HIT or miss: health information technology comes of age

Larry Bannister and Mark JohnsonTwo alumni attend White House event to discuss state of the field

One of the critical components of today's health care system is electronic information. That comes in many forms – from electronic health records to smartphone apps to population health data. Indeed, the federal government finds health information technology (HIT) so important that it has an Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Larry Bannister, M.B.I. '11 (Biomedical Informatics), and Mark A. Johnson, M.D., Allied Health Certificate in Biomedical Informatics '11, are two of thousands of professionals on the HIT front lines, wrangling the promise and quirks of technology in support of better health care.

Both are graduates of the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology. Bannister is currently a test manager for the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, an independent nonprofit testing organization. He manages the testing process of electronic health records for compliance with meaningful use criteria.

Dr. Johnson is an attending physician at the Carle Health System ICU in Urbana, Illinois. Having recently completed a fellowship in critical care medicine at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Dr. Johnson is augmenting his clinical work with informatics, working for hospital's chief medical information officer to help optimize care processes in the ICU. Those include workflows, usability, quality, meaningful use and patient safety.

On June 19, the two joined a select group of 100 or so physicians, health care policy leaders and IT professionals in an invitation-only meeting with senior Obama Administration and ONC officials to discuss the state of HIT and how it can help improve patient care quality and health. Bannister, who was nominated by Bill Hersh, M.D., chair and professor of medical informatics & clinical epidemiology to attend the meeting, represented the department at the event.

Among the topics covered: meaningful use achievement, challenges and solutions; increasing HIT adoption for providers in underserved communities; leveraging HIT for quality improvement and interoperability and exchange, the two reported.

"Overall this group was quite positive and hopeful for the role of HIT in improving patient health," said Dr. Johnson. "Many problems still need attention, including the health information exchange, usability, workflow and vendor relations. Yet, it was heartening to see the ONC was already aware of many of these issues and was open to hearing new ones. Despite problems, we, as a nation, have been busy updating our health systems through technology. 110,000 eligible providers and 2,400 hospitals ­48 percenthave met meaningful use criteria. These have been incentivized by legislation from the stimulus package and furthered with the Affordable Care Act."

"My sense is that the state of HIT is similar to that of technology in 1995 when Microsoft was dominant but before the Internet was widely adopted," added Dr. Johnson. "Adoption of HIT has provided for numerous efficiencies when compared with paper. But compared to the broader technological advances of the past 15 years, HIT is lagging. I'm hoping that it will continue to progress and be more responsive to users."

Bannister shared his perspective. "I see the promise of HIT as a way to improve patient safety and as a possible tool for driving down the cost of health care. I don't see HIT as a panacea, however.  It is only a tool and we must use this tool wisely, as well as implement appropriate policies and practices to get the most out of it. The only issues that truly concern me are privacy and security.  As a software engineer, I know there are many solutions to the technical problems that HIT poses but, in my opinion, we should always choose the solutions that preserve our privacy and maximize our security. My concern arises out of the tendency that I see in my M.D. colleagues to sacrifice privacy and security issues to attain greater patient safety, which I see as unwise.  And they are not alone; some health information exchange proponents also have this bent. If we can steer a course that ensures greater privacy and security then I think there will be greater public acceptance of HIT and a bright future."

"The main benefit I got from this White House experience was a feeling of being at the right place at the right time for this technology," added Bannister.  "I am jazzed to be riding the 'next big wave' in technology."


Pictured: Larry Bannister (left) and Mark Johnson