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What Did Health IT Pros Accomplish in 2011?

National health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari reviews progress on interoperability and meaningful use of electronic health records.

5 Key Elements For Clinical Decision Support Systems
5 Key Elements For Clinical Decision Support Systems
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Calling 2011 "a year of momentous progress," national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari is touting growth in adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), the perceived popularity of the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program, and movement toward better, more secure interoperability of health data.

"Over the past 12 months, the concept of Meaningful Use has thoroughly permeated EHR development and implementation. The marketplace of certified products has grown quickly, interest in Meaningful Use among providers and hospitals is sky-high, and the pace of incentive payments has continued to accelerate," Mostashari recently wrote on his official blog. He noted that 60% of the 672 vendors with EHRs certified to federal standards were small businesses.

In listing his top 10 developments in health IT over the past 12 months, Mostashari stayed upbeat. "More than 20,000 eligible professionals and 1,200 hospitals have already received their incentive payments from [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)], totaling $1.8 billion so far, with December shaping up to be the biggest month yet," wrote Mostashari, who took over as chief of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) on April 8, 2011, after predecessor Dr. David Blumenthal stepped down. He had served as deputy coordinator for programs and policy since 2009.

[For more background on e-prescribing tools, see 6 E-Prescribing Vendors To Watch.]

Mostashari cited impressive-sounding statistics about providers registering to participate in the Medicare and/or Medicaid Meaningful Use programs. He said that 2,868 hospitals and 154,362 individual physicians and other "eligible professionals" had registered with CMS or their state Medicaid program as of Nov. 30, and indicated that more than half of all office-based doctors nationwide intend to apply for incentive payments.

He ignored recent reports such as a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) study suggesting that more than half of eligible hospitals were not ready for Stage 1 of Meaningful Use.

However, the coordinator did have data to back up his claim that EHR adoption has taken off since passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the health IT section of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of ambulatory EHR usage showed that 34% of office-based physicians had adopted at least a basic EHR by 2011, double the number from 2008.

Among hospitals, 41% of facilities eligible for the EHR incentive programs had put in place systems certified to meet Meaningful Use standards, even if the hospitals themselves had not completed all the Meaningful Use requirements, according to Mostashari. Before the HITECH Act, he said, just 10% of U.S. hospitals had basic EHR systems and perhaps 2% had all the functionality that Stage 1 Meaningful Use calls for.

Mostashari also praised the launch and implementation of the Direct Project for health information exchange. "During 2011, the Direct Project went from publishing its first set of consensus-approved specifications to testing in pilots, to initial production implementation across vendor and state boundaries," Mostashari wrote.

Other entries in the top 10 included the National Quality Strategy for improving healthcare, development of the health IT workforce, and various public challenges to promote innovation in health IT and increase consumer engagement.

When are emerging technologies ready for clinical use? In the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, find out how three promising innovations--personalized medicine, clinical analytics, and natural language processing--show the trade-offs. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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