Last week I had the pleasure of doing the opening keynote for the East Hawaii Independent Physician Association annual meeting at the beautiful Mauna Lani Bay Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. I was joined by my colleagues Steve Malme and Dr. Edward Barthell from Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group who provided a talk on Microsoft HealthVault and Amalga a little later in the day.
I do keynote addresses at conferences and industry events all over the world, but saying “yes” to any invitation to speak in Hawaii is a no brainer. I’m sure it was an easy yes for Steve and Ed as well. But least you think this was nothing more than a junket, let me assure you there was a business reason for us to be there. Microsoft will be working closely with physicians and health leaders in Hawaii in the months ahead because the East Hawaii IPA in conjunction with the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) is the recipient of a $16+ million dollar Beacon Grant award.
Beacon Grant funding is part of the federal government ARRA HITECH stimulus package to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health IT. Grants totaling $235 million have been awarded thus far for approximately fifteen, three-year “cooperative agreements with communities to build and strengthen their health IT infrastructure and health information exchange capabilities to achieve measurable improvements in health care quality, safety, efficiency, and population health.” Grants range between $5-20 million per Beacon and are targeted at leading HIT communities to support the next leap in demonstrable gains from HIT.
As you might imagine, competition for these grants was fierce. The award in Hawaii speaks well to East Hawaii’s initiative and planning as well to the need for an inter-island health information exchange. Hawaii, being a chain of islands, has many obstacles it must overcome in order to connect physicians, hospitals, consumers and others who constitute the ecosystem of care in Hawaii.
Of course, no visit to the Big Island would be complete without a side trip to see one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. I’ve visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park many times before, but I always come away in awe of this geothermal wonder. Although the volcano has settled down a bit from its most recent eruption, it is still releasing lava into the sea and continuously spewing tons of sulfur dioxide and other noxious gases into the atmosphere each day. Active steam vents abound in the park, and half of the popular crater rim drive remains off limits due to active venting from the caldera that blows poisonous fumes across the road.
On our way to the volcano we stopped at Akaka Falls. If you ever visit the Big Island don’t miss an opportunity to see the falls and walk the trails leading up to them. There is simply nothing like the flora and fauna of Hawaii. You’ll feel like you just took a stroll through Jurassic Park.
I hope to find an excuse to visit the Islands again sometime soon. Perhaps the next time I visit my hosts will be demonstrating how HealthVault and Amalga are seamlessly connecting doctors and patients to the health information they need, and to each other.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft