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The ISMA interviews new state health commissioner
e-Reports, May 3, 2010
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New state leader weighs in on programs that affect you and your patients 
Gregory Larkin, M.D., understands that people generally view public health as “something for somebody else to do.” Yet, he offered a reminder that a good public health system is vital to the fabric of a community, not only for health reasons but also for economic growth and stability of the local work force.

“I’d like my fellow physicians to feel free to offer their observations and suggestions about what they see in their own communities or in the state that would improve overall community health,” said Dr. Larkin.

In March, he answered the call of Indiana’s governor to replace Judy Monroe, M.D., who left her job as state health commissioner for a position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ISMA Reports asked Dr. Larkin about his goals as our state’s new chief advocate for health.

Will you continue Dr. Monroe’s efforts with INShape Indiana and to improve immunization rates or will you focus on new projects?

INShape Indiana is one of Gov. Daniels’ flagship programs and has been well received. As far as the immunization rate, that is foundational to public health. Anything we can do to improve the immunization rate, we should do.

But the delivery of immunizations in the American health care system is somewhat disjointed for a host of reasons. You’ve got two different providers, the local health departments and physicians, trying to address immunizations.

What we need to do is make the rate even better and one way – following my core interest – is making sure we integrate data better from the local health departments and physician offices so everyone knows what children are getting immunizations, which ones are not and when they are due appropriately.

The state health department collects a lot of information. I’m asking: Are there ways we can make this information more readily available to community providers to help all of our goals be reached?

Do you have one main concern about Hoosiers’ health?

Obesity, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, funding for public health – all of those are unattractively rated in our state. There’s another area that intrigues me because I want to know how to improve it and that’s perinatal deaths.

We have in certain populations an unacceptably high level of perinatal deaths. I don’t know the answer yet, but I am interested in pursuing this and understanding what best practices are, what separates us, and what we provide here in Indiana as compared to states that have better outcomes than we’re having in certain populations.

Have you identified a first step to tackle that problem?

An interesting program we just announced to our local health departments is “Text -4- Baby.” We agreed to endorse this program because of the prevalence of cell phones in our younger population.

If a young mother signs up for this program and enters her due date, she will receive periodic texts encouraging her to do the right things – whether it’s taking prenatal vitamins or keeping her appointments. It’s an unusual outreach and I suspect it might be an attractive one.

Indiana is respected as a leader in health information technology. What would you like to see happen here in the next few years to keep us in that lead position?

I agree Indiana is on a very positive trajectory of leading the country. We have five health information exchanges here, so we are ahead of the pack. Health information technology should help communities improve their care. We have 92 counties and 93 health offices – one county has two – but the connectivity they have with a repository for data information and exchange varies broadly.

The challenge is: How can we help them better tool up for the 21st Century so the important services they provide can be enhanced and shared directly with the community?

Gregory N. Larkin, M.D.
Greg Larkin, M.D. EDUCATION   Undergraduate and medical degrees, Indiana University
EARLY CAREER   Family physician, Greencastle, 12 years, providing obstetrics, nursing home care, serving as coroner and filling in for county health officer
POSITIONS   Eli Lilly & Co., 22 years, global medical director, managing five domestic health care clinics;
Indiana Health Information Exchange, chief medical officer, promoting information technology for quality patient and community care
OTHER   Governor Daniels Transition Team for state health department
Member, Healthy Indiana Plan Task Force
Chairman of Board, Indianapolis Medical Society
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