Hawaii’s Big Island steams ahead on Health Information Exchange

IMAG0089Last 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.

IMG_2240IMG_2251Of 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

Comments (5)

  1. Dr. Gratz says:

    Next time, don't miss Pololu valley at the Northernmost tip. Just drive until the road ends, saddle up your mule, and enjoy the most amazing place on Hawaii.

  2. hlthblog says:

    Thanks Adam.  We almost made it that far one day.  Unfortunately, the SS Camaro I rented wasn't up to the challenge.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  3. Mark Metzler says:

    Here is a useful new website you might want to consider:

    Biomedical Device Integration Tech Corner


    "An archive of technical documents, protocols, standards and procedures useful for clinical engineers and IT professionals involved in biomedical device integration and connectivity to electronic medical records (EMR)"

  4. Suresh Kumar says:

    Hi Bill,

    Adoption, usage and governance are the keys to success in any HIE.  Technology is probably the least challenging!  How is Hawaii HMSA planning to implement the non-technical aspects?

    I would love to see Hawaii or Florida become the exemplary states where HIE show tremendous value (lower costs, provide better care hence outcomes and most important discover efficiencies in the whole Healthcare process) The rest will follow suit. Ah Ha or Aloha


  5. hlthblog says:


    You are right.  People and processes are as important, if not more importnat, than IT in establishing a HIE.  You've also got to have a business model that supports the on-going expenses of operating a HIE when grant money is no longer part of the picture.  I think Hawaii is doing it right.  I am very impressed by the executives and clinicians behind the initiative.  I have no doubt they'll get it done, and I'm very proud that Microsoft will be part of the solution.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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