efforts of Connecting for Health are accomplished by the following working groups:

  • Working Group on Electronic Health and Personal Health Record
  • Working Group on Accurately Linking Health Information for Safety and Quality
  • Expert Panel on Organizational Models and Financial Sustainability of Community-Based Health Information Exchange
  • Expert Panel on Data Exchange Standards

(For more detail on the working groups, go to: www.connectingforhealth.org.)

Why did the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, well known for its efforts to promote health care interests, become involved with this group? "I think the foundation has a number of areas of focus relating to improving the health care of America, and an underlying component of that is the strength of the information infrastructure," Lumpkin says. "We see this initiative as being a key player in accelerating the information transformation of health care."

Lumpkin, who served as vice chair of the initial phase, says he has been impressed "first and foremost with the breadth of the coalition, the fact that it brought to the table leaders from providers, vendors, consumer advocates, and government — really all the key players you need to talk about key issues."

The first phase was a $2 million initiative supported by the Markle Foundation. How much the next phase will cost is not yet clear. "As we’re rolling out this phase, we will initially kick in $350,000, but that’s not the total amount we will kick in; we will continue to support this," he explains. "I will also continue in a leadership role, so we will be committing our personal resources as well."

There are several key goals for the second phase of this collaborative:

  • A road map detailing an action agenda of achievable objectives over the next 12 months will leverage activities between public and private health care sectors toward a health information infrastructure that fosters innovation, encourages information sharing, and provides exchange of necessary health information in a private and secure manner.
  • Barriers will be challenged that impede patient-centered information sharing within a series of working groups. Specific areas of focus will be on understanding the business and organizational issues of community-based information exchange, the issues relevant to sharing electronic information with patients, and certain aspects of technical interoperability.
  • A demonstration project is planned to test and evaluate the working groups’ products in real-world settings.

While the elements of the road map remain to be determined, Lumpkin expects it to progress rapidly. "This will not be duplicative of other road maps being developed — such as the one at the National Committee for Vital Health Statistics." He says he anticipates it will take one to three years for the road map to be developed.

"This whole phase will be relatively short," says Lumpkin, noting that the other work may be completed by the end this year. "We need a little hedge factor, because we may be looking at a demonstration project as a result of some decisions made by the steering committee, so it could go on longer."

When asked to cite the most glaring problems in the information infrastructure today, his reply basically was that since there really is no infrastructure, no glaring problems could be identified.

"Less than 15% of all physicians have electronic health records; people who travel can’t have their health records travel with them; lab tests that have already been done are often repeated. The savings for this kind of infrastructure are huge," Lumpkin explains.

Just how huge was illustrated during a presentation at the recently held meeting of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). "Bill Yasnoff [William Yasnoff, MD, PhD, senior advisor for the national health information infrastructure at the Department of Health and Human Services] gave a talk in which he said the savings for implementing connectivity would be somewhere around $120 billion a year net," he adds.

Connecting for Health also cites the following statistic from the Wellesley, MA-based Center for Information Technology Leadership:

Nationwide adoption of advanced computerized order-entry systems in ambulatory care could eliminate up to 2 million adverse drug events and 190,000 hospitalizations per year and could save up to $44 billion annually in reduced medication, radiology, laboratory, and hospitalization expenditures. (Go to: www.citl.org/research/ACPOE.htm.)

"We cannot achieve a safe, effective, efficient, and high-quality health care system without significant transformation of our information infrastructure," Lumpkin concludes.

Need More Information?

For more information, contact:

  • John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ. Phone: (609) 627-5724.
  • Center for Information Technology Leadership, Partners HealthCare, 93 Worcester St., Wellesley, MA 02481. Phone: (781) 416-9200. Fax: (781) 416-8913. E-mail: info@citl.org.
  • Connecting for Health. Web: www.connectingforhealth.org or www.markle.org.