HIMSS tries to put positive spin on benefits of healthcare technology, despite some studies that show little gains from health IT.
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The Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), a Chicago-based association that includes health IT professionals and vendors, has introduced a Health IT Value Suite that is designed to show the value of healthcare technology in several domains, including patient experience, safety, quality of care and savings.
While the Value Suite is aimed at several audiences -- including providers, policymakers and payers -- a news release and a related press conference made it clear that the main target is healthcare providers, and doctors in particular.
"As healthcare providers continue to implement IT solutions, it is increasingly critical to be able to evaluate technology's real impact," said Carla Smith, executive VP of HIMSS, in a statement. "Pinpointing the clinical and financial impact of health IT investments is complex. That's why we're introducing the Health IT Value Suite."
At the press conference, Carol Steltencamp, MD, vice chair of HIMSS and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky, noted that the Value Suite offers doctors insights into the use of health IT by their peers. "It gives you something positive to look at and it gives you references. These are your colleagues -- call them up and see how they achieved their goals," she said.
Two top officials in the Administration's campaign to increase the adoption and effective use of health IT spoke at the news conference. Brian Sivak, chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Robert Tagalicod, director of the Office of E-Health Standards and Services at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), both endorsed HIMSS' initiative.
The Health IT Value Suite's framework for categorizing and quantifying the value of health IT encompasses five categories. These include:
Satisfaction Improved communication with patients and patient satisfaction scores.
Treatment/Clinical Improved patient safety, reduction in medical errors, reduced readmissions, improved scheduling.
Electronic information/Data Increased use of evidence-based guidelines, increased population health reporting, improved quality measures reporting.
Savings Increased volume, reduction in days in accounts receivable, reduced patient wait times, reduced ER admissions, improved inventory control.
"Our data shows that clinical and treatment value has been realized in over 90% of case studies," Smith said. "Over half of providers are reporting increased patient or physician satisfaction. And over 70% of our case studies are revealing some type of savings through the effective use of IT."
The evidence for these improvements comes from about 500 case studies that HIMSS gathered from providers, government agencies and medical literature. However, the executive summary of the Health IT Value Suite cautions users, "The database has different levels of evidence. These levels of evidence range from peer-reviewed cases in which data has been reviewed by others in the field to self-reported evidence."
When asked whether the Value Suite would increase EHR adoption and about the contrast between HIMSS' uniformly positive data and complaints about EHRs from many physicians, Smith responded: "The purpose is not only to help increase adoption but also to increase effective use of information technology, so we can share the lessons learned and develop best practices so that others can walk a journey that was walked by others."
Angela Duncan Diop, VP of information systems at Unity Healthcare in Washington, D.C., said, "We need to be honest: it's hard work [to implement an EHR]. When we started, we made a lot of mistakes. But the HIMSS tool kit will provide opportunities to avoid those mistakes by sharing lessons learned."
Published studies of health IT's impact have shown mixed results. A Stanford University study, for example, found that the use of EHRs did not improve patient care. David Blumenthal, then National Coordinator for Health IT, criticized the study because its data was several years old. He said that EHRs had improved since the Meaningful Use requirements were established in 2010. However, a 2012 meta-analysis of studies of EHRs' clinical decision support features showed there was little evidence that they improved clinical outcomes.
One possible reason for the disconnect between the results of these studies and HIMSS' case studies is that the latter come from practices and healthcare systems that have worked hard to take advantage of EHRs' capabilities. The average provider might not be using EHRs as effectively.