As we mentioned in a speech last week, the Administration is working on an important transition for the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program. We have been working side by side with physician organizations and have listened to the needs and concerns of many about how we can make improvements that will allow technology to best support clinicians and their patients. While we will be putting out additional details in the next few months, we wanted to provide an update today.
In 2009, the country embarked on an effort to bring technology that benefits us in the rest of our lives into the health care system. The great promise of technology is to bring information to our fingertips, connect us to one another, improve our productivity, and create a platform for a next generation of innovations that we can’t imagine today.
Not long ago, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and other facilities were sparsely wired. Even investing in technology seemed daunting. There was no common infrastructure. Physician offices often didn’t have the capital to get started and it was hard for many to see the benefit of automating silos when patient care was so dispersed. We’ve come a long way since then with more than 97 percent of hospitals and three quarters of physician offices now wired.
The policy known as Meaningful Use was designed to ensure that clinicians and hospitals actually used the computers they bought with the help of government subsidies. In the last few months, though, it has become clear that the policy is failing. Moreover, the federal office that administers it is losing leaders faster than American Idol is losing viewers.
Because I believe that Meaningful Use is now doing more harm than good, I see these events as positive developments. To understand why, we need to review the history of federal health IT policy, including the historical accident that gave birth to Meaningful Use.
I date the start of the modern era of health IT to January 20, 2004 when, in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush made it a national goal to wire the U.S. healthcare system. A few months later, he created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), and gave it a budget of $42 million to get the ball rolling.
Karen DeSalvo, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology for HHS, is leaving her post to to address public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola. She took over as the ONC head in January, 2014.
The ONC’s COO Lisa Lewis will serve as the agency’s acting national coordinator.
HHS spokesman Peter Ashkenaz told THCB:
“HHS Secretary Burwell asked National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, effective immediately. In this role she will work with the Secretary on pressing public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola. Dr. DeSalvo has deep roots and a belief in public health and its critical value in assuring the health of everyone, not only in crisis, but every day.
Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, will serve as the Acting National Coordinator. However, Dr. DeSalvo will continue to support the work of ONC while she is at OASH.”
The transition comes at a time when critics are asking tough questions about the government’s Meaningful Use program and providers’ lackluster progress qualifying for Stage 2.
During National Minority Health Month, we acknowledge the potential for health information technology (health IT) – from electronic and personal health records to online communities to mobile applications – to transform health care and improve the health of racial and ethnic minorities.
Lack of access to quality, preventive health care, cultural and linguistic barriers, and limited patient-provider communication are factors that aggravate health disparities.
By increasing our investment in health IT policies and standards, we can help improve the quality of health care delivery and make it easier for patients and providers to communicate with each other – a huge step toward addressing the persistence of health disparities.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found in 2012 that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to own a mobile phone than whites and outpace whites in mobile app use, using their phones for a wider range of activities.
The study showed that African Americans and Latinos use their mobile phones more often to look for health information online. This has very important implications for personal management of health and interaction with the health care system.
However, barriers to widespread adoption of health IT remain.
For example, a 2014 consumer engagement report found that minorities were less likely to adopt online patient portals to access their health information than were non-Hispanic whites.
Karen DeSalvo started as the new National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology on January 13, 2014. After my brief discussion with her last week, I can already tell she’s a good listener, aware of the issues, and is passionate about using healthcare IT as a tool to improve population health.
She is a cheerleader for IT, not an informatics expert. She’ll rely on others to help with the IT details, and that’s appropriate.
What advice would I give her, given the current state of healthcare IT stakeholders?
1. Rethink the Certification Program – With a new National Coordinator, we have an opportunity to redesign certification. As I’ve written about previously some of the 2014 Certification test procedures have negatively impacted the healthcare IT industry by being overly prescriptive and by requiring functionality/workflows that are unlikely to be used in the real world.
One of the most negative aspects of 2014 certification is the concept of “certification only”. No actual clinical use or attestation is required but software must be engineered to incorporate standards/processes which are not yet mature. An example is the “transmit” portion of the view/download/transmit patient/family engagement requirements.
There is not yet an ecosystem for patients to ‘transmit’ using CCDA and Direct, yet vendors are required to implement complex functionality that few will use. Another example is the use of QRDA I and QRDA III for quality reporting.
CMS cannot yet receive such files but EHRs must send them in order to be certified. The result of this certification burden is a delay in 2014 certified product availability.
We continue to see progress in improving the nation’s health care system, and a key tool to helping achieve that goal is the increased use of electronic health records by the nation’s doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. These electronic tools serve as the infrastructure to implementing reforms that improve care – many of which are part of the Affordable Care Act.
Doctors and hospitals are using these tools to reduce mistakes and hospital readmissions, provide patients with more information that enable them to stay healthy, and allow for rewarding health care providers for delivering quality, not quantity, of care.
The adoption of those tools is reflected today in a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics which provides a view of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program and indicates the program is healthy and growing steadily.
The 2013 data from the annual National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey are encouraging:
- Nearly 80% of office-based physicians used some type of electronic health record system, an increase of 60 percentage points since 2001 and nearly double the percent in 2008 (42%), the year before the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health Act passed as part of the Recovery Act in 2009.
- About half of office-based physicians surveyed said they use a system that qualifies as a “basic system,” up from just 11% in 2006.
- Almost 70% of office-based physicians noted their intent to participate in the EHR incentive program.
Figure 1. Percentage of office-based physicians with EHR systems: United States, 2001-2013
The report also noted that 13% of physicians who responded said they both intended to participate in the incentive program and had a system that could support 14 of the Meaningful Use Stage 2 “core set of objectives,” ahead of target dates. This survey was performed in early 2013 – before 2014 certified products were even available.