“I feel like I’m among friends,” said Andrew Gettinger, MD, chief medical information officer of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, during his presentation at Monday’s General Session. Gettinger presented his views on issues important to health information management (HIM) practice during his presentation on health IT safety, quality, and data management.
Gettinger flagged healthcare’s lack of a patient identifier—or “individual safety identifier,” as he called it—as a concern. “Until we can consistently identify patients… we are going to continue to struggle” to ensure patient safety, he said. Gettinger noted that a prohibition on discussion of a patient identifier has been in place since 1998, an issue raised earlier this year by AHIMA’s myHealthID petition campaign. But times have changed, he said. “Right now, folks at Google know more about your medical information than your doctors,” Gettinger said. “Our concerns could, perhaps, be revisited now.”
He noted that a US House Committee-approved appropriations bill this summer included language that encouraged study of the patient identifier issue, and he is cautiously optimistic. “I think we will have a solution in the near term,” Gettinger said.
As a physician, Gettinger said he also understands the importance of completion of patient documentation in a timely manner. “There is no reason [physicians] can’t complete your documentation… in a much shorter period of time” no matter the format, he said, drawing applause from the audience. He cited an example of a physician who typically took 45 days to complete his documentation. “We have said it’s okay to let that happen, and it’s not, really,” he said.
HIM professionals will be key players as healthcare continues to transition to the electronic realm, helping to iron out issues like record retention in an electronic environment. “You will be the important players at the table to help [physicians] understand issues, and why they have to make investments that don’t make sense right away,” he said. HIM will also be at the front lines of new challenges like telemedicine and patient-generated data. “You are going to be the folks who actually do this. You are the on-the-ground folks with expertise in informatics,” he said. “I am so excited about your organization’s leadership and your collective commitment to this future.”
‘We Can’t Fight Epidemics This Way’
Funding for public health and a well-organized response are important factors in the global fight against epidemics, journalist Laurie Garrett told the General Session audience on Monday. Garrett, author of The Coming Plague and other books, said while in many parts of the world life expectancy is increasing and child mortality is decreasing, we are still being caught by surprise by infectious diseases like Ebola. During the most recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, different countries had different responses and as a result had different mortality rates. Liberia, for example, implemented public health strategies and practices to successfully control the outbreak, while in Sierra Leone the opposite was true.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, when the disease initially emerged “the response was giant boredom across the world,” until a few cases popped up in the US, when “fear became our epidemic,” Garrett said. Even worse, she said, the financial resources pledged to fight the disease by the US and other nations and entities never fully materialized where they were needed.
The recent outbreak of the Zika virus offers an opportunity to learn from the mistakes made during the Ebola epidemic, Garrett said. Recently, the virus—carried by mosquitoes—has been found in a number of countries, including the US. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and it can cause profoundly damaging birth defects. Garrett said funding is needed to answer questions like the long-term outlook for the babies affected by Zika as well as how the virus is transmitted and whether a vaccine can be developed. In the US, federal funding was requested early this year, but it was not approved until late September. “We can’t fight epidemics this way. We cannot answer essential research questions because there has not been the money,” Garrett said.
Conquering infectious disease issues can continue the progress of increasing life expectancy and reducing child mortality across the world, if efforts are approached properly, Garrett said. “What you do is part of helping to make that happen,” she told the audience.
Ali Discussed Importance of Accurate Health Records
World champion boxer and TV personality Laila Ali, daughter of the late boxer Muhammad Ali, talked about her memories of her father and how he coped with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. She said while he understood his diagnosis, he “didn’t live his life like he was sick.” His wife, who was his caretaker, did track his health information, she said. “It’s important to have accurate records so you can see changes.” Ali said she learned “how powerful the mind is” from her father’s positive outlook.