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3/3/2010
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Feds Set To Start Implementing Health IT Policies

The National Coordinator for Health IT is ready to launch several new programs to get healthcare providers using technology.

It's about time for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to transition from creating policy to facilitating the implementation of electronic health records, Dr. David Blumenthal told a packed house at the annual Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) convention in Atlanta.

But before that transition begins, some unfinished policy business remains. "Our first task is to finalize three important regulations, which are in one stage or another of proposal. We hope that by the spring, we can launch into our new era," said Blumenthal, national coordinator for HIT. The three pending regulations are the Certification and Implementation interim final rule, the Meaningful Use notice of proposed rulemaking, and the Certification Process notice of proposed rulemaking.

That new era includes new programs such as Regional Extension Centers (RECs) that will help primary care physicians and other healthcare providers benefit from government programs that promote the adoption of health IT; Beacon Communities, at least 15 communities that demonstrate exemplary use of health IT; Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Project (SHARP) Grants, which address areas where breakthrough advances are needed to overcome barriers to the adoption and meaningful use of health IT; and workforce development programs.

All the programs are funded under HITECH stimulus funding legislation. Blumenthal noted that $700 million has been awarded to 32 RECs; $564 million will be spent to support state health information exchanges; and $235 million to support Beacon Communities.

Regarding the HIE awards, Blumenthal specified 40 had gone out last month, with more on the way.

For the Beacon Communities grants, Blumenthal's office received 130 applications for 15 slots, he said. "We've been delighted with the way that even the process of communities coming together to apply for these grants has made a lasting change in how they view healthcare IT, and how these stakeholders regard each other. We want to find more ways to support that process," Blumenthal said.

The HITECH act constitutes the first time in history a country has laid out in exactly what it should expect from a modern electronic health information system, he contended.

Speed was critical, Blumenthal said, but balance even more so. "As I look back and ahead, I see us doing the downhill slalom--we're moving fast but can't afford to miss a turn. We must provide needed direction but allow for flexibility, promote innovation and expect the unexpected, assure the liquidity of health information but protect privacy and security."

The Office of the National Coordinator has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and is moving in lock step with the unstoppable tide of history, specifically the advance of science, Blumenthal said. In the near future, those who practice medicine without aid of electronic records will be viewed as unprofessional at best, negligent at worst, he predicted.

"The idea you can be a competent processional without being able to manage information in a modern, effective way defies belief. I don't think our larger society will continue to embrace the social contract it has with processionals unless they demonstrate they can use and move information in the most modern way. Without that, they are crippled in serving patients."

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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