Health IT needs more functionality, CIO says

IHS CIO Cullen says improved health IT could help track disease outbreaks

Federal health agencies should create more functionality as they implement information technology systems and health care reforms, Dr. Theresa Cullen, chief information officer of the Indian Health Service, said today.

“Health care needs a new operating system,” Cullen said at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. “We need to add functionality — and not just at the point of care.”

One needed tool is the ability to use up-to-date clinical health data to serve as a relatively fast indicator of emerging disease outbreaks, such as swine flu, she said. There are significant lag times in existing disease-tracking systems. Using medical claims data presents a similar time lag problem, so it is better to use clinical data, she added.

As the Obama administration writes rules for implementing the economic stimulus law’s incentives for health IT and expansion of health information exchange, it has an opportunity to incorporate requirements for public health and population health reporting, Cullen said.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to get early sentinel awareness” of emerging diseases, she said.

Furthermore, as providers begin electronically storing and exchanging trillions of patient health records, it is unclear who will provide the server and network capacity to manage all that data, Cullen said. She added that cloud computing could be a solution.

“Will it be in the cloud?” Cullen asked. “I doubt that it will be on my servers.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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