5 Questions for Howard A. Zucker, MD, JD

Health IT is a hot topic in the Empire State. New York was the first state to host an open health data site and is now in the process of building the Statewide Health Information Network of New York. The SHIN-NY will enable providers to access patient records from anywhere in the state.

To learn more, we caught up with Howard A. Zucker, MD, JD, who was 22 when he got his MD from George Washington University School of Medicine and became one of America's youngest doctors. Today, Zucker is the Acting Commissioner of Health for New York State, a post he assumed in May 2014. Like his predecessor Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, Zucker is a technology enthusiast, who sees EHRs, mobile apps and telehealth as key components to improving our health care system. Here, he shares his thoughts.

What’s your vision for patient care in New York in the next five years?

Zucker: Patient care will be a more seamless experience for many reasons. Technology will allow for further connectivity. Patients will have access to their health information through patient portals. Providers will share information on the SHIN-NY. All of this will make patient care more fluid, so that no matter where you go – a hospital, your doctor’s office or the local pharmacy – providers will be able to know your health history and deliver better quality, more individualized care. And we will do this while safeguarding patient privacy.

I also see a larger proportion of patient care taking place in the home. Doctors will take advantage of technologies like Skype and telemedicine to deliver that care. This will happen as patients take more ownership of their health. Devices like FitBit amass data about health and take steps to improve it. It’s a technology still in its infancy, but it’s going to play a major role in long term care. zucker_263x329.jpg

How will technology shape health care in New York and beyond?

Zucker: Technology in health and medicine is rapidly expanding – it’s already started. Genomics and proteomics will one day lead to customized medicine and treatments tailored to the individual. Mobile technology will provide patient data to change behaviors. Patients and doctors alike will use this type of technology. As a result, patients will truly begin to “own” their health.

Personally, I’d like to see greater use of technology for long-term care. Many people I know are dealing with aging parents and scrambling to figure out what to do. I think technology will enable more people to age in place in ways that have yet to unfold.

What hurdles do you see in New York and how can you get around those?

Zucker: Interoperability remains an ongoing concern. If computers can’t talk to each other, then this seamless experience will be extremely challenging.

We also need doctors to embrace and adopt EHRs. Many of them are still using paper records. But it’s challenging to set up an EHR when you have patients waiting to be seen and so many other clinical care obligations. Somehow, we need to find a way to make the adoption and implementation process less burdensome. Financial incentives alone won’t work.

How will mobility play into providing better patient care in New York?

Zucker: The human body is constantly giving us information, but only recently have we begun to figure out ways to receive that data using mobile technology. Once we’ve mastered this, we’re going to significantly improve patient care.

We already have technology that collects data from phones, and we have sensors that monitor heart rate, activity levels and sleep patterns. More advanced tools will track blood glucose levels, blood oxygen and stress levels.

How will New York use all this patient-generated health data?

Zucker: We have numerous plans for all this data, but the most important will be using it to better prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Someday soon, the data will help us find early biomarkers of disease, so that we can predict illness well in advance of the onset of symptoms. We will be able to use the data to make more informed decisions on patient care.