Q: What kind of leadership can policymakers or professional associations provide that would help in the rollout of all these [health IT] initiatives?
MP: Standards. If we had standards around the patient identifier, if we had standards around transported data or even data standards, all of this would still be difficult, but much more straightforward. Interfaces would be easier. Security would be easier. We didn’t address those upfront, but I think we’re at least getting around to that discussion. Policymakers could have set standards and that would’ve made it much easier.
[Professional associations] are trying, but I think they’ve tried for 30 years to get standards in place. I personally think it’s the government’s role to step in and solve this problem.
Probst's view of the immediate benefits of standards is correct, and if I detect some frustration in his words then I understand that too. I can't comment in detail on the last 30 years of development in health IT, but I know the structural changes driving connected IT in health today just weren't there in earlier times. In the insurance industry, we've been connected for hundreds of years. When we say data is the lifeblood of the industry, we're not kidding. That wasn't formerly obvious in the health professions where the lifeblood is, well, blood.
As data collection, management, exchange, and analysis become more central to healthcare delivery and innovation, the need for standards becomes more acute. I believe industry associations are best placed to produce and promote relevant standards, because standards must be generated by and for the people who need them. Government's role is to encourage, facilitate, and connect groups where necessary – and maybe bang a few heads together. CIO Q&A