Drs. Kavita Patel and Paul Grundy
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 pledged almost $20 billion in government funding to assist with and incentivize the “meaningful use” of health information technology. Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that money to encourage providers to purchase electronic health record systems may be available as early as May 2011. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has loosened its “meaningful use standards,” offering physicians more realistic implementation benchmarks.
EHR incentive programs will provide eligible providers a financial reward for the meaningful use of qualified EHR systems. The adoption of electronic health records supports the goal of achieving an efficient, patient-centered, high quality and safe health care system. I believe that the notion of “meaningful use” in healthcare echoes the promise of a smarter planet; an IT system that is designed to solve the right problems can turn information into insights – resulting in better quality of life.
The healthcare sector lags behind other industries that are innovating for a smarter planet. There are several barriers that have prevented the healthcare system from becoming a quick and early adopter of information technology. Patients are concerned about privacy issues. There is a lack of standardization among EHRs. And for most healthcare organizations, cost and time pose significant barriers. Overburdened primary care physicians will not champion this new medium if it takes them nearly three times as long to enter data on a screen than it does to scribble on paper. As a practicing physician, I can attest to these challenges first hand.
But the promise of electronic health records can’t be overlooked: fewer adverse drug events, lower morbidity and mortality rates, improved continuity of patient care, greater operational efficiencies and lower costs.
I recently spoke with several members of the DC healthcare press alongside Dr. Paul Grundy, Director of Healthcare Transformation at IBM. Dr. Grundy discussed IBM’s dual role as both a buyer of healthcare for its nearly 400,000 employees and as a deliverer of healthcare technology and services. I shared my thoughts regarding the implementation of healthcare reform and explained the challenge of ensuring it lives up to its promise. The conversation was marked by lively debate on wide-ranging topics including two that are close to my heart: putting patients at the center of healthcare and moving toward the vision of patient-centered medical homes. Together with several former colleagues from the White House, I recently looked at seven innovative medical home models and identified the four elements that lead to improved quality and/or lower costs. One was data-driven analytical tools. In other words, patient-centered primary care will benefit greatly from the meaningful use of data – not only for individual patients but for patient populations as well.
As the government, the private sector and communities work together to improve the quality of our healthcare system and implement federal reform, it may help to think of “meaningful use” in a broader way. As we get closer to achieving the ideals of the patient-centered medical home, perhaps the ultimate proof of success will be outcomes that are immediately recognized as meaningful by the most important stakeholders in the mix – our patients.