George W. Bush on health IT: ‘Logical solutions become inevitable’

April 15, 2015 in Medical Technology

Former President George W. Bush took the stage at HIMSS15 on Wednesday afternoon for a conversation with HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber. The tone was informal, and while it touched on Bush’s early role in creating a national policy on digital health, it was for the most part an entertaining series of observations about everything from Bush’s newfound passion for art to his 28 meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When asked about his old pal, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said he’s a great guy and great friend – but he doesn’t hang out with him much anymore.

“Something that’s really boring is sitting around with former leaders,” he said to much laughter. “The has-been club.”

But this conversation was anything but boring.

Bush was the first president to advance electronic health records as government policy, mentioning them in his 2004 State of the Union address. He then created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT by executive order. He explained that his understanding of the need for digital records was simple: if a person was in an accident, there should be an electronic means to provide a medical history for doctors.

[See also: President Bush continues EHR push, sets national goals]

It’s a “logical solution,” he said. “Logical solutions become inevitable.” Sure, more than 10 years later there are still challenges related to, say, more widespread interoperability. But “it’s coming. Things don’t happen overnight.”

This past spring, Bush received a partial knee replacement (at nearby Rush University Medical Center). He’s also had a coronary stent implanted since leaving the White House. “When you get to be over 65, you talk about health,” he says. “America has got the best healthcare in the world. Technology is one way to keep it that way.”

[See also: President Bush makes third call for healthcare IT]

Beyond health IT, Bush weighed in on plenty of topics, both light-hearted and serious.

On his newfound artistic hobby: Bush said he became interested in painting after reading Winston Churchill’s essay, “Painting as a Pastime.” He decided, “If this guy can paint, I can paint.” The former president recounted his first conversation with the woman who would become his art teacher, a woman who “like most of the art community, was not a 43 fan.” Asked to explain why he wanted to study painting, he said, “there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body!”

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