“The beginning of empowerment is understanding,” President Bill Clinton told the standing-room-only crowd during his keynote address at HIMSS13, which was held in March at New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.”Once you begin to understand, you can live again, you can breathe again.”

Clinton revealed his gift for reducing concepts to their basic parts and explaining them simply. “If you’re not treating as many sick people, you’re likely to have lower cost and better quality for those who do require treatment,” he said.

From personally engaging the audience, to telling jokes, to quoting American humorist Mark Twain (“There are only two things Americans should never have to watch being made: sausage and laws.”), a very comfortable Clinton had the full house (plus two overflow rooms, also filled to capacity) in the palm of his hand.

Clinton emphasized that health information technology is a strong platform that will help improve the quality and reduce the cost of healthcare delivery and access. 

“At the end of this maelstrom, information technology will become very important,” he said. “What lies before us is the necessity to reform.”

In a self-effacing moment, Clinton said, “After a while, the speeches aren’t all that important. It’s what you do that matters.” And what we need to do in this case is “give consumers more value at a lower cost.”

He did have some positive things to talk about, such as the health system in Pennsylvania that decided if a patient is readmitted for the same condition through no fault of the patient’s, the hospital will pay for it and can’t use the incident to raise that patient’s premiums.

Clinton also mentioned Medicare Advantage, which when started by President Bush gave $600 worth of preventive services and charged taxpayers $1,100 for those same services, or an 80 percent markup. Under President Obama, this same plan is now only marked up 11 percent.

The former president also supports the Blue Button Initiative (see our HIMSS13 coverage on pages 18-20 for more on this topic) and believes the healthcare industry should be much more transparent with its pricing: “There is no correlation between what people pay and the quality of healthcare they get.”

He also discussed nano-technology and possibilities for the future: “It won’t be long before people will be able to get a health exam by walking into a canister and being scanned.”

And he may have been prophetic. I just read about a discovery that uses a new method of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that could routinely spot specific cancers, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and other maladies early, when they’re most treatable. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center say each body tissue and disease has a unique fingerprint that can be used to quickly diagnose problems.

By using new MRI technologies to scan for different physical properties simultaneously, their team differentiated white matter from gray matter from cerebrospinal fluid in the brain in about 12 seconds, with the promise of doing this much faster in the near future. The technology has the potential to make an MRI scan standard procedure in annual checkups, the study authors believe. A full-body scan lasting just minutes would provide far more information and ease interpretation of the data, making diagnostics cheap compared to today’s scans, they contend.

So as healthcare IT professionals, let’s accept the challenge and continue to innovate and use the data we collect to transform healthcare delivery into a safer and more cost-effective process.

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