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Glaser Talks About Healthcare's Challenges, Opportunities

When longtime Partners Healthcare CIO John Glaser leaves his position in mid-August to join Siemens Healthcare as CEO of its Health Services Business Unit, he'll be bringing along solid, on-the-ground experience and insightful perspective about the many challenges facing the healthcare industry.

When longtime Partners Healthcare CIO John Glaser leaves his position in mid-August to join Siemens Healthcare as CEO of its Health Services Business Unit, he'll be bringing along solid, on-the-ground experience and insightful perspective about the many challenges facing the healthcare industry.Not only did Glaser serve for 15 years as CIO of Partners--a Boston area integrated health delivery systems with several hospitals, including Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's--Glaser in March finished up a nearly year-long stint as an advisor to Obama's health IT czar, Dr. David Blumenthal and his team. On top of all that, Glaser's stint at Partners included being a customer of Siemens.

Among the services Partners gets from Siemens is hosting of various clinical and financial applications via Siemens Healthcare's Information Systems Center, which is major part of the Health Services Business unit that Glaser will lead as CEO.

The Siemens ISC data center in Malvern, Pa. processes more than 200 million clinical and financial transactions per day for about 1,000 U.S. hospitals and healthcare organizations, including Partners. In fact, about 40% of the U.S. population has medical data hosted at the facility, according to Siemens.

Going to Siemens, Glaser brings experience from his long tenure at Partners, which included working with corporate leaders, clinicians, IT teams and others--as well knowledge from his recent work with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Service's Office of National Coordinator as details of HITECH Act programs--including meaningful use--were being hammered out.

Glaser finished up his advisory stint with ONC in March, so while he says he doesn't know the specifics of what will be contained in the final meaningful use rules expected to be released soon by the government, Glaser understands and can relate to the difficulties faced by the healthcare industry and healthcare CIOs.

"I've lived and breathed this experience for 20 years. I've lived in their shoes," Glaser said in an interview this week with InformationWeek. "I have scar tissue to prove that."

The healthcare industry is undergoing some of the biggest changes and turmoil it's faced in decades, he said.

"There are external pressures on healthcare at all levels, big and small," he said. "Meaningful use isn't a one-shot deal, there are many encores coming," he said.

"HITECH is laying the foundation of interoperability," he said.

Moving ahead, not only will healthcare organizations need to be mindful of their own data and systems, but the sharing of data among communities of healthcare providers--including competing organizations--through health information exchanges will bring new challenges. Those includes new concerns about whether the systems at those other entities that are part of the exchanges are up and running, reliable and secure, he said.

"What's coming is a co-dependency on systems," he said.

As for the laggard healthcare providers who still haven't started their meaningful use preparation, "procrastinate in peril," Glaser warns.

Beyond HITECH, "even if you think you'll be ok taking the financial penalties [for non-compliance to meaningful use starting in 2015], it will snow ball," said Glaser.

"There are 18 sections about payment reform in the healthcare reform package that passed," he said. "The bar is rising and will continue to ratchet up with payment reform, efficiency demands, quality demands," he said. All of this "exposes your organizations to growing circumstances," he said.

Once he starts the new job at Siemens, Glaser's broad goal is to help healthcare players navigate and conquer those many challenges.

"IT can make dramatic improvements in healthcare quality and efficiencies, it can have profound impact," he said. Software and services providers like Siemens can help healthcare organizations achieve those improvements, but "no matter how good you are, you always want to raise the bar," he said.

So, what will Glaser miss most about Partners? "The people…the deep friendships," he said.

But beyond that, there's something deeper he'll miss but will take with him to Siemens.

I've never forget being in the elevator at one of our facilities with lung cancer patient" who was very ill, he said. The feeling and realization that "'I'm here to help,' that was something very vivid I'll always remember," he said. "You are there to help, and it's a poignancy I'll miss," he said.

"There's nothing like walking down the hallways [of a hospital] and getting a chance to see the clinicians and the patients," he said.

"There's always a member of the staff to provide feedback," and that's invaluable to a CIO, "even when it stings," he said.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on this year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference. This report offers the best healthcare IT advice, insight, and analysis coming out of that conference. Download the report here (registration required).

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