Greetings from APHA’s Mid-Year meeting in Chicago! This year’s meeting is on healthcare reform, which is fortunate for me – with so much focus on international health news and topics, I unfortunately do not know much about the intricacies of the new healthcare reform legislation, or how it is being implemented on the ground. I think many Americans are in the same position, however, so hopefully I will gain a better understanding of reform and be able to pass it on to you, the reader!
Upon checking in, I was given a flash drive in addition to a program and a badge holder. This is such a great resource – it contains speaker bios and (most of) the PowerPoint presentations from each session. After I arrived this afternoon, I attended one of the first break-out sessions of the conference, “Technology Implications of Health Reform.” The panel was made up of a representative from CDC, the Kentucky state health commissioner, and the CEO of the Cabarrus Health Alliance (which, believe it or not, is actually a county health department!). Each one gave his perspective on implementing electronic medical records and building a health information exchange on the federal, state, and county level, respectively. While I appreciate the excitement surrounding the possibilities of electronic health records (EHRs), I pointed out that even clinicians and health institutions that have them are not able to use them beyond searching for records by patient name or consultation date, plus whatever queries have been pre-programmed into the software by the vendor so that the practice can get the “Meaningful Use” dollars from the government. I have experienced this in my public health surveillance work – providers have no idea how to pull the information that we are looking for from their records. We have a long way to go before EHRs are useful on a large scale to public health surveillance and research.
Later in the evening, I had a chance to meet some of the APHA section representatives that were given the same opportunity as I was to attend the meeting. This is apparently the first year that APHA has been able to bring section representatives to the mid-year meeting, so it is exciting to be a part of it. The challenge will be thinking about how the information at this meeting can be applied to the activities of the IH section. What do you think?