I’m back from a whirlwind tour of the Northeast, full of planes (into DCA, out of BWI), trains (subways in Chicago, NYC and DC, plus Maryland commuter rail), automobiles (a long stretch of I-95) and high-ranking HHS officials.

In addition to a family party north of New York City, I hit the HIMSS, NAHIT and AHRQ conferences in New York and Washington last week. (If you don’t know what the acronyms mean, click the links.)

A lot of what I saw I reported for Health-IT World News and on an earlier post on this blog, so I won’t repeat. But here are a few more random notes:

  • Brent James, M.D., executive director of the Institute for Health Care Delivery Research at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, called HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt a “techno-geek.” Leavitt proudly accepted this designation. I suppose that can’t be a bad thing for health IT.

    Leavitt mentioned that he has had a health savings account since January. Of course, he is privy to the supposedly excellent health benefits offered to federal employees, so he’s just trying to drum up support for HSAs and other “consumer-driven” options. The jury remains out.

  • Despite the supposed bipartisan support for pending health IT legislation, a panel of congressional staffers at the AHRQ meeting highlighted some important differences of opinion, even within parties. For example, an aide to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) noted that the government is moving more slowly than the private sector in terms of promoting health IT adoption. He said, “One of the most important things we can do is not get in the way.”

    One audience member challenged this strategy because Medicare payment incentives are not aligned with the goal of increasing the usage of clinical IT and improving the quality of care. This person did not identify party affiliation, but a Republican staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee insisted that government should focus on where it has the “most leverage,” namely Medicare.

    Later, HHS national health IT coordinator David Brailer, M.D., said, “My advice is do not wait for the federal government. Our job is to catch up with you.”

    Brailer also said that government officials are still shooting for Aug. 1 release date for VistA Office EHR, an ambulatory version of the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ open-source EHR.

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that it was pretty much impossible to write one bill to cure what ails something that accounts for 15 percent of gross national product, namely healthcare. He said that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) agrees. However, he voiced his strong support for the Kennedy-Murphy bill in the House. “It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a very important step in the right direction,” Gingrich said.

  • The Medical Group Management Association received more than 3,500 responses on the use of health IT in physician practices and is preparing a report for publication in Health Affairs. The only hint of the results I got is that, while cost remains the No. 1 factor in IT purchasing decisions, others are gaining in importance.

  • By next year, UnitedHealthcare is planning on having personal health records embedded in the eligibility and payment cards it distributes to members, according to Senior Vice President Reed Tuckson, M.D.