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Trying To Get Excited About Mass. Health Information 'Golden Spike'

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(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

I try to keep my Dogs of Snark reined in, but I was just so helplessly baffled by the state's "Golden Spike" event yesterday that I asked an expert on health information technology for a scathing comment. The reply: "I think it reflects the abysmal state of low expectations given the thin gruel served up by current health IT."

Let me stipulate: What happened yesterday — the official opening of a state Healthcare Information Exchange that's being likened to the golden spike that launched the intercontinental railroad — is surely a wonderful thing. It should become far easier for hospitals and doctors to share medical information. Dr. John Halamka blogs on his Life As A Healthcare CIO that state history was made:

"At 11:35 am Governor Deval [Patrick] and his physician sent the Governor's healthcare record from Massachusetts General Hospital to Baystate Medical Center. It arrived and was integrated into Baystate's Cerner medical record. The Massachusetts HIE [Healthcare Information Exchange] is now open for business."

Read the full post for his description of the appalling health information disconnects that his wife encountered in her breast cancer care. He concludes ringingly:

"Just as the original golden spike in 1869 issued in a new era of connectness, so does today's HIT [Health Information Technology] golden spike change business as usual in Massachusetts. Over the next year, we'll be building new "bridges", ensuring that every payer, provider, and payer can join the ecosystem. Here's to innovation!"

I'm all for innovation. But in a world where a billion people are connected on Facebook, how do I get excited about a medical record crossing a state? Instead, I just get depressed at the tremendous obstacles that have tended to keep health information technology from keeping pace with the rest of this brave new technological world. A June "Perspective" article in The New England Journal of Medicine points out that doctors are "increasingly bound to documentation and communication products that are functionally decades behind those they use in their 'civilian' life."

Dan Munro, a contributor to Forbes magazine, expresses the disturbing contrast here better than I ever could. He compares the inspiring technological feat of Felix Baumgartner's 24-mile fall to earth Sunday — including YouTube's ability to stream the event live over 8 million concurrent streams — with the 'Golden Spike' press release he received. He writes:

The juxtaposition here is truly embarrassing and reflective of just how far adrift our Governmental healthcare IT thinking seems to have become. Felix Baumgartner is pushing the boundaries of human achievement from quite literally the edge of space – with some breathtaking technology (both aloft and here on terra firma) and the State of Massachusetts is looking for National recognition and applause for “Sending [the] First Electronic Health Record from Boston to Springfield.” The Federal Government has already spent billions – with billions more in the pipeline – to transition to Electronic Health Records – and the leading State in many of our healthcare IT efforts wants to announce with National fanfare the equivalent of a point-to-point telegraph transmission?

His full piece is worth a read, and if you want to correct him — and me — about the state of health information technology, we welcome comments below.

This program aired on October 17, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.