It can be difficult to distinguish the health care reform law from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, in large part because the reform law also includes numerous initiatives that require the implementation of information technology and align closely with federal meaningful use requirements.
A new Congress having been sworn in, the health care reform law is due to go under the microscope this week. (Even Congressmen have been known to confuse health care reform and the HITECH Act.) Nothing, we have been told, is off the table. This includes the Medicare and Medicaid payment reforms that, as Beth Israel CIO Dr. John Halamka points out, could trigger the health care delivery reform that ultimately will cut the health care costs that now gobble up one-sixth of America’s GDP.
For Halamka, the accountable care organization, or ACO, will be the key bridge between health IT and the health care reform law. These organizations ideally will serve as collaborative groups of home health providers and providers of primary, ambulatory, inpatient and post-acute care, all using certified electronic health record (EHR) technology and participating in a functioning health information exchange (HIE).
The adoption of HIEs and EHRs, of course, is the key goal of meaningful use. So are clinical decision support, quality reporting and patient access to medical records. In turn, the argument goes, each of these goals is best achieved if a group of providers — ideally, everyone a patient would ever have to see — work to adopt interoperable systems. Such a group would be — you guessed it — an ACO.
Even if health care reform goes down in flames, the HITECH Act is here to stay. The philosophy that inspired the IT initiatives in the health care reform law thus will live on in spirit. Providers must understand the benefits of innovation, collaboration and interoperability, and plan accordingly — which, if they intend to receive meaningful use incentives, they are already doing.