Sebelius, Blumenthal offer health IT adoption update at HIMSS 2011

Health IT adoption is on the rise, but there is work to do, the heads of HHS and the ONC said in a HIMSS 2011 keynote. Critically, tech cannot widen the gap between rich and poor.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The pace of health IT adoption has been accelerated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. That "unprecedented momentum" heralds the largest and most widespread implementation of health IT the world has ever seen, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during the Wednesday keynote at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2011 conference.

"The energy and creativity and commitment to improving health are a positive sign," Sibelius said. "Eventually, we'll see hospital after hospital clear out their file cabinets. For future generations, jokes about doctors' handwriting will be a thing of the past."

Sebelius and Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health IT, used their keynotes to offer an update on the various health IT adoption efforts funded by the HITECH Act.

  • As of Feb. 23, 2011, 300 providers have registered for the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs; and Medicaid has paid 25 providers in four states more than $20 million, Blumenthal said. Meanwhile, the Medicare program will start making payments May 1.
  • The country's regional extension centers (RECs) have enrolled 47,000 providers and have received additional funding to support critical access hospitals. "They're doing important, complicated work," Blumenthal said of the RECs. Meanwhile, the RECs' focus on small facilities will help narrow the health IT adoption gap between large, urban care providers and small, rural ones, Sibelius noted.
  • This spring, 3,400 students are slated to graduate from health IT training programs established at more than 80 community colleges.
  • Thirty-five state health information exchanges have had their implementation plans approved.
  • Finally, 415 complete EHR systems or EHR modules have been approved. All told, the products come from more than 230 vendors, roughly two-thirds of which have fewer than 50 employees. This demonstrates how the HITECH Act is driving innovation, Sibelius said.

Eventually, we'll see hospital after hospital clear out their file cabinets. For future generations, jokes about doctors' handwriting will be a thing of the past.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Of course, much work remains to be done to inspire health IT adoption. As Sebelius pointed out, 30% of primary care physicians (PCPs) use an EHR system today. That represents progress -- only 20% of PCPs used an EHR system two years ago, she said -- but it still means that seven in 10 primary doctors do not have electronic health records. In addition, recent research from HIMSS Analytics indicates that only 44% of hospitals expect to be ready for Stage 1 of meaningful use.

To that end, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) intends to focus its efforts on standards and certification criteria for EHR software, Blumenthal noted. In particular, this work will address how those standards must adapt to stages 2 and 3 of meaningful use, which increase the emphasis on interoperability and health information exchange, he said. The ONC also will heed the recommendations of its privacy and security Tiger Team to help ensure that the public's protected health information will remain in safe hands.

"Meaningful use provides us a way to set expectations and goals, a blueprint for what info should be available, to whom and when, in support of an improved health care system and improved health," Blumenthal said. For that to happen, health IT must be placed firmly at the "vital center ... of the health care system of the future," not at the margins, he added.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Brian Eastwood, Site Editor.

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