Sunday, August 9, 2009

Committee to Advise the President

The inaugural meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met on August 6-7 to offer insights on policy recommendations in the areas of science, technology, and innovation to President Obama. PCAST is administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) within the Executive Office of the President.

Dr. John P. Holdren, one of the three Co-Chairs of the Advisory Committee, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said “it is a privilege to be working with the Committee to meet the many challenges the country faces.”

The members of the committee include 4 winners of the MacArthur “genius” awards, 3 Nobel laureates, 2 university presidents, as well as 16 members of one or more of the national academies of science, engineering, and medicine. The Committee is in place to make policy recommendations in areas where the understanding of science, technology, and innovation will help to strengthen the economy.

A morning panel discussion on health IT included three experts in the field. David Blumenthal, M.D., the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, started the discussion on health IT, by saying we need to focus on the use of technology, not just on the technology itself. His office thinks of technology as a means to an end.

He continued to say that there are challenges in accomplishing the task of getting physicians to use the technology since only 20 percent of physicians and 10 percent of hospitals are now using electronic health records. So getting health IT adopted is high on the agenda but to do the job, the right incentives must be in place.

Dr. Blumenthal explained that physicians are faced with uncertainties as to which technologies to adopt and this causes them to feel frustrated. They are also concerned about the platforms needed to support innovation and change, how to develop the right configuration to be able to exchange health data, and how to manage privacy and security issues.

According to Aneesh Chopra, M.D., Associate Director and Chief Technology Officer, OSTP, and appointed as the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, more Americans have cell phones than dishwashers and this had resulted in decreasing costs for cell phones. As innovation surges, the demand for products increases, costs are reduced, and the public has the opportunity to use more and more digital technologies and applications.

Dr. Chopra said that years ago home networking systems could cost the home owner $100,000 per home. Innovators reengineered the systems, and now the home networking systems are accessible to all Americans and available at prices they can now afford.

He went on to emphasize the need for electronic health systems to help researchers have access to correct and current information. For example, in the U.S, 1.4 million people are diagnosed with cancer and in addition, 40 percent of the population will be faced with cancer challenges. Therefore, it is very important for research and clinical data to be available electronically to better understand future research needs.

John Glaser, PhD, Advisor to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and Vice President and CIO for Partners Health Care says doctors are faced with a tremendous amount of data. The reality is that they don’t always have the time to go through all their notes when they are with a patient. They need to have access to effective electronic technology to determine the exact information that they need at any specific time.

Information not only needs to be available locally in the doctor’s office, but also needs to be available in national databases. Technology needs to be available to mine the large volumes of information on the databases so that the data can be presented at the point-of-care to physicians and/or go to the research community. This is particularly critical in dealing with genetic information and information on clinical trials.

For more information and to see the complete list of the PCAST Advisory Committee Members, go to, then click on About PCAST.