REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Institute for Healthcare Improvement Forum

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Could the convergence finally be happening?

From a health-IT perspective, the change is palpable at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) 17th annual National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care.

A year ago, in the same hotel conference center, this reporter was taken by the utter lack of IT presence among the throng of 4,000 patient-safety advocates. Yes, Scott Wallace, chief executive of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology was present, but he was a participant like most of the rest in attendance, not a speaker.

This year, some prominent health-IT gurus are here, as attendance has swelled to 5,500. IHI chief Donald Berwick, M.D., says that 3,800 people are new attendees.

C. Martin Harris, M.D., chief information officer of the Cleveland Clinic and executive director of eCleveland Clinic, the group practice's telemedicine service for providing remote second opinions, is a member of the IHI board of directors and has been involved in patient safety for years. This time, however, he presented at a pre-conference seminar on electronic medical records.

Harris was joined in his session by health-IT expert David Classen, M.D., vice president of First Consulting Group, Long Beach, Calif., as well as by John Halamka, M.D., CIO of Harvard-affiliated CareGroup Healthcare System, Charles Denham, M.D., chairman of the Texas Medical Institute of Technology, and Brian Anderson, M.D., chief medical officer of Allina Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis.

Brent James, M.D., of Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, and a member of the Institute of Medicine committee that wrote the landmark "To Err Is Human" and "Crossing the Quality Chasm" reports on medical errors and quality of care in America, is talking about quality improvement from technology giants such as Motorola and General Electric, notably the application of Six Sigma principles to healthcare.

Also here is Barry Chaiken, M.D., a former McKesson executive who now consults on issues related to both patient safety and IT as associate CMO for BearingPoint.

Speaking of McKesson, not only does the company have a booth in the expo part of the IHI conference, it sent out postcards to registered attendees last month advertising its EMRs and other enterprisewide IT systems. That alone represents a change from a year ago.

Major competitor Cerner has plastered its logo on the pens included in the bags handed out to every conference registrant. Trivial, perhaps, but it shows that the Cerner wants to target this audience, made up mostly of clinicians on the front lines of healthcare quality improvement.

Large advertising signs at the entrance to one of the meeting rooms from CareScience, the care management division of health-IT vendor Quovadx, tout the type of computerized benchmarking tools that ought to be an essential part of any hospital's quality-improvement initiatives. The founder and former CEO of CareScience? That would be David Brailer, M.D., now the federal government's national coordinator for health-IT.

This newfound connection of the health-IT industry to the clinician-driven patient-safety movement represents at least the perception of a sea change from just a year ago.

Get Berwick's constituency to work hand-in-hand with Brailer's, and then we've really got something.

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