CIO Sessions: Harvard Medical School CIO John Halamka

Summary:John Halamka is a practicing emergency care physician, but in the course of his medical career he caught the technology bug. As the CIO and Associate Dean for Educational Technology at Harvard Medical School, as well as CIO at CareGroup Healthcare Systems with 14,000 employees and 3,000 doctors, Halamka is seeking ways to apply technology to solve many of the vexing health care industry and patient care problems.

John Halamka is a practicing emergency care physician, but in the course of his medical career he caught the technology bug. As the CIO and Associate Dean for Educational Technology at Harvard Medical School, as well as CIO at CareGroup Healthcare Systems with 14,000 employees and 3,000 doctors, Halamka is seeking ways to apply technology to solve many of the vexing health care industry and patient care problems.


During our CIO Sessions interview, Halamka discussed the impact of RFID (he's got one implanted in his arm) and recent advances in patient care driven by technology. "We’ve taken really event-driven medicine forward by gathering data in real time and delivering it to our clinicians just in time so they can take appropriate action," Halamka told me. 

We also talk about privacy issues around electronic health records, electronic prescriptions and the 2-million square-foot wireless network set up that serves both doctors and the public across the six CareGroup hospital facilities under his direction as CIO. In addition, Halamka is focused on unifying healthcare standards, especially for data portability: 

There are over 700 standards in health care. So over the last year I’ve spent time with the Health Information Technology Standards Panel, HITSP--the national effort sponsored by Health and Human Services to unify the healthcare standards in the country. So, ultimately, once we have a set of standards, you’ll be able to get data sent from place to place. We also have to work on privacy and security, make sure there’s a good architecture, and then make sure that incentives are aligned so that doctors adopt that technology.

As a CIO of three major Boston-area hospitals and three community hospitals, Halamka is not immune to the usual cost savings issues of any corporation when it comes to IT spending. 

Currently my IT department is 2 percent of the operating budget of the organization. So we continue to add more and more computerization--85 percent electronic health records, more and more storage, more and more services to more and more departments and patients, but as a percentage of operating cost, we have not gone up. We have certainly been able to reduce medication error by 50 percent, through the use of electronic health records and e-prescribing, so that’s the key. Sort of Moore’s Law for health care: Innovate faster and more, without increasing cost.

You can view the full video interview here. We also have selected short clips on the "Moore's Law" of health care, RFID, and building a wireless hospital.

More CIO Sessions interviews are available here

Topics: Health

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