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Tag: Beyond Core

HIMSS Unplugged

By ANDY ORAM

HIMSS has opened and closed in Florida and I’m in Boston with snow up to my rectus abdominis. After several years of watching keynote pageants and scarfing up the amenities at HIMSS conferences, I decided to stay home this year.

Writing articles from earlier conferences certainly called on all my energy and talents. In 2010 I called for more open source and standards in the health care field. In 2012 I decried short-term thinking and lack of interest in real health transformation. In 2013 I highlighted how far providers and vendors were from effective patient engagement.

In general, I’ve found that my attendance at HIMSS leads moaning and carping about the state of health IT. So this year I figured I could sit in my office while moaning and carping about the state of health IT.

In particular, my theme this year is how health IT is outrunning the institutions that need it, and what will happen to those left behind.

The scissors crisis: more IT expenditures and decreasing revenues

Although the trade and mainstream press discuss various funding challenges faced by hospitals and other health providers, I haven’t seen anyone put it all together and lay out the dismal prospects these institutions have for fiscal health. Essentially, everything they need to do in information technology will require a lot more money, and all the income trends are declining.

Certainly the long-term payoff for the investment in information technology could be cost reductions–but only after many years, and only if it’s done right. And certainly, some institutions are flush with cash and are even buying up others. What we’re seeing in health care is a microcosm of the income gap seen throughout the world. To cite Billie Holliday: them that’s got shall get; them that’s not shall lose.

Here are the trends in IT:

  • Meaningful Use requires the purchase of electronic health records, which run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars just for licensing fees. Training, maintenance, storage, security, and other costs add even more. The incentive payments from the federal government come nowhere near covering the costs. EHR providers who offer their record systems on the Web (Software as a Service) tend to be cheaper than the older wave of EHRs. Open source solutions also cost much less than proprietary ones, but have made little headway in the US.
  • Hot on the heals of Meaningful Use is ICD-10 compliance, a major upgrade to the diagnostic codes assigned to patient conditions. Training costs (and the inevitable loss of productivity caused by transitions) could be staggering. Some 80% of providers may miss the government’s deadline. The American Medical Association, citing estimated prices for a small practice of $56,639 to $226,105 (p. 2), recently urged the government to back off on requiring ICD-10. Their point of view seems to be that ICD-10 might have benefits, but far less than other things the providers need money for. Having already put off its deadline, the Department refuses to bend further.
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