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Bill Clinton Stumps For Health IT At HIMSS

Former president touts IT's potential to empower small players in a massive system, as HIMSS pledges $2.5 million to further Clinton Global Initiative goals.
 7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
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Health IT can bring "huge collective clout" to "little people," including small hospitals, lower-income populations and consumers in general, a factor that could help determine whether health reform succeeds or fails, according to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Speaking Wednesday to an overflow crowd at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference in New Orleans, Clinton noted that health IT can improve the cost and quality of access to care in addition to cost and quality of care itself. Clinton said that the ultimate outcome of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act depends on how the 2010 law is implemented, and on decisions that people make outside the framework of the law itself.

"Into this maelstrom, information technology will become very important," the former president said, after describing some of the ills of American healthcare and public health, including an utter lack of cost transparency for consumers. "What lies before us is an imperative to change," Clinton told the largest health IT gathering of the year, a conference that drew more than 35,000 people.

"We need much more transparency in pricing," Clinton said, to a smattering of applause. "There is no correlation between the price people pay and the quality of care they get."

The whole premise of IT is to manage data "so we know what the heck is going on," Clinton continued in his typical, folksy style. "Think about the role of IT to empower people to take a bigger role in healthcare, in being healthy and [in] simply understanding the system," he advised

[ Healthcare has to change, but should it be this dramatic? See HIMSS: Should Healthcare Be More Like Airline Industry? ]

According to Clinton, when systems become entrenched, as obsolete processes have been in healthcare, transactional costs eventually grow unsustainable, creating a climate ripe for innovation. "You can't keep defending the status quo," Clinton said. "We can't continue to spend money in the same way or perpetuate inequities."

The former president's William J. Clinton Foundation last fall started the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in partnership with General Electric, Tenet Healthcare and Verizon Communications, to work toward closing health disparities between different socioeconomic groups in U.S. communities.

A side effect of keeping people healthy is that there will be fewer sick people to treat, according to Clinton. The ex-president talked about his foundation's collaboration with makers of soft drinks and snacks to remove sugary drinks and unhealthy food from schools in the fight against obesity. He said the effort was able to reduce children's intake of calories from beverages by 90% in about 90% of participating schools.

Clinton did not mention the Health Matters Initiative during his speech, but he has spoken of the power of IT to build and reform institutions.

The CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, Ginny Ehrlich, did say Monday at a press conference announcing the beta test of a Verizon health information exchange project that underserved communities, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, "are not getting the information they need" to improve population health and encourage healthy lifestyles.

HIMSS, itself a member of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) since September, announced this week that it would commit $2.5 million over the next five years to its HIMSS Healthcare Transformation Project as part of its pledge to take action furthering the goals of CGI. The HIMSS Healthcare Transformation Project is a collaborative forum of senior healthcare executives, while the CGI looks to address a variety of problems around the world, including inequities in the provision of public services.