Transformation in action: eHI's Janet Marchibroda

April 1, 2006

Healthcare has been documented as a cottage industry time and time again, and Janet Marchibroda, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based eHealth Initiative, keeps witnessing how well that cottage industry structure has worked to drive the most concentrated effort of all: interconnectivity. Ironically, it's the small groundswell that is driving the massive execution toward widespread, interconnected information exchanges.

No one can deny the need to transform the fragmented healthcare industry into one of streamlined efficiency, but efforts remained on the back burner until rather recently when government influence and escalating costs demanded that more immediate action should begin on healthcare's massive transformation. Interconnecting patient data through technology has become the top priority upon which other priorities will advance, especially efficiency, quality improvement, and ultimately cost savings.

Information technology and quality improvement are converging, Marchibroda says, and that intersection is where eHealth Initiative (eHI) was born. A varied group of healthcare leaders launched the eHI collaborative organization five years ago to address the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing information technology's potential in improving healthcare, including the lack of interoperability, lack of clinical data standards, outdated reimbursement strategies, privacy and security concerns, and lack of investment in technology.

"We began by raising awareness in a multistakeholder fashion with real healthcare leaders, then translated the tech language into language they would understand-not the bits and bytes," Marchibroda says. "What we began to do in our second year was find common ground on principles and ways we might move the health-information-exchange agenda forward. It isn't about IT for the sake of IT; it's about meeting people where they are and helping them discover how IT can solve their problems."

The multitude of issues related to the new era of true health-information sharing range from questions about who owns the data to ways to stimulate widespread practice transformation. According to Marchibroda, three things are needed to effectively drive health-information sharing:

INTEROPERABILITY

eHI collected and disseminated a lot of information early on about how interconnectivity could address current healthcare challenges and how it could be translated into healthcare policy, "which was no easy task," Marchibroda says. Today, the interconnectivity concept is in various states of implementation nationwide and is being widely supported by the Department of Health and Human Services. It's hard now to imagine a time when interconnected health IT was on the back burner, but that wasn't so long ago, she says.

"In health policy discussions in general, this notion of IT was absent five years ago," Marchibroda says. "It was viewed as widgets and medical technology as opposed to an enabler to mobilize information to support transparency and improvement."