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Hillary Clinton: Cooperation, Technology Will Solve Big Healthcare Issues

Genuine healthcare reform is possible only when all stakeholders leave their blaming, shaming, and ideology at the door, Clinton tells HIMSS conference attendees.

Let's put aside our differences and rely on the evidence to solve healthcare's problems, says former Secretary of State and healthcare reform advocate Hillary Clinton.

Speaking Wednesday at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference in Orlando, Clinton emphasized that the debate on healthcare reform should be guided by good data and not ideology. 

Much of that data, Clinton said, has been generated by members of the healthcare IT community, whom she praised as true innovators and future-thinkers. "I wanted to thank you for modernizing the US healthcare system to empower patients and provide information to support medical professionals [to improve quality of care and reduce costs]." She got a large round of applause when she reminded the audience, "You've been doing this for more than half a century. It must be a little gratifying to see the debate catch up with where you have been."

As further proof that she has been "on our side" for many years, Clinton reminded her audience that she, Newt Gingrich, and Senator William Frist, MD, worked on early legislation to promote EHRs while she was in the Senate. "And today… we are finally seeing the promise of electronic health records," she said, leaving behind the outdated 20th century ways that records were kept.

The promise and power of EHRs was forcefully demonstrated for Clinton when she visited with survivors of Hurricane Katrina and saw firsthand the confusion and less-than-optimal care offered to patients whose paper records were destroyed by the storm -- and the much better care provided to those whose medication records had been stored in digital systems.

"But none of this is possible without the right infrastructure and the right regulator environment. Technology specialists like you are no longer focused solely on making patient data accessible to providers," she said. "You're now playing a leading role in making sure medical teams have that data to gain new insights and efficiencies."

Her take-home message here was straightforward: Good data helps make for good decisions. "It's important to be guided by evidence about what works and what doesn't, not ideology or past practices or personally held beliefs," she said. She contrasted that evidence-based mindset to what she described as the "evidence-free zone" she has seen recently in Washington.

A case in point, in Clinton's view, is what she referred to as "the hyper-politicized debate" about the Affordable Care Act. "From the beginning," she said, "it's been more about ideology than data… It will take all of us working together… and we will have to be willing to work with people we may not agree with, but that’s one of our great strengths as a nation."

To drive home that last point about Americans having the capacity for compromise and cooperation, Clinton spoke of the reaction of many foreigners she encountered in her travels, who were bewildered by the fact that she was appointed secretary of state after Obama pushed her out of the race for president. She stated it bluntly: "Someone who ran against another candidate and lost might get imprisoned or exiled [in a less democratic nation], not be asked to become secretary of state."

Applying that lesson to healthcare reform, Clinton went on to say, "I want to see us have a debate where our differences are fully aired… But we do need people who are looking to approach problems using evidence, but leaving their blaming, their shaming, the point-scoring at the door."