Government // Leadership
Commentary
4/4/2011
10:35 AM
Anthony Guerra
Anthony Guerra
Commentary
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Guerra On Healthcare: In Meaningful Use, Knowledge Is Power

The key to success in today's ever-changing healthcare policy environment is to gather information wisely and selectively from a wide range of sources.

In years gone by, catching up with industry goings-on would have been something you'd do in those few spare moments when there was nothing else to do -- when flights, waiting rooms, and other activities made you a captive audience.

Today, the consequences of a healthcare IT exec not having his or her own information web, delivering news and analysis from trusted media outlets specifically on topics related to the meaningful use of e-health records, could lead to a strategic mistake that ultimately results in your dismissal.

"You're being overly dramatic," you say. I think not.

HealthsystemCIO.com's latest SnapSurvey -- sent to the more than 120 CIOs who sit on the advisory and survey panel -- reveals that information does change strategy. The survey shows that about half of the CIOs who had planned to attest to complying with Stage 1 meaningful use requirements in fiscal year 2011 are now planning to attest in FY12 instead, because of a glitch that would leave them with little time to prepare for Stage 2 compliance.

"That's great," you say, "so we'll all plan to attest in FY12." Hold on, we're not finished yet.

Last week, the Health IT Policy Committee's meaningful use workgroup began exploring options that would eliminate the timing glitch, thus giving people who are prepared in FY11 little reason to wait. The meeting just opened the discussion. We don't have any indication of what change(s) (if any) the workgroup will recommend to the full HIT Policy Committee, what that committee will eventually decide, and how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) will view the decision.

"What is a CIO to do?" you ask.

You only have one option: Build out the aforementioned information web. While one strand should link you to healthsystemCIO.com and another to InformationWeek Healthcare, a strong web must have many sources of information. It's impossible for one media outlet to cover you in every way on all issues, so string your web to cover all bases, string it wisely and selectively. Use social media, RSS, e-newsletters, white papers, and webinars, but beware information overload -- too much is almost as bad as too little.

Many think the government is doing a commendable job formulating meaningful use requirements, considering the size and scope of the endeavor, but there's no question the associated ambiguity has made it almost impossible for you to craft a three- or five-year strategic plan. While such plans should always be written in pencil, the week-by-week nature of meaningful use's twists and turns means you wore down your eraser long ago. Perhaps it's time for the whiteboard.

Though the HIT workgroup seems interested in eliminating disincentives from FY11 meaningful use reporting, that doesn't mean there will be much reason to switch back to the earlier date if you've already penciled in FY12. Practically speaking, this means CMS's Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) won't have to worry about low FY11 attestation numbers, because the industry won't know if those figures were caused by the glitch (even if it is ultimately removed) or because the program is over the top.

So the industry will likely be in limbo for another year before it can truly see if this program has been wisely crafted. Ultimately, judging whether meaningful use and other Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act programs are a success or failure will require significant hindsight. Today, however, there's work to be done. The nature of that work is ever-changing, so the key to your success is knowing when those changes come. It's time to spin your web.


Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of healthsystemCIO.com, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at aguerra@healthsystemCIO.com.

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