Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services this month is finalizing the much-anticipated requirements for what constitutes the "meaningful use" of electronic health records. Those requirements will let healthcare providers know what they must do to qualify for the more than $20 billion in incentive funds set aside as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. It's expected that many healthcare providers who haven't deployed EHRs yet, will do so after the meaningful use requirements are released.
InformationWeek editor at large Marianne Kolbasuk McGee recently spoke to the nation's health IT coordinator, Dr. David Blumenthal, about what's at stake as healthcare providers, especially smaller ones, start deploying and using EHRs.
InformationWeek: Why is it important to hospitals for doctor practices to get on board with health IT and meaningful use?
Blumenthal: In future stages of meaningful use our goal is to make sure that information follows patients. Organizations that participate in the care of patients must support the gathering of information in ways that meet the full needs of patients regardless of where they get their care. So if you're a hospital in a city and a patient gets specialty care in a network of physicians or at a hospital other than yours, I expect the criteria for meaningful use to take into account the ability of hospitals to move information to those other specialty providers whether or not they're affiliated.
InformationWeek: Will rewards or penalties be tied to the ability to exchange medical information?
Blumenthal: From a policy standpoint, an aspirational standpoint, the Department of Health and Human Services--and I think the Congress--is very clear on where we want to go, and that's to have information follow patients. That's to have information that’s generated in any part of the health system to be available to every other part of the health system that takes care of that single patient. We don’t want information to be stopped at the border of a health system, a commercial boundary, or a geographic or political boundary. Ultimately we don't even want it to stop at national boundaries. We want this to be about patients, not about the technical or business concerns of providers.
InformationWeek: What are the biggest risks to doctors who don't get on board besides the financial penalties that will eventually kick in?
Blumenthal: First of all, any doctor who wants to sell his or her practice or who wants to recruit a partner to give new life to the practice or to expand it will have a lot of trouble recruiting a young physician--someone under the age of 45--if they don't have an electronic health record or don't plan to acquire one. This new generation of physicians isn't going to tolerate a paper world.
InformationWeek: So the excuse that you're a doctor who'll be retiring in a few years isn't a valid reason not to implement EHRs?
Blumenthal: If you're a 50- to 60-year-old physician, you're in the prime of your professional career and your patient panel is expanding. You probably want to bring on a new partner--maybe two or three--so you'll be recruiting. There's a physician shortage, so what's going to make your practice competitive?