Many people outside our country believe that we’re “behind the times” when it comes to healthcare IT. So, over the past few years I’ve traveled to several countries, usually at the request of embassies, to help evaluate various technical / IT companies to see how much applicability they have to the U.S. government or healthcare markets (both specialties of mine). I typically go out, speak at conferences, conduct my reviews, and end up coming back with only a few companies or pockets of interesting projects that might find some success selling to the U.S. market; usually, it’s because the companies are service companies or the products they have built are not useful in a large heterogeneous market like ours.
In August I was invited by the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark to travel to Copenhagen and talk to CEOs of about 20 of their country’s best and brightest healthcare IT companies about Meaningful Use, ACOs, PCHM, HIPAA 5010, and many other initiatives that seem foreign to most people outside the USA. At first I didn’t know what to expect, but after I spent three days in the country this week visiting with providers (including a medium sized hospital) and speaking one one with numerous business leaders I observed that they all have a significant amount of healthcare IT competence. While the political and language differences caused some terminology confusion, when we looked past the communications differences it became very clear that there are lots of companies and projects that could benefit our healthcare industry. Many of the startups that are being launched here in the USA should take a look at their Danish counterparts for ideas at least, if not full partnerships to augment own their staff and experience.
I won’t go into the political structure of the Danish healthcare system (since it’s not something that the USA would ever have), but I learned that every citizen in Denmark has an electronic medical record with data dating back to the early 70’s. When a citizen goes to the emergency room, a doctor’s office, a lab, a hospital, etc. they all have access to and continuously populate a central patient record. Plus, the citizens each have access to their own electronic medical records through a national health portal (their “managed” PHR).
What they have, then, is a perfect experimental test bed for how a vertically integrated system with records dating back decades can inform and influence patient care, assist with population health, test how wellness and prevention programs may improve care, and many other ideas that we’re promoting here in the USA. Danish companies have been using ICD10 for years, they have had coded visits and some medical device integration, and have been doing many of the things that ONC and HHS are just now promoting here in the USA.
If you’re looking for help with your IT initiatives and want to get some advice from companies with years of actual experience, I’d suggest reaching out to Danish companies. Imagine working with companies whose have focused on IT systems where the “grunt work” of patient registries, ID matching, interoperability, etc. have already been worked out – Danish companies aren’t working on the basics, they’re working on the advanced side of clinical care and have the experience we’ll be seeking in the next few years. One problem, of course, is that they all work in an environment where billing is not something they have to worry about (since it’s a single payer government system). What this means is that their clinical IT expertise, analytics ability, etc. are all high but their understanding of how to tie all those into revenue cycle management and billing is lower.
I’ve been asked to continue to assist the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as they help Danish companies export their talent, projects, products, and experience to the U.S. market. What I find is that, at this point, the Danish firms don’t know enough about our political system and the major initiatives like Meaningful Use, ACOs, PCMH, etc. but I look forward to helping them learn those topics; once they’re familiar with our environment I think they will make a formidable talent pool.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be writing a bit more about the firms that I think have the best applicability to the US market. If you’re interested in seeing some of the firms or speaking with the Ministry officials, plan to attend Partner’s Connected Health Symposium in Boston next month (October 20-21, 2011, Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers). The Crown Prince of Denmark and many of the friends I met in Copenhagen will be there and you can see first hand what I saw when I was out there earlier this week.
By the way, I have just received an invitation to speak at the Connected Health Symposium and it sounds like a terrific event to attend. If you’ll be going, let’s hook up while I’m out there.