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Annual Evaluation of Health IT: Are We Stuck in a Holding Pattern? (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on April 13, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

I don’t think anyone has complained of excessive long-term thinking among health care providers. But an urgent lack of planning has worsened in the past few months as key drivers of the health IT field search for new directions. Given today’s issues with Meaningful Use Stage 3, the FHIR data exchange standard, Accountable Care Organizations, medical device regulation, and health IT staffing, I expect the next several months to be a time of waiting.

This article will look over what has happened during the past year and try to summarize large-scale trends. I used to report annually from the HIMSS conference, the largest health IT gathering in the US, but stopped going because my articles were always cynical, cantankerous, and depressed. So I figure I just write up a cynical, cantankerous, and depressed summary of what’s happening in health IT from home.

Meaningful Use Stage 3: Shoot the Moon?

There are clear indications that the Meaningful Use program has gone off the tracks. I don’t consort with those who disparaged Meaningful Use from the start and claimed that it held back progress in the IT field. What little progress has occurred can be credited to Meaningful Use, because frankly, the health care industry was totally mired before. Choose your favorite metaphor: deer in the headlights (of oncoming disruptive competitors), ostrich in the sand, even possum in the road.

And no one can challenge that Stage 1 met its (very limited) goals. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) just reported that the vast majority of hospitals have attested to Stage 1 (with rural and children’s hospitals lagging significantly). In fact, while defining Stage 3, CMS could remove some of its requirements because they have “topped out,” meaning that almost everybody already does them.

All the sharper is the contrast between Stage 1 and Stage 2, which was supposed to be incremental but apparently broke the camel’s back for many EHR vendors as well as providers, a lot of whom have thrown in the towel.

Interoperability was certainly a big stumbling block. Two different EHRs can claim to support a standard (such as the C-CDA) while not actually being able to exchange data in a useful manner, for reasons ranging from outright errors to differing interpretations of a fuzzy standard.

But the most whining from providers in Stage 2 arose over a requirement that patients view, transmit, or download (VDT) data from a patient portal. Even though providers needed only 5% of their patients to take a look at the site, they complained bitterly that they were being judged for something that relied on somebody else’s behavior (their patients).

The VDT measure is indeed a responsibility that depends on the behavior of outsiders (as are the interoperability requirements). But health providers seem slow to grasp the whole idea of “pay-for-value,” which means they won’t be rewarded in the future for doing stuff–they’ll be rewarded for results. Not that patients will get healthier just by viewing or transmitting data. But we need something measurable to mark progress, and since everybody issues paeons to patient engagement, the VDT measure is a natural one.

Calls have come from around the industry to water down or otherwise “simplify” Meaningful Use for Stage 3. A common request is to eliminate clinical quality measures (such as how many patients smoke) and focus on interoperability, which I oppose.

To muddy the Meaningful Use landscape further, Congress has started weighing in with complaints that the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) hasn’t done enough to achieve its goals. One proposed bill overrides ONC and CMS to mandate changes in health care policy. There are rumors that Congress (who of course created the Meaningful Use provision in the first place) will take it back and do some serious micromanagement, perhaps as part of a bill on a totally different topic, the “doc fix” that is supposed to regularize Medicare payments.

In the midst of this turmoil, the ONC and CMS recently released Stage 3 recommendations, and it looks like they haven’t pulled their punches on a single thing. Interoperability is central, but the clinical quality measures still appear in full force. The requirement that patients engage with the technology has been softened, but still requires patients to take some action such as using a portal or uploading their own data.

Perhaps the boldest stake that CMS put in the ground was to force all providers onto a single schedule in Stage 3, a tremendous departure from the gentle steps offered by the first two stages. This has touched off a provider frenzy. They’ve been lobbying for years to slow Meaningful Use down, and notoriously ran to Congress to delay adoption of ICD-10 disease coding. But putting everyone on the same track makes eminent sense, particularly at this stage. If you’re really serious about data exchange and coordinated care, everybody has to equally capable. Otherwise we’re back to finger-pointing and claims that technology lapses have prevented compliance.

So what are ONC and CMS up to? Are they shooting the moon–hoping to make the big leap to their maximal goals in one bold play? Are they floating an audacious wish list that they know will be cut back in the course of negotiation? Are they even taunting resistant industries to go to Congress, knowing that Congress recently has been making even more radical noise than the Administration about the drawbacks of health IT? Something along these lines seems to be in the works.

To return to the theme of this article, I’m afraid that health care providers, insurers, EHR vendors, and all their business associates will freeze up while waiting for Congress and the various branches of Health and Human Services to determine which behaviors to prescribe and which to punish. So that’s my take on meaningful use–more on other developments in health IT in the next installments.

Should the Interoperability of Health Care Records Be the Law of the Land?

Posted on March 10, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The upcoming three days may be critical to health care in the US. Representative Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas) has introduced a bill to promote the interoperability of health care records, and is accepting comments to his office only through March 13. This bill states valuable goals, but also embodies implications we should be wary of–and some real dangers.
Read more..

EHR Incentive Money Congressional Authorization versus Appropriation – Will EHR Incentive Money Disappear?

Posted on July 5, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been having a number of discussions online and through email with people about the future of the EHR incentive money. A number of people are quite concerned with the government funding for the EHR incentive money. You may remember that I posted about this before on multiple occasions and had some really interesting discussion.

Here’s a summary of some of the points that I’ve heard people making when it comes to the EHR incentive money being taken away:

1-There is a crucial difference between the two steps required for Congressional funding, a-authorization and b-appropriations. Congress can authorize, but cannot appropriate for 5 yrs. This applies to the EHR stimulus money. Thus the 5 year EHR payment has been authorized, but no EHR funds have been, nor can they be, appropriated for 5 years, right?

2-There is $18k this year for doctor Medicare EHR. But not the remaining $26k over 5 years has not been apropriated (same applies to hospitals funds).

3-The budget deficit and debt ceiling suggest Congress will be looking now and in the future for cutting every dime they can,
and thus the $20B or so for EHR could be part of the cut. Thus there may be reduced EHR funds, or none, appropriated by Congress after this year.

I still believe in my gut that the EHR incentive money is going to be safe and still around going forward. There’s little benefit to cutting a mere $20 billion from a program that is generally bi-partisan. Plus, no one in congress really knows the potential good or bad impacts of the HITECH act on EHR and healthcare IT. However, it’s really easy for them to quickly assume that more technology in healthcare is good and worth funding (whether the way they’re doing it is good or not…a subject for a different post).

It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibilities that the government could make some sweeping cuts and the EHR incentive money is a casualty of those sweeping no holds bars type cuts. Point being that I don’t think there are any people in congress that are passionately for it or passionately against it. So, I think that means that it will likely either get carried forward on a whim or cast aside on a whim.

How’s that for a concrete answer? Are there points that I’m missing? Are we misunderstanding the HITECH funding process? Feel free to chime in with any knowledge you might have of the government process.

EMR Stimulus Money Secure from Political Changes

Posted on November 23, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve discussed on multiple occasions the possible impacts of the congressional changes on the EMR stimulus money. Justin Barnes on The Health Care Blog recently posted the best reason I’ve seen yet for the EMR stimulus money and meaningful use being safe from being cut, stopped, or otherwise maimed due to some political change. Here’s his description:

Fundamentally it’s important to note that the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, from which the Meaningful Use program and its funding originates within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, is an entirely different statute than PPACA.

Bipartisan support for the tenets and the spirit of HITECH dates back at least seven years, and it is also noteworthy that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which administers Meaningful Use, was created by the Bush administration and a Republican Congress.

Politics aside though, the reason that Meaningful Use funds are secure is because they are drawn from the Medicare Trust Funds held by the U.S. Treasury, and are therefore not subject to annual Congressional budget appropriations or oversight.

From what I’ve read, the funding is really the only tool that the republicans have to damage the various democratic legislation that they don’t like. Since the meaningful use funds are part of the Medicare Trust Funds and not subject to the congressional budget, I think that clearly defines why the EMR stimulus money is safe.

So, you can all go out and safely buy your certified EHR and start showing meaningful use of your favorite EHR software.