During his 14-year tenure with HIMSS, Tom Leary has seen quite a bit of change, particularly when it comes to IT’s role in transforming care. And there was never a more pivotal time than his first three years, when the number of pieces of legislation impacting health IT rose from 1 to 98. Since then, the organization’s influence has only increased, and at the center of it is the Government Relations team, a group that works to leverage the knowledge and experience of CIOs and other leaders to inform policy development.
Recently, we spoke with Leary about the legislative and regulatory wish lists HIMSS has created, which covers a range of topics, including cybersecurity and telehealth components; the relationships his team is building with Secretary Tom Price, Dr. Don Rucker, and other key players; the process they use to draft responses to regulatory requirements; and what he believes makes the health IT community so “unique.”
- Getting to know Dr. Rucker & Seema Verma – “It’s all about relationship building.”
- Health IT as a bipartisan issue
- Secretary Price’s history with HIMSS
- From 1 to 98 pieces of legislation
- The opportunity with interoperability
- CIOs & best practice sharing – “That’s what makes the health IT community unique.”
Regardless of the approach you take with healthcare transformation, it all seems to rely on the secure transfer of the right information about the right patient to the right provider at the right time. And so everyone seem to embrace the fact that health IT needs to be part of the solution.
We pride ourselves on being credible in leveraging the ‘boots on ground’ perspective of our members. They’re the ones that will be impacted most by new regulations, and therefore, we really want to make sure that when it to comes to care delivery and cost-containment issues, the voice of the individual is represented.
That dramatic push to get to a point where organizations are technologically capable of sharing data with their neighbors so that we can provide better and more cost-effective care has been wonderful to watch.
We haven’t completely solved interoperability. There is certainly an opportunity for improvement. But if you look at where we were versus where we are, I think the future is very bright with respect to how technology can support data flow so that providers can make the right decisions.
Leary: Absolutely. The nice thing is that some of our friends in health IT are now in the administration, so we’re beginning to make inroads and speak with them to understand their priorities. Dr. Donald Rucker, the new National Coordinator for Health IT, has been an active participant in both local and national dialogue with HIMSS, whether it involves certification or standards. He’s an informatician by training and an impassioned individual, as is Seema Verma, the new CMS administrator. We’re getting to know how she and her team will be engaging in Medicare, and leveraging her experience with Medicaid to advance some of the modularization. We’re very interested in having that dialogue with her.
Gamble: Have you already begun some of the discussions with the new officials?
Leary: Yes, and I think we’re making some good inroads. As you can well imagine, they’ve been very much focused on healthcare reform activities around the Affordable Care Act. We’re not actively engaged in the repeal and replace discussion because it’s based more on insurance than the health IT component of care delivery. But we are starting to make those relationships.
Gamble: One of the things we always hear is that health IT is a bipartisan issue. Do you believe it’s going to stay that way?
Leary: I really do believe it will, because regardless of the approach you take with healthcare transformation, it all seems to rely on the secure transfer of the right information about the right patient to the right provider at the right time. And so everyone seem to embrace the fact that health IT needs to be part of the solution. In fact, we had a few staffers comment during HIMSS17 that based on all the other issues they have to address within healthcare, health IT is a great opportunity to maintain bipartisanship.
Leary: We’ve invited him to HIMSS18, hopefully he’ll be able to attend. We had a good professional relationship with Secretary Price when he was a member of Congress. He was a longtime supporter of the Institute for e-Health Policy and our Capitol Hill luncheon seminar series. He has spoken at local HIMSS events as well as our Government Health IT Conference in Washington, and he’s been to our annual conference once at least as a member Congress. And in fact, during HIMSS10 in Atlanta, he spoke at our public policy breakfast.
So he knows what HIMSS brings to the discussion. But now that he’s in his new position as secretary, we’re very interested in engaging with him on many of the topics that we identified in our letter to the President at the start of the new administration.
Gamble: It seems like it’s definitely a process, and something that requires patience.
Leary: Absolutely. It’s all about relationship building. We pride ourselves on being credible in leveraging the ‘boots on ground’ perspective of our members. They’re the ones that will be impacted most by new regulations, and therefore, we really want to make sure that when it to comes to care delivery and cost-containment issues, the voice of the individual is represented. That’s what we want to emphasize to the new administration. And we have the benefit of some individuals from the White House Team being HIMSS members — and interacting with HIMSS members — in their past lives, and so we want to make sure we maintain that credible, thought leadership voice.
Leary: It’s been very exciting. The first year I was on the HIMSS staff, there was one piece of legislation in Congress that was tangentially impactful on health IT. It involved the patient Bill of Rights, and included provisions for health IT. The following year we had seven pieces of legislation, and by the third year it was 98 pieces. Everyone was starting to realize that Health IT could have a positive impact on care transformation.
And then we got to the Meaningful Use program, which is really the foundation of care transformation. That was key in getting the right data on the right patient to the right provider, as well as improving outcomes by ensuring providers have both quality indicators and information on the individual. Seeing that evolution from my earliest memory of being a HIMSS staffer has been incredible.
We’ve all heard the saying that it takes 17 years for a best practice to become ubiquitous throughout the healthcare system. I’d like to think that timeline has shrunk dramatically. If you look at the EMR adoption model, the reason we have a Stage Zero is that when we rolled out HIMSS Analytics EMRAM the first year, 30 percent of hospitals in the United States were below what was then Stage 1, so we had Stage Zero.
If you look at EMRAM now, less than 2 percent are in Stage Zero. That dramatic push to get to a point where organizations are technologically capable of sharing data with their neighbors so that we can provide better and more cost-effective care has been wonderful to watch. That was the vision of the early 2000’s.
Gamble: The industry really has come a long way. And in that same vein, I’m sure it will be interesting to see how things move forward, especially in terms of the move to value-based care and health IT’s role in that.
Leary: Absolutely. And we haven’t completely solved interoperability. There is certainly an opportunity for improvement. But if you look at where we were versus where we are, I think the future is very bright with respect to how technology can support data flow so that providers can make the right decisions based on best practices and guidelines that are no longer taking 17 years to get to them.
Leary: The CIOs I’ve interacted with over the years have always wanted to share what they’ve learned with others. I think that’s what makes the health IT community very unique and wonderful. If you look at some of the tools that have been developed by HIMSS and other organizations, they’ve been created by folks on behalf of the rest of the community. The earliest product I was exposed to from a HIMSS perspective was a book on e-prescribing — this was when they still printed books. At this point, about 1 percent of healthcare was doing this. And so the book included testimonies from people saying, ‘this is what we experienced. These are the pitfalls you want to avoid and this is the path you should take.’
This has played out time and time again over the years. What we have found is that CIOs want to implement the tools that can improve care quality, improve the patient and family experience, and improve the provider experience. I would say that’s also the case for their partners, whether it’s consultants, vendors, or any of the staff. For the health IT community, the approach has been, ‘give us a problem and we’ll figure out how to solve it.’ And they all work together to do that.
Gamble: Well said. I want to thank you so much for your time. It’s been very interesting hearing about your role, and I look forward to speaking again in the future.
Leary: Absolutely, I appreciate the opportunity.