By Wendy Sarubbi | February 9, 2015 6:09 pm

Health IT has become foundational in medicine – from paperless records and portals that allow patients to email their physicians to technology that can show if treatments are actually improving health. And for the second time in less than a year, the UCF College of Medicine was chosen as a destination for a conference that helped medical professionals, Health IT specialists and business executives learn about the future of technology in patient care.

The Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) held its national conference – with almost 35,000 attendees — in Orlando last February. That event included tours of UCF’s high-tech new medical school and HIMSS decided to return to the college to co-sponsor a regional event January 26-27.

“We thought this would be an ideal place to come back to and showcase everything that Lake Nona has to offer,” said Susan Leonard, HIMSS Director of Specialty Events. Regional events offer an opportunity for local health professionals to network and receive continuing education on the future of technology in their field. “We want to help providers achieve meaningful use of electronic health records so that they can collect quality patient data, and really improve patient care and population health in their communities,” she said.

The UCF College of Medicine offers a strong Health IT perspective. The college’s Regional Extension Center (REC) has helped more than 2,700 community providers with electronic health record implementation and meaningful use, ICD-10 conversion, and Patient-Centered Medical Home recognition. The REC’s help in getting physicians to meaningfully use paperless records has enabled local doctors to earn almost $40 million in federal incentives to cover the technology costs. The use of electronic records improves the quality and safety of patient care and can increase a practice’s efficiency and ability to engage patients. The REC is now working with practices to implement health analytics tools that support evidence-based best practices in patient care and practice operations.

In welcoming nearly 60 HIMSS participants to the medical school, Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean, explained why establishing the REC was such a priority for the UCF College of Medicine. “Very early in the history of our medical school, we realized that the future will use technology in ways that we can’t even imagine,” she said. “I want to share with you the commitment of this medical school– not only to teaching doctors, but to doing whatever it takes to help the physicians in our community to advance their practices.”

Of 62 RECs in the country, only 10 are connected with universities. UCF’s experience in education made the medical school an even more attractive destination for HIMSS events. Jeanette Schreiber, the college’s associate vice president for medical affairs and chief legal officer, has led the college’s REC and community Health IT efforts. “Our physicians are using actionable information to give better care,” Schreiber said, explaining that meaningfully using electronic records and analytics tools can help improve patient care and population health, and lower healthcare costs. Such improvements are considered the “triple aim” of healthcare reform. “The (IT) tools that we’re implementing help physicians with patient-centered best practices such as prompting a timely foot exam for a  patient with diabetes. Health IT is the backbone of providing that kind of care management.” Schreiber explained. She added that such high-tech support also makes care more proactive and coordinated, minimizes duplication and reduces trips to emergency rooms.

Other speakers offered explanations of other ways Health IT can improve care. Dr. Geeta Nayyar, an assistant clinical professor from Florida International University, spoke about how technology can increase patients’ engagement in their own care and improve the doctor-patient relationship by allowing easier communication between the two. Doctors can share test results with patients as soon as they arrive via a secure internet portal. Patients can email their providers with questions and get quicker answers. “Engaging your patients is first about talking to them, and then using the right tools to continue the conversation after they’ve left the office,” she explained.

Using technology to enhance human-to-human interaction and communication was a theme of the HIMSS conference – and one that participants discussed as they toured the College of Medicine, including its state-of-the-art Anatomy Lab. There, Anatomy Professor Dr. Andrew Payer described how students care for their cadavers as their “first patient” and spend the 17 weeks of lab not just memorizing organs but learning from clinicians how disease impacts care and human life. “I love that they’re not only using cutting-edge technologies, but they’re also keeping that human element in training the future doctors of America,” Dr. Nayyar said.

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