Thinking About the Bipartisan Policy Center Report on Health IT

There are few issue areas within the Beltway of Washington, DC, that have enjoyed more support across the political aisle than health care information technology. In 2004, George Bush asserted that every American would/should have an electronic medical record by 2014. Since then, Democrats and Republicans alike have supported the broad concept of wiring the U.S. health information infrastructure.

With the injection of ARRA stimulus funds earmarked in the HITECH Act to promote health providers’ adoption of electronic health records, we’re now on the road to Americans getting access to their health information electronically. It won’t be all or even most U.S. health citizens by 2014, but it will millions.

Just how solid is political support for health IT these days, then? An important report, Transforming Health Care: The Role of Health IT, from the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Froce on Delivery System Reform and Health IT published in January 2012, talks about the gaps and obstacles to achieving an interoperable, accessible health IT infrastructure.

The numerous challenges include:

  • Misaligned incentives, driven by the volume-based health care payment model (discussed in Health Populi on January 31, 2012)
  • Lack of health information exchange between health care providers and stakeholders
  • Limited level of consumer engagement via electronic tools for self-care management
  • Limited levels of EHR adoption, and particularly “meaningful use” by providers
  • The lingering and large issue of privacy and security, with health information breaches continuing to erode peoples’ confidence in health information networks
  • Multiple Federal priorities that are often competing for both attention and can be at cross-purposes.

To get to the vision of a national health information infrastructure, and to realize the full benefits of the HITECH investment in EHR incentives, these challenges must be first recognized and acknowledged, and dealth with openly and effectively.

Jane’s Hot Points: While there is uptake of EHRs reported by both hospitals and physicians who have signed up for HITECH incentives, the most current stats are that one-third of physician offices now have some form of EHR, and 61% of hospitals have filed intent to qualify for incentives.

We are on the road toward digitizing health care in America. But even Janet Marchibroda, director for the Center’s IT work, admits that there are miles to go to get to HIT Nirvana in the U.S.

Later this month, tens of thousands of health care analysts, providers, financiers and suppliers will meet up at the annual 2012 HIMSS conference. There, we will be treated to tours of new-new software, robotic hardware, data analytics programs and wireless-everything-in-health. As we tour the rich real estate at the Venetian Hotel and Conference Center, exploring Shiny New Things in health IT, we would be well-served to remember the caveats identified by the Center in this real-world report.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist and management consultant that serves clients at the intersection of health and technology. Jane’s lens on health is best-defined by the World Health Organization: health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. She blogs regularly at HEALTHPopuli.