Dispatch from China

john halamka

By John Halamka, MD
Twitter: @jhalamka

The first part of this week I have been in China – Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Xuzhou as part of a Harvard Medical School program to help the Chinese create a learning healthcare system while they build 1000 new hospitals and train 300,000 new primary care givers.

Ajay Singh, Tom Tsai, Li Zhou and I served as faculty for the two day course, reviewing best practices in safety, quality, informatics and leadership.

My role was to describe the benefits of informatics, the characteristics of a highly usable EHR, and to predict the future of big data/analytics, mobile, and cloud computing in a way that provided the Chinese with inspiration as they plan their investments.

We had dinner with the vice Mayor of Shenzhen and several public health leaders. Then the Mayor of Shenzhen, Qin Xu, officially launched the Harvard-Shenzhen collaborative in front of 200 government, academic, and industry experts.

Every time I visit China, I learn a bit more about their healthcare system.

Like the US, China is a mixture of rural and urban healthcare settings with different resources, facilities, and people.

China wants to encourage innovations such as implementing decision support, creating standardized care plans, and accelerating the use of telemedicine.

We discussed that technology is not sufficient – it must be complemented with enabling policy and an urgency to improve the healthcare system.

On Wednesday afternoon (local time) I toured hospitals and studied their EHRs. As in the US, there are a large number of EHR vendors in China. Unlike the US, there is no Epic, Cerner or Meditech – hospitals tend to adopt solutions created by local vendors.

My hope is that Harvard can share healthcare IT experiences from throughout the world, both good and bad, to help make a difference in the lives of 1.3 billion Chinese people. China will soon be the largest economy in the world, with the largest population, and unprecedented demand for healthcare services. Although I work to improve the healthcare of the US every day, sharing lessons learned with other countries and helping them achieve their goals with greater speed and less cost, is very gratifying.

I’m back in Boston on Friday and then in Eastern Europe for a few days in early May. My travel for the rest of the year is minimal, so I can focus on planning the operating and capital budgets of the BIDMC IT empire over the Summer.

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), Co-Chair of the HIT Standards Committee, a full Professor at Harvard Medical School, and a practicing Emergency Physician. This article was originally published in his blog Life as a Healthcare CIO and is reprinted here with permission.