View From the Hill: Public/Private Partnerships Benefit All


July / August 2007

View From the Hill

Public/Private Partnerships Benefit All

Government and private industry have worked together to address policy issues throughout America’s history. For example, since the 1970s, NASA has been in the forefront of research and development in the field of telemedicine with the help of private industry. NASA has been involved in one such program in which the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) is linked with South Texas Hospital, Harlingen, Texas, 250 miles away. The South Texas area is classified as medically underserved, with a special problem in the lack of physicians and nurses trained in oncologic (cancerous) diseases. Prior to this program, 80 pediatric oncology patients at South Texas Hospital were able to see UTHSCSA cancer specialists only once a month, when the specialists visited Harlingen.

Now, via two-way audio/video linkage, UTHSCSA physicians can see and talk with South Texas patients, review laboratory work, and consult with doctors providing primary care at South Texas Hospital. They are also conducting 80 hours a month of “teleclinics” and providing instruction in pediatric oncology nursing techniques and family counseling. In addition, South Texas Hospital is getting specialty help in treating the increasing number of tuberculosis cases in the area.

NASA has an obvious interest because of the potential of telemedicine in care of astronauts operating beyond Earth’s orbit in the future. But the agency has a broader interest because it has been mandated by Congress to promote the transfer to the private sector of technologies developed in the course of aerospace research, and many of the technologies that make telemedicine possible were originally developed for acquiring visual information from lunar and planetary spacecraft. NASA is actively engaged in developing new technologies applicable to both space and Earth telemedicine and in spurring broader acceptance of telemedicine by conducting demonstrations of the technique’s potential in cooperation with local governments and the medical and industrial communities.

NASA is a model that should be duplicated throughout the federal government, especially those agencies charged with administering healthcare policies and programs. NASA has proven that public/private partnerships benefit the parties involved as well as the general public.

10,000 Trained by 2010
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 10,000 Trained by 2010 Act (H.R. 1476). Introduced by Rep. David Wu (D-OR), the legislation requires the National Science Foundation to award competitive grants for basic research on innovative approaches to improve healthcare information systems, as well as for scientific and engineering activities to improve education in the healthcare information fields.

Congressman Wu’s legislation is the product of many meetings, research, and a U.S. House Science Committee hearing he convened in Oregon last year. Congressman Wu says the hearing revealed that while many are talking about creating a national health information infrastructure, very little attention has been given to workforce issues. Currently, there are insufficient numbers of health information technology professionals.

›”While everyone is talking about adopting these systems, no one is addressing the workforce concerns,” Wu explains. “We need curriculum to support an emerging specialty in healthcare informatics and programs to train current doctors and nurses. A workforce capable of innovating, implementing, and using electronic health systems will be critical to the successful transition. Education is key to digitizing the healthcare industry.”

Grants awarded under the Act will be administered by the National Science Foundation, also a government leader in strengthening our nation’s information infrastructure. Traditionally, we have looked to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the leader in healthcare policy and administration. However, other agencies, including NASA and NSF, are also intricately involved in healthcare.

Thanks to the federal government and private industry, America’s innovation is the envy of the world. However, legislation that promotes public/private partnerships and provides funding to advance healthcare innovation is essential to America’s continued leadership in technology and management systems. Therefore, Congress, the White House, federal agencies, and the private sector must continue to work together and strengthen partnerships to improve healthcare for all Americans.

Dave Roberts is vice president of government relations for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and chief executive of HIMSS’ Office of Advocacy & Public Policy in Alexandria, Virginia. Formerly a professional staff member for both the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and the U.S. Senate Health Subcommittee on the Handicapped and a civilian financial analyst for the U.S. Air Force, Roberts now resides with his family in Solana Beach, California, where he is an elected member of the City Council. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare and may be contacted at