Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Health IT Destination: Portland and Oregon

For several years, I have advocated that the city of Portland and state of Oregon have the necessary ingredients to develop an industry cluster in health and biomedical information technology (IT). I expounded this vision in an Op-Ed piece in the Oregonian in 2008 and in the Silicon Forest blog in 2009.

Some recent happenings in the area make this vision more compelling. First comes news that is not directly related to biomedical informatics but is relevant to the currently beleaguered Oregon economy. This is the plan announced by Intel, one of our major local high-tech employers, to invest several billion dollars in renovating existing production centers and building a new research and development center. This is good news for the local economy due to the promise of high-skill, high-paying jobs. This is synergistic with other local development efforts, including those led by the Portland Development Commission to advance software as one of the four areas it identifies as a key cluster for economic development.

There are also specific instances of highly visible health IT companies, such as Kyrptiq, which just received some investment from the large national e-prescribing company, Surescripts. Oregon also has the cache of a strong open-source software community and the surrounding business activity to make it sustainable, not only generally but also specifically in health and healthcare. A local company that exemplifies this approach is the Collaborative Software Initiative, with its focus on public health.

I have always argued that Oregon is a potential hub for health and biomedical IT because of the confluence of strong industry, innovation in the healthcare delivery sector (Oregon is one of those "high quality, low cost" states), and the presence of a world-class academic program in biomedical and health informatics. I believe that these attributes can combine synergistically to foster economic development, improve the quality of people's health, and provide leadership and innovation in health and biomedical IT.

One encouraging recent happening is the publication of a draft report for comments calling for Portland State University (PSU) and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to expand their collaboration by developing a formal strategic alliance. The report explicitly calls out the potential for developing joint programs in biomedical and health informatics.

There are other cities and regions that aspire to leadership in this area. The city of Atlanta recently published a gloss on its being an "epicenter" of health IT. The larger healthcare entrepreneurship scene in Nashville also includes a component of health IT. I hope the leaders in Portland and Oregon will share this vision.

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