Health IT Noted in State of the Union

During last night’s State of the Union address President Obama spoke of Health IT (HIT). He touted a Veterans Administration HIT success story and envisioned a future that benefits from increased application of HIT. On the success story:

Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.

The reference is to VistA, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture. VistA provides each veteran access to his/her Electronic Health Record (EHR). It allows pracitioners to view and update a patient’s EHR and to order medications, procedures, X-rays, lab tests and more.

Despite the recent attention, VistA is no overnight success story. It has roots in VA systems that date back to the 1980s. Parts of it were developed in MUMPS, the healthcare industry programming language created in the 1960s and still widely in use.

Turning toward the future of HIT, the President noted:

Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. More broadband access means patients will be able to have face-to-face video chats with their doctors.

The VistA story and the President’s vision for the future highlight some of the challenges facing HIT professionals today. VistA’s success lies in exposing legacy systems and data using today’s web technologies to provide a secure, user friendly experience. So one challenge is to leverage existing IT investments, such as the MUMPS applications, and introduce new technologies only when they add value. This saves cost while using tried and true technologies.

Another challenge is whether to build custom solutions, implement off the shelf solutions or leverage third party services. Should we use the FaceTime iPhone app to facilitate doctor-patient chats or contract service providers to implement and support solutions like the NowClinic service offered to its patients by private insurer OptimumHealth Group? There is undoubtedly room for both in the growing HIT market and each potential user will benefit from evaluating the available technologies to identify the best fit for each new deployment.