Sunday, July 11, 2010

What does HITECH mean to the average person?

What does HITECH mean to the average person? It means change, hopefully for the better, but most don't really know how and few are aware of how significant these changes will be (if I get any say). While I think we need to all be more educated patients, it isn't going to happen overnight.

This was highlighted to me over the weekend as I attended a large family gathering celebrating the 70th birthday of my brother-in-law. In my travels this summer I get to talk to a lot of different people, including many who work in healthcare. I have a large number of extended family and many friends who also work in the healthcare field. A lot of them know vaguely what I do for a living, more so now that it's gotten so much attention. The people at this party who had a clue about what I do increased 10-fold over a similar gathering five years ago.

As I listened to stories told around the party related to healthcare, I heard the same kinds of anecdotes that we are all familiar with. How simple solutions could have saved much anguish, or how complex it was to navigate through so many various systems.

Almost all of the story-tellers had no awareness about the standards used to exchange information, how healthcare IT works (or any IT for that matter). Few, even inside of the healthcare field, had any real understanding about the HITECH / ARRA laws and regulations that will affect them. A few had heard something about HIPAA because they've either seen (or been trained on if they work in healthcare) HIPAA privacy notices. Few had any real understanding of how our healthcare system works (including me).

With all of the heady attention that healthcare standards and healthcare IT has gotten in the media lately in this country, it was very good to listen to these friends and family. They remind me what is really important. It's not the standards, the system, or the healthcare IT, it is the people involved in providing and receiving healthcare; especially the latter.

My father once told me that the purpose of getting through high-school was to learn what you needed to do to live, and that the purpose of college was to learn what you needed to do to make a living. If you think back to what you learned in high-school, you probably learned how to do enough math to cook a meal, buy groceries, balance a checkbook, tip your waiter and pay your taxes. You learned enough history to know that politics is not fun. You learned how to type, or use a computer. And in grade school, you learned how to read and write.

But did you learn enough in high-school to evaluate a health-insurance program, or coordinate healthcare for your aging parents, or get access to your medical records, or keep track of your medical history? I know I didn't, nor did many of the people telling their healthcare horror stories this weekend. All of their experience had to come the hard way.

My advice for my colleagues in this field is to channel your grand-parents, your parents, and other family members and friends that you know. Remember their healthcare horror stories, and become advocates for them.

Remember also the nurse, technician, clerk, administrator and other staffer as well as the doctor who has to work with (or in some cases around) the IT systems in healthcare. For every doctor who goes near a computer, there are probably 10-20 more people behind him or her that keep things moving.

Part of the reason I’m on this trip across the country is to teach my children something about the country they live in. I need to remember also to teach them what they need to know about our system of healthcare.


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