Change is never easy. And the more sweeping it is — the more individuals who are affected — the more difficult it is to find a solution that’s amenable to all. The ARRA HITECH Act was no exception. Launched nearly a decade ago, the bill has had its share of stumbles, but most agree it has helped drive the industry forward in terms of health IT adoption.
That’s not to say it hasn’t had its share of critics: including Marc Probst, longtime CIO at Intermountain Health, who was on the Federal Health IT Committee at the time of the game-changing legislation. And while he — along with others — still has reservations about the money spent, he gladly admits that “what it’s done around innovation has been tremendous.”
And, like the progress the health IT industry has seen since the last decade, he hasn’t slowed down. In addition to the Policy Committee, Probst has served as chair on CHIME’s Public Policy Steering Committee and Foundation Board, offered testimony on Capitol Hill, and presented at several briefings in Washington, D.C. In recognition of these efforts, he received the 2018 CHIME Federal Policy Award for CIO Leadership.
“Marc always puts the patient at the center in any healthcare IT initiative or policy involving healthcare IT,” said Liz Johnson, chief innovation officer of Acute Care Hospitals & Applied Clinical Informatics at Tenet Healthcare Corporation, in a CHIME announcement.
The hard work, however, is far from over. At the recent CHIME Advocacy Summit, we had a chance to speak with Probst about what he believes are the key priorities from a policy standpoint, the progress we’re making when it comes to establishing a patient ID, how Intermountain Healthcare is partnering with CHIME to drive innovation, and why advocacy is so important to him.
Gamble: Hi Marc, congratulations on receiving this award. Clearly, advocacy has been a priority for you for a quite some time. Why do you feel it’s so important to carve out time and participate in discussions?
Probst: Healthcare itself is a public issue. We are small, locally-owned and locally-run organizations, but health is a public issue; it’s a federal issue. And we all need to be interested.
But I think there are specific policy issues that need to be taken care of at the federal level, and I felt it was important to become involved with that.
Gamble: In what specific areas do you devote most of your energy?
Probst: There are so many issues out there that impact the work our providers are doing. I honestly don’t know how government agencies keep track of everything. For me personally, I tend to focus largely on standardization and interoperability.
Part of the standardization piece, of course, is patient identification. Having a national identifier would simplify a lot of the work we do on the technology side, while also improving patient care.
That’s a big area of interest to me.
Gamble: Are you satisfied with the progress that’s being made on that front?
Probst: Based on what we heard today [from Elise Sweeney Anthony, Executive Director, ONC Office of Policy], it sounds like ONC is willing to work with us, but can’t talk about it.
But that’s progress. If you don’t recognize the problem, you’re not going to do anything about it. I think the federal government has recognized the problem, and now they’re trying to figure out how to solve it. What makes it more challenging is that we have a divided Congress, and so it’s really hard to get things moving. But I’m hopeful.
Gamble: What about innovation – do you think the industry is turning the corner as far as leveraging new tools or ideas to improve care delivery?
Probst: It’s interesting. I served on the HIT Policy Committee for several years. And when Meaningful Use was initially introduced, I’ll admit I didn’t agree with all of it, but we came out with it. Through the Stimulus Program, billions of dollars were funneled to fund electronic records. I wondered at the time if that was an effective use of taxpayer dollars — I still question whether it was.
But what it’s done around innovation and our whole technology industry has been tremendous, and that’s going to be good for patients. It already is. And we haven’t nearly reached our potential in terms of how we can leverage technology to advance health and improve care.
Gamble: Intermountain has a long history of fostering innovation. Can you talk about what the approach has been, and how the organization is partnering with CHIME?
Probst: We had something called the Transformation Lab for about six years. That’s where we did all of our focused innovation — for example, our telehealth came out of that, because at the time, there weren’t telehealth tools at the time we could use. We also look at things like 3D-printing and imaging. And that was great, but we wanted to do something bigger and broader.
And so we built a transformation center that will house institutes and programs that are transforming the way care is provided. We’re working with CHIME to identify great ideas and investment opportunities and bring them to market.
The idea was born out of a desire to share ideas internationally. I recently gave a presentation in India — the topic actually wasn’t innovation — and I stopped midway through and said, there’s a great idea in this room that will save lives and lower the cost of healthcare. But there’s no way for you to get it out of this room and make it a reality. And so we started working with CHIME’s Innovation Center on this concept.
We were the first organization to build a center, but I suspect there will be others popping up in the U.S., along with the UK, Israel, India, etc. Think about the potential of bringing ideas together; it’s huge. Through this initiative, we want to develop a global language around innovation. This way, everyone is coming up with different ways to share ideas — instead, we’re creating a standard for sharing ideas.
Gamble: One of the challenges, of course, is the fact that there’s quite a bit of divisiveness. When it comes to health IT, have you found it to be a barrier, or are they open to having discussions?
Probst: When it comes to pure healthcare issues, they’re certainly open. They might go behind closed doors and wonder what it gets them — that’s where you get the divisiveness. But they’re good people, and the staff who work for them are amazing. They’re smart, hard-working individuals who are genuinely interested in improving care.
It is still a bipartisan issue, and that’s what makes it exciting to come to Washington. You can see what people are doing, and I believe we’re making a difference. I believe people who advocate and work together can made a difference, and it’s great to be part of that.