As State Health Information Exchanges and Federal efforts (NHIN Connect/NHIN Direct) implement the data sharing technology that will enable all providers in the country to achieve Meaningful Use Stage 1, I’m often asked “but when will this healthcare information exchange technology be able to retrieve all my records from everywhere when I’m lying unconscious in the Emergency Department and cannot give a history?”
Here are my thoughts about the trajectory we’re on and how it will lead us to supporting the “Unconscious in the ED” use case.
Meaningful Use Stage 1 is about capturing data electronically in EHRs. Getting healthcare data in electronic form is foundational to any data exchanges. By 2011 we should have medication lists, problem lists, allergies, and summaries available from EHRs.
The data exchanges in Stage 1 are simple pushes of data from point A to point B – from provider to public health, from provider to provider, and from provider to pharmacy. There is no master patient index, no record locator service, and no centralized database containing everyone’s lifetime health record.
Finally, we have a Final Rule on the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. The rules and criteria are simpler and more flexible, and the measures easier to compute. But they are still an “all or nothing” proposition for physicians, who will have to meet all of the objectives and measures to receive any incentive payment. Doctors who get three-quarters of the way there won’t receive a dime. And a lot of uncertainty remains about dependent processes that CMS and ONC must quickly put in place, like accreditation of “testing and certifying bodies,” and the testing schemas for certification. All in all, we expect most physicians in small practices to sit on the sidelines until the dust settles, likely in 2012 or 2013.
Nevertheless, while it is good to get Meaningful Use behind us, it may be better still seeing beyond it. After all, the incentive payments for becoming a “meaningful user of certified EHR technology” are merely a small down payment on the savings that could be realized if health care supply, delivery and payment are affected by the changing policy and market environments over the next 5 years. The EHR incentive programs are meant to prime the pump by putting approximately $25 billion, give or take a few billion, into the hands of physicians and hospitals who adopt EHR technology during the 5 years between 2011 and 2016.
During that same time, by comparison, reductions in waste, duplication, and unnecessary procedures might mean savings of $100 billion to Medicare alone,# depending on whose estimate you believe and how effective you think the reforms will be in replacing payment for volume with payment for value. It might be a lot more. Conservative estimates are that 30% of our total national health care expenditure of $2.5 trillion, or over $800 million, is unnecessary and could be eliminated through real reforms. Some authoritative estimates argue that half or more of care costs are unnecessary, so the target jumps to $1.25 trillion a year.