Wednesday morning’s HIMSS keynotes were from The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, discussing the progress of EHR adoption under the ARRA HITECH program.
Sebelius and Blumenthal discussed just how far the industry has come. When the Obama administration came into the White House, only 2 out of 10 doctors had even a basic EMR. That number is now up to 3 out of 10; with 4 out of 5 hospitals and 2 out of 5 individual physician offices intending to qualify for ARRA HITECH funds. Clearly this incentive program has accelerated the adoption of digital records technologies across the healthcare spectrum.
The process of establishing the final Stage 1 Meaningful Use criteria was collaborative, albeit lengthy. It’s taken a lot to get to this point including the development of a process for selecting certification bodies, the creation of a network of Regional Extension Centers to assist with EMR adoption, and the Beacon Community grant program along with many other efforts.
I would have to agree that overall the political support for these initiatives has been robust and bipartisan. This is evident if you look back at keynote speakers at the HIMSS conferences over the past few years, which range from Newt Gingrich to Al Gore.
But there is still much to do to accomplish the goals of HITECH and now healthcare reform. ONC is committed to making Meaningful Use Stage 2 criteria reasonable and achievable. This will move requirements forward, but there is also continuing standards work to be done – particularly in the area of interoperability.
There is a need to be doing more than just deploying technology. Vendors and hospitals must also be making the operational changes necessary to allow this technology to have the maximum impact. To accomplish this, the HIT community cannot operate at the margins of the healthcare system; rather they need to be deeply involved in its development.
The federal government is also looking to vendors to do more to help small healthcare organizations get the technology deployed. This includes offering financing and other flexibility in purchasing and implementation.
In the end, the goal is to have improvement to the health of individuals and populations while improving the efficiency of the healthcare system. But will these great technologies be created in the U.S. or overseas? To date, many of the firms receiving certification and delivering products to the industry are in the U.S. which will also provide a favorable economic impact.