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Dr. Halamka's health IT headlines hit home

A couple recent headlines caught my eye, grouped together: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO Dr. John Halamka’s MIT Technology Review article, The Rise of Electronic Medicine, and a reply to that piece by Ken Terry on FierceHealthIT, “Why Halamka’s health IT predictions might overestimate the future.

Full disclosure: I know both gents personally, and respect them as mentors of sorts. Halamka’s piece lays out the argument that fast-evolving tech and the rapid implementation of genomic data will help pave the way for the fulfillment of federal health IT goals. Terry concludes he’s “too optimistic by half,” because a nationally connected network of public, regional health information exchanges is going to take much longer to build than we think — if it’s built at all — and cloud performance just isn’t evolving as rapidly as needed.

Really, it doesn’t matter which one is right or wrong, or if it happens exactly halfway between one opinion and the other. The fact is, the health care sector is addressing the need — and patient demand — for an electronic data network that is robust and functional, as we have come to rely upon in the retail and financial sectors. In my daily talks with vendors, provider CIOs, analysts and association thought leaders, there’s no question this thing’s getting built.

What matters, I believe, is whether the glass is half-empty or full. Halamka’s is, and shall always be, half full. Or, perhaps more. If nothing else, that perspective — when weighted with his ability to see the big picture in more granular detail than most of us out here in the trenches can, and to explain it intelligently — gives us hope.

We need that, right now, as political discord in Washington during the economy’s darkest hour in a long time casts a shadow on every new technology investment our nearly broke health system makes. At a time when every patient’s retirement fund has been eroded by Wall Street’s gambling ways, and the very future of Social Security is a negotiating chip for next year’s elections, we’re all looking for reasons to believe health care costs, or medical errors, won’t get us all in the end.

It’s all speculation, anyway, as far as I can tell. Halamka helps us keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: More efficient, less costly and ultimately better patient care. Leadership and optimism don’t always go hand in hand, but in this case, it’s welcome. And, judging from the rapid evolution and adoption of new devices like the iPad in health care — Halamka’s a big fan of that, too — it’s hard to bet against his long-range predictions.

Terry’s right, too, with his pragmatic view of how real-world business forces are shaping health care system’s adoption of interoperable health data. I just hope his perspective is too pragmatic. A guy can dream, no?

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Always better 2 view IT half full! RT @HITExchange Why @jhalamka's optmstc #healthIT... hit home @donfluckinger #HITsm
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