Inspiration and Implementation: Bill Clinton’s Keynote at HIMSS 13
HIMSS Board Chair Dr. Willa Fields introduced former President Bill Clinton at the second to last day of the conference Wednesday, and it was very clear that the statesman brought his usual level of master oration techniques to discuss the significance of health information technology as a platform for change.
Clinton wasted no time after the introduction getting to the heart of the crowd’s key areas of interest. He spoke with a sense of optimism urging healthcare IT professionals to lay the groundwork to “improve the ability of Americans to take care of themselves and be less of a drain on the healthcare system.”
“Information technology and how we manage it is critical to an effective healthcare system in the 21st century,” he continued, highlighting “…the role that information technology can play to improve healthcare access and leverage for ordinary people…The political, social, and healthcare impacts of ACA have yet to be fully determined because that all depends upon how it’s implemented.”
The urgency of health IT implementation was a recurring theme throughout the former US president’s hour-long speech. “The most dire scenarios are premised on the assumption that healthcare costs will continue to increase at three times the rate of inflation… Into this maelstrom, information technology will become very important.”
“Borders look more like nets than walls,” said Clinton and he took several moments throughout his talk to update the beaming crowd on his charitable healthcare efforts in Rwanda and Ethiopia, as well as his efforts against child obesity here in the US.
Clinton spoke frankly to the captivated audience: “We had access to systems along life’s way, which allowed us to make decisions be rewarded for them and find our way into this great room today. That’s the story of every advanced society.”
His tone was also one of caution, but delivered in such a way that reminded the audience of the easy-going style Clinton became so well known for during his active political career. “At some point in the life of every nation almost every major system gets long in the tooth. There are huge transactional costs in continuing to do what you’ve been doing the way you’ve been doing it all along. Sooner or later public citizens, including those in private healthcare, can’t keep defending the status quo. You’ve gotta show up for work and make a deal.”
Clinton shared his enthusiasm for the 2012 Steven Spielberg film Lincoln, as in his estimation it portrayed exactly how health IT professionals should go about tempering their idealism with their willingness to compromise and work together.
Echoing the ongoing industry wide healthcare concerns, Clinton noted that, “As much as 30% of our healthcare costs are either wasted money or we’re doing something that’s necessary but we’re being overcharged. What lies before us is the necessity to reform… We have a system that is not working.”
While the high level, largely idea-based speech covered the broad themes of healthcare reform effectively, Clinton also pointed out several programs, in particular whose efforts he saw as especially worthwhile.
“One of the things that I like in the technology area is this new federal initiative Blue Button which makes data directly available to people who can use it for a number of applications. Organizations that serve more than 80 million Americans have now pledged to make healthcare information available digitally.”
“Another thing that I think needs to be done everywhere that isn’t is… much more transparency in pricing,” said Clinton, which drew an long and enthusiastic applause from the audience. “I think we need to think about the role of information technology in empowering people to have a bigger impact on the healthcare market, to take better care of themselves, and to know what the heck is going on.”
Clinton’s inherently optimistic delivery persisted through the end of his address. “There is nothing wrong we can’t fix,” he said, pausing to let it land.
“We need to find a way to use information technology better to have models everywhere in America like the Geisinger Medical System in Eastern Pennsylvania, which is continuously updated with the best knowledge.” said Clinton, highlighting the well-regarded health system.
Technological implementation was a key theme throughout the talk. Optimism for the future and the power of transparency rounded out his key themes.
“The whole promise of information technology is that we can manage data in ways we never did before to see what the heck it is we’re doing.”
The audience seemed genuinely pleased with the former president’s remarks. Perhaps more importantly, it seemed to add a layer of depth and significance to know that a world leader who remains very highly respected both at home and abroad, was able to underscore the efforts of so many healthcare IT professionals, letting them know that although much remains to be done, so too have we all come a very long way.