This op-ed originally appeared in Government Health IT Dec. 3, 2014. Co-authors Hammergren and Gandhi spoke at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Policy Forum on Promoting Innovation and Patient Safety with Information Technology held in Washington, D.C. Watch event video. This article mentions each of their organizations and the work they are doing together.

There are few areas of modern life that technology hasn’t altered. From our smartphones to our DVRs to the GPS in our cars, technology has changed the way that we shop, read, watch movies and television, drive…the lineup goes on. What’s missing from this list? Healthcare.

While there have been pockets of innovation, the healthcare consumer has not benefitted from the rapid advancement of technology that has touched nearly every part of American life.

The promise of what technology innovation can bring to patient care and outcomes is high — but two major challenges stand in our way. First, we have dated government rules in place that are slowing innovation. Second, even if the pace of healthcare innovation matched that of, say, consumer electronics, it wouldn’t matter because we don’t have interoperability — that is, a system in place to safely and seamlessly share patient information between providers, payers and other healthcare stakeholders. Just imagine the public’s response if the smartest smartphone couldn’t place calls to a similar smartphone on a different wireless carrier.

What is it going to take to bring about the changes that are needed? The answer is cooperation across party and competitive lines in both the public and private sector, as well as cooperative work between industry stakeholders to develop standards and best practices for patient safety and health information technology (IT).

We need to start by updating the current health IT regulations. Health IT operates under a regulatory framework that was crafted nearly 40 years ago. Think about it: We’re working with regulations written when people had 8-track tape players in their cars. It’s time we update the rules to create predictability for everyone involved and to support the innovation in healthcare that patients deserve.

The good news is that there is bipartisan support and momentum to update health IT regulations. While the conventional wisdom these days suggests that our nation’s capital has become dysfunctional and unable to work across party lines for the greater good, we have seen real bi-partisanship at work on the issue of health IT, with key members of both parties working together to bring health IT regulation into the 21st century. These elected leaders, along with hundreds of organizations across the industry, are working to create a framework that will achieve, rather than impede, the potential that health IT has to improve patient care and enhance clinical safety.

Just as members of Congress are reaching across the aisle on the issue of health IT regulation, competitors in the private sector need to join together to achieve interoperability. Creating such a system will improve the patient experience, care delivery system efficiencies and, most importantly, the quality and safety of care.

There is also real momentum in the private sector to advance the interoperability of our healthcare system. Through the not-for-profit CommonWell Health Alliance, competitive businesses are deploying a universal system nationally to allow for the seamless access of patient-centered data across all settings of care. Through both government efforts and this Alliance and its member companies, healthcare interoperability is becoming a reality and, when realized, will significantly transform the future of the industry.

Leading industry stakeholders are working with well-respected organizations like the National Patient Safety Foundation and the ECRI Institute’s Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety to develop tools to achieve patient safety through health IT, but more must be done. Developers, implementers and end-users need to work cooperatively to ensure that patient safety is always a priority when creating and deploying any healthcare technology solution, as well as assuring usability for clinicians. By working together, we can optimize the safety benefits and mitigate any new risks that technology may bring.

We cannot deny that there is a need for increased innovation in health technology. The benefits of technological advancements are numerous, from improving patient safety to providing consumers with more tools to manage their own healthcare. At this moment in time, public and private leaders have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their ability to work cooperatively to modernize health IT regulation and achieve real interoperability — with the goal of improving patient safety and outcomes.

When that happens, we’ll begin to see exciting innovation that will fundamentally change and improve patient care.

John Hammergren

About the author

John H. Hammergren is Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of McKesson Corporation. He was elected President and Chief Executive Office in 2001 and Chairman in 2002.

Author - Tejal K Gandhi

About the author

Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS, is a board certified internist, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a certified professional in patient safety. Dr. Gandhi’s research interests focus on patient safety and reducing error using information systems. She won the 2009 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety Award for her contributions to understanding the epidemiology and possible prevention strategies for medical errors in the outpatient setting.

In July 2013, Dr. Gandhi became President of the National Patient Safety Foundation, and in November 2014, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation. Previously, she had been Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Partners HealthCare, where she helped lead the efforts to standardize and implement patient safety best practices across the system. Before that, as Executive Director of Quality and Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for 10 years, she worked to redesign systems to reduce medical errors and improve quality.

Dr. Gandhi received her MD and MPH from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, and trained at Duke University Medical Center.