This week is National Health IT Week. I’m not sure why we need a week for it. Some of us celebrate health IT all year round. That said, at least it’s an opportunity for some people that could impact healthcare IT to take some time to think about it. A good example of this was that President Obama put out a letter for National Health IT Week (Side Note: It’s kind of funny that it’s still a “letter” and not a blog post or Tweet or Snap or something else. It’s interesting how letters keep subsisting in electronic format. Hmm…sounds a bit like healthcare.). Here’s an excerpt of what he said:
During National Health IT Week, we recommit ourselves to improving the health of our citizenry using the breakthrough technologies of our time and reaching for the next frontier of innovation…Because of our collective efforts, 97 percent of our Nation’s hospitals and three-quarters of doctors are using electronic records to care for their patients…These efforts help advance our Administration’s goal of fostering the seamless and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it is needed most. Though there is more to be done to realize a healthcare system that fits each of our needs, I am confident that if we continue working together, we can build a future of greater health and prosperity for coming generations.
While I’d like to think that this week has caused the President to spend some time thinking about healthcare IT, I’m not sure it really makes any difference. Besides the fact that some staffer or ONC itself probably did most of the work for the letter, the letter illustrates to me that the President doesn’t really understand the challenges that face healthcare IT. That’s unfortunate because it means we won’t see any real push to change things from him.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying the President should be an expert on healthcare IT and I’m certain that few people in Congress know much more about it than he does. They’re all likely in the same position the President is in with too many challenges and limited time. They can only dive in deeply on so many of them.
The thing that disturbs me about this letter is that it’s likely the same position that our government has had for health IT since pre-meaningful use. In fact, it’s likely why meaningful use was included so easily in the ARRA stimulus package. Is Health IT good? Well, electronic has been good in every other industry. So, that sounds good. Can you transfer bits and bytes of health data better than paper? Yep! So, EHR should make sharing data easier. Conclusion: Let’s keep doing more EHR and healthcare will be better and healthcare data sharing will happen.
It’s this naivety that’s gotten us where we are today.
My cause for optimism is that the people in government positions over healthcare like Andy Slavitt, Acting Director of CMS, do have a much better pulse on what’s happening in healthcare IT. They understand physician burnout. They understand overwhelming doctors with unnecessary and useless documentation. They understand data blocking and the pressures healthcare organizations face to not share health data. I’m not saying they have all the solutions. These are challenging problems, but I’m hopeful because they do understand these problems much better than most people give them credit.
Will we see much change? The jury is still out. Those at HHS only have so many levers they can pull. I do hope they can find ways to encourage without stifling innovation. I hope they focus on collecting useful data as opposed to possibly useful data. I hope they stop wasting money on EHR certification which provides no benefit and causes a lot of harm and they instead focus on a meaningful EHR interoperability certification.
Most of all, I hope they’re not afraid to focus on one thing that’s extremely valuable and doable (ie. interoperability) and set aside the 100s of other things which have questionable value. Wouldn’t we all rather have CMS do 1 thing really well as opposed to doing 100 things poorly?
Today I focused on some government health IT perspectives. Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the other healthcare IT trends that get me excited and a few that scare me. Happy National Health IT Week!