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Use of technology in healthcare to take on new meaning

Meaningful use is wrapping up, according to the acting administrator of CMS. That should allow providers to use their EHRs and other healthcare technology a little more freely.

Technology vendors and health IT departments are bracing for more changes to the healthcare industry. During the initial health IT push after the introduction of the HITECH Act in 2009, there was a rise in the use of technology in healthcare settings. 

Many healthcare professionals and organizations, including health IT employees, software vendors and systems integrators, were involved in the meaningful use program in some way. Participating in meaningful use meant they had to invest and work with health IT in some capacity. That sudden increase in demand for technology was welcomed by most people on the technological side of healthcare. With the recent announcement of a post-meaningful use program lead by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), many health IT departments are wondering if they should prepare for another round of technology implementations in medical facilities.

According to Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of CMS, there will soon be significant changes to the course of health IT, beginning with the conclusion of the meaningful use program. Slavitt touched on what to expect from the new program during an address at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January 2016; it is still unclear what the exact requirements will be.

Thus far, it is understood that there will be a focus on eliminating the burden that physicians experienced when trying to meet some of the criteria of the first two stages of meaningful use. Providers will spend less time with technology and more time with patients. This can be interpreted to mean that there will be less up-front data collection on the part of physicians. Additionally, more value will be placed on reporting patient outcomes as a way to ensure that physicians are providing quality care for their patients.

Interoperability is a goal of government health agencies and some organizations that use technology in healthcare. Both startups and established EHR vendors will be required by CMS to include data exchange capabilities into their products. EHR systems must allow information to flow to other vendors' systems without imposing obstacles. In addition, Slavitt said CMS will be requiring open application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow systems, apps and other technology in healthcare facilities to integrate more freely with EHRs.

It's clear that health IT will always play an important role in healthcare. The time healthcare professionals spend interacting with technology is often worth pulling them away from patients because digital health data is far more valuable than its paper counterpart. Patient outcome improvements are more easily determined through analysis of electronic health data.

For now, many healthcare professionals are anticipating additional details about the direction of health IT will be shared at the HIMSS 2016 conference in Las Vegas during a session hosted by CMS. Andy Slavitt and Karen DeSalvo, M.D., the national coordinator for health IT, are scheduled to address attendees and perhaps offer some more concrete details.

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