Massachusetts: The Route 128 of health IT?

In the Sunday Boston Globe (State helping to shape US efforts to digitize health records for all) Scott Kirsner writes about the prominent role of Massachusetts residents in shaping the health IT agenda. I’m quoted on the impact on federal policy:

…Massachusetts won influence because Harvard economist David Cutler was the primary architect of candidate Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. “Cutler sort of dreamed up the idea of spending $50 billion or so on healthcare IT as part of Obama’s platform, when Obama wasn’t likely to win,’’ says David Williams, a consultant at MedPharma Partners in Boston. “That number became the basis for the dollars in the stimulus bill.

The article highlights important influencers from Massachusetts including IDX founder Paul Egerman, National Health IT Coordinator David Blumenthal, CareGroup CIO John Halamka, and athenhealth CEO Jonathan Bush. Some other key people didn’t make the article, notably Partners CIO John Glaser and Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative CEO Micky Tripathi.

Egerman says, “Massachusetts is like the Silicon Valley of healthcare information technology.”

I’d like to suggest a less flattering comparison: Route 128.

There was a time when Route 128, outside Boston was a real rival to Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley had Hewlett Packard and Intel and Apple (and still do!); but we had DEC, Wang and Lotus Development. Sure we still have plenty of activity here but some serious players like Greylock Partners have shifted their operations westward.

Something similar may be going on in health IT. In particular, Massachusetts did a great job with the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, which used a $50 million grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to completely wire up three communities with electronic health records and health information exchanges. The success of the pilot was recognized by key stakeholders and legislators, leading Senate President Therese Murray to introduce a bill to spend $25 million per year on health IT (later reduced due to the budget crisis) and to require EHR use throughout the state by 2015. The law was passed and signed, and the funds appropriated, but a lack of follow-through and leadership has meant nothing’s been spent.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts health IT talent is popular in the rest of the country. As the article highlights, much is happening in Washington, DC. But other states are also tapping into our resources. For example, New York and California are drawing on Massachusetts-based leaders –who could be spending their time in state, helping to put the $25 million to good use– to figure out how to make the most of the federal stimulus funding.

July 14, 2009

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