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The federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has developed a Federal IT Strategic Plan aimed at reducing IT disparities between underserved communities. ONC published a draft of the plan in an online blog and is now seeking comments and suggestions.
We have one suggestion: Promote widespread adoption of cloud-based medical information exchange.
While the plan refers to telemedicine in general as one way to improve the usage of healthcare IT, there is no evidence the ONC recognizes that this long-used term should now include cloud-based data exchange. Nor is there any recognition of the superiority of cloud-based services for meeting the plan's other goals.
Three of those goals are:
Achieve adoption and information exchange through meaningful use of health IT
Improve care, improve population health and reduce healthcare costs through the use of health IT
Inspire confidence and trust in health IT
Cloud-based medical information exchange advances these goals in many ways.
Because it is vendor-neutral, it overcomes incompatibilities between different facilities' IT systems –not just in underserved communities but also in the common scenarios where a rural facility is transferring patients with complex conditions to better-equipped institutions outside the community. Here is an example of just such a set-up in the San Diego area, where eMix has made a big difference.
The modest, per-usage fee for using a service like eMix also makes it affordable and scalable for underserved communities. No software or hardware purchase is required. Nor is there a maintenance contract because maintenance is the service provider's responsibility.
Cloud services reduce costs in other ways, too – by avoiding the substantial labor associated with virtual private networks and the labor, postage, and courier costs associated with burning and sending files on CDs.
Cloud-based medical information exchange improves care, as well, because it is a much faster way of getting medical files in the hands of the physicians who need to see them. This is especially true for emergency cases.
Finally, cloud-based exchange inspires confidence and trust in health IT because it ends the frustration that until recently characterized most efforts to exchange files between IT systems. Until recently, sharing files between systems that didn't talk to each other was labor-intensive, expensive, and loaded with breakdown potential.
Those days are over – but only for the institutions that are taking advantage of the technology. If the ONC is serious about its goals, then it should be promoting this simple-to-adopt, simple-to-use solution in its strategic plan.