While IT Dazzles Healthcare, HIM Provides Vital Human Touch

Every day, health information management (HIM) is making a difference in real-life situations, as demonstrated by examples offered in Monday’s general session.

AHIMA President Angela Kennedy, EdD, MBA, RHIA, told the story of how recent experiences in her family have given her a new appreciation of the role of health information as a consumer. Earlier this year, Kennedy said her family was shocked to learn that her daughter, Gracie, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 11.

Gracie was adopted and she had almost no family medical history. Kennedy said she was careful to spell this out at all doctor visits. But after collecting her daughter’s records, Kennedy said she was surprised to see that “an identical statement appeared on every history and physical in her record for nine years: ‘The mother states there is no family medical history of genetic or immune disorder.’”

This was “clearly a copy/paste or copy forward,” Kennedy said. “That one critical statement meant that cystic fibrosis had never even been considered in the nine years we were seen at the asthma and allergy clinic.”

Kennedy’s daughter is receiving treatment and doing well, she says. But the experience brought home “why a commitment to the consumer must be made that we can provide health information where and when they need it,” she said. “I challenge you to make a conscious effort to be visible to consumers, to be an advocate for the use of personal health information.”

AHIMA CEO Urges Higher Education

In her speech, AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, quoted a long-term study where patients who had undergone radical mastectomies were not found to have better outcomes than patients who had undergone less invasive treatments. As a result, “countless women have been spared lifelong pain and disfigurement. That’s the power of our knowledge. That is the power of our information,” Gordon said.

But Gordon pointed out that “Computers enable innovation and create opportunities. But technology and computers also replace things…and people.”

She urged the audience to get additional education for future careers and to “make the most of your hidden opportunities.”

“Recognize that today’s administrators have a real reason to be interested in what we do to use data as it transitions from knowledge and then to health intelligence,” Gordon said.

She pointed to AHIMA tools that can help members in this process, including new curriculum competencies and the online HIM Career Map.

“Everyone here has glimpsed the potential in the chaos. This is the time to really make our mark,” Gordon said. “The fact that you are here tells me you are prepared to learn and grow, to be one of those who will take ownership of your future.”

ONC Tackles Interoperability Head On

Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, the national coordinator for health information technology, gave the audience a preview of future planning being done at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

Noting that “today is my 259th day” in office, DeSalvo looked back at ONC’s first 10 years, noting that things heated up in 2009 when HITECH funding helped catalyze the marketplace. Now, as the “meaningful use” EHR Incentive Program moves into stage 2, “we are learning a lot about technology, people, and processes will bear,” she said. As development begins on stage 3, “we are listening” to the industry, DeSalvo said, to make sure the next iteration meets policy goals but is flexible and “doesn’t crush medicine along the way.”

Interoperability is a priority as well. ONC released its 10-year roadmap for interoperability in June, but “we cannot wait 10 years to get this done,” DeSalvo said.

An important part of the interoperability puzzle is learning how to govern data.

“That is the biggest challenge we face. Data is coming at us, and it doesn’t fit neatly into a governance package,” DeSalvo said.

ONC is currently refreshing its federal health IT strategic plan, last updated in 2011, and setting priorities for the next five years “to advance HIT beyond EHRs,” DeSalvo said. The plan is expected to be publicly released in January, and DeSalvo urged the audience to comment on it.

“We really want your feedback; this is for you. This is what we are doing on your behalf,” she said.

The Future is Here

Healthcare futurist Eric Topol, MD, described how medicine will become more individualized, with data captured by mobile devices used to track vital signs and diagnose conditions and diseases. Soon smartphones will even be used to take X-rays.

“This is the new selfie,” Topol said.

He envisions a day when individuals will do much of their own diagnosing and “doctors will be involved in treatment, healing, and communication.” This, he said, will truly be the era of “democratized medicine,” thanks to digital technology. “The end of medicine as we know it” is coming, Topol said, and HIM will lead the way.


Catch up on the news and get insights from AHIMA’s 86th annual Convention and Exhibit held September 27-October 2 in San Diego, CA. For a complete list of event coverage on the Journal of AHIMA website, click here.

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