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February 2012

Healthcare Industry's Triple Strand of DNA: health IT, payment reform and patient empowerment

Earlier this month I used a genetics anology to describe the amazing progress with electronic health record (EHR) usage by physicians over the past two years (see Progress being made to splice information technology into the healthcare industry's genome in Texas).   Facilitating this progress are the EHR Incentive Program and other federal health IT initiatives that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) oversees. 

Last Thursday the National Coordinator of ONC, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, took my genetics analogy one step further in his keynote speech at the HIMSS12 Annual  Conference for health IT in Las Vegas.   And I have to admit that he improved upon it.  I guess that's why he's in Washington D.C. and I'm not. 

Dr. Mostashari warned the 36,000  conference attendees that along with this continued progress there are two other societal trends to align health IT with.   He advocated for "twisting health IT to create a triple strand of DNA" with payment reform and patient empowerment. 

Health IT, payment reform and patient empowerment.  The triple strand of DNA to splice into the healthcare industry.  I like that. 

Payment reform is seriously needed to align incentives with the provision of quality care in an efficient manner.   Right now I am basically paid to "encounter" patients and to do procedures.       Although I am personally motivated to provide high quality care, the incentives are oddly there for physicians to "see more" and "do more" rather than to "see it done best".     In addition, my documentation is based on meeting reimbursement rules to make sure I get paid rather than being based on communicating a clear picture of my findings and care plan.   I absorb the extra time it takes to do both.

Consequently it is no surprise that for decades EHR vendors developed products based on episodic care.    Physician's sought out products that would help them document and get paid for patient encounters.  Documentation templates and charge capture functionalities were developed to maximize chances for reimbursement.    

The potential for EHRs to improve quality and chronic disease management is just now starting to be realized.    The ONC's health IT initiatives enacted by CMS under the HITECH portion of the 2009 Recovery Act are providing the push.   But as payment reform proceeds, whether it be value-based purchasing, accountable care or some other program, EHR vendors will be incentivized even more to shift development efforts into chronic disease management and clinical decision support that are a basis for improving patient care. 

And the third strand of DNA to splice into the healthcare industry, patient empowerment, is indeed an active and growing societal influence.  But I will have to blog about that another day...


Progress being made to splice information technology into the healthcare industry's genome in Texas

It's amazing-the progress being made to splice information technology into the health care industry's genome.   When I first dove into health IT a decade ago the use of electronic health records (EHRs) was dismal and healthcare stakeholders rarely sat at the same table with mutually beneficial, collaborative objectives in mind.   Even within the same healthcare organization it was not uncommon for individual department leaders to disrupt an integrated health IT effort in order to protect some of their department's self-interests.   Less than 5% of hospitals had implemented fully functional computerized provider order management (CPOM) systems; less than 1 in 5 physicians were using an ambulatory EHR; and less than 5% of those were fully functional EHRs.    Today the percentage of physicians and hospitals using robust EHRs is rising at a rate that was unthinkable back then.  

This progress parallels the launch of health IT initiatives established through the federal HITECH funds such as the EHR Incentive Program.   In the past two years these funds have been a catalyst here in Texas to engage diverse groups of healthcare stakeholders  to use health IT to improve quality of care.   As a result:  

  • Increasing numbers of Texas physicians are using EHRs (approaching 50%)
  • More and more hospitals are using CPOM
  • Over a dozen of community-wide health information exchanges (HIEs) are up and running
  • New health IT workforce training programs are established
  • Four regional extension centers were formed covering all geographic areas of the state and are doing a phenomenal job assisting thousands of physicians with EHR selection, implementation and meaningful use
  • Texas became the first state to have it’s HIE plan approved by ONC
  • Texas was one of the first states to stand up the Medicaid EHR incentive program making our program a model for other states
  • Texas was one of four to receive a SHARP grant
  • And Texas leads the way with the number of physicians attesting to meaningful use; Texas physicians and hospitals have received over $270 Million in EHR incentives

This rate of progress is only possible when individuals with diverse backgrounds and from different healthcare stakeholder groups are able to collaborate.  In Texas these stakeholders have demonstrated an ability to park their self-interests in order to drive forward with a common vision to improve the quality and delivery of patient care in our communities.