Spot the Difference: Yahoo/Facebook vs. Government/Health IT

Or should have said “spot the similarities”?

Today, two pieces of news came in right after each other:

  • The US Federal Government’s Beacon Community Program has been given $235 million of taxpayer money for “… interoperable health IT and standards-based information exchange within and among providers, hospitals, and populations” “within 15 diverse communities throughout the United States” (see announcement).
  • Also, Yahoo announced that they will “deeply integrate” their properties with Facebook’s in order to “provide one place for people to access information and stay in touch with the people they care about most” for their user base of “500 million” (see announcement). No money will change hands as far as I can tell.

Here are the questions:

  • How come it needs $235 million of taxpayer money for a mere 17 communities to make some (limited) amount of progress on exchanging data, if Yahoo and Facebook can roll out these kinds of integrations for more people than there live in the US on their own dime?
  • How come the $2 trillion+ healthcare industry does not do these kinds of strategic projects on their own? Nobody could reasonably argue the business case in healthcare (save percentage of the $2 trillion) is smaller than Yahoo’s and Facebook’s (a percentage of their revenue, which is in the $10 billion ballpark).

The detractors will say: these things are not comparable, and the announcements have nothing to do with each other. And go back and lobby for more government handouts right after, I presume.

Having worked both in a web 2.0 kind of information interchange environment (e.g. OpenID and friends, in recent years) and a healthcare and “deep semantics” environment (e.g. via our InfoGrid project, for a long time), I beg to differ. Most of the technical hurdles are the same, most of the organizational hurdles are, and while healthcare cares more about security, the web 2.0 world cares more about real-time data exchange, for example. On balance, a wash.

So here’s the challenge to the government that is spearheading health IT, for better or worse (and I am planning to submit this as a comment to Dr. Blumenthal’s blog as soon as I have it up here):

I assume we all agree that an environment in which leading-edge companies innovate on their own to the benefit of their customers is better than one in which the government has to spend large amounts of money to drag along kicking and screaming “participants” — as it is so common in health IT. How do we turn US healthcare IT from the latter to the former?

Or, to put it differently: what is the administration doing so the next Mark Zuckerberg starts a “Healthbook” instead of a “Facebook” and revolutionizes, with the corresponding benefits for everybody, healthcare IT instead of social networking? If the $235 million were spent on that question, now that’d be something!

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