Belated NAHIT report

In case you didn’t notice, I never did post any updates from the AMA or NAHIT conferences last week. My iHealthBeat column covered my thoughts from the AMA. (See previous post.)

National health IT czar Dr. David Brailer keynoted at the NAHIT meeting. He again touted the power of the free markets, but said that it is “appropriate for the government to lead when private efforts are insufficient.”

Brailer called his office “traffic cop” for all health IT efforts within the federal government, which includes the Consolidated Health Informatics initiative, the National Health Information Infrastructure project and collaborations between the public and private sectors.

He will unveil his strategic plan for national IT implementation on July 21 at the second national NHII conference in Washington.

Brailer did offer a few hints of the plan. Some elements his office is considering include supporting technology at the point of care, interoperability and determining how to invest in technology so patients can reap the benefits.

Brailer acknowledged that private entities “are trying to take their cues from Washington,” but all but ruled out any mandates along the lines of HIPAA.

“This is a call to arms for the private sector,” Brailer said.

He said that the case for quality already has been made, so he is turning his attention toward the business case from the perspectives of the healthcare enterprise, the payer and society as a whole.

“No one has looked at the returns on investment of healthcare IT in terms of its impact on other industries,” Brailer said in a post-speech press conference. He suggested that health plans should look at improved productivity and a decline in lost work days for their customers, better known as employers.

The other NAHIT keynote came from a Washington-based AARP lobbyist, who made broad, soundbite-friendly pronouncements like: “AARP does support the potential of IT to improve the quality of healthcare.”

But he offered no specifics, even when pressed by certain reporter types. The organization, which was front and center in the debate over the much-maligned Medicare drug benefit adopted last year, has not taken a stand on legislation to fund the cost of health IT.

A NAHIT publicist explained that AARP joined the alliance about a year ago as a means of educating its leadership about this issue. Clearly, they have a lot more learning to do.