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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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HIMSS: Meaningful Use Goes Over The Top

Remember the regulatory rash that broke out several years ago, when every software vendor had just the balm for your HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, and other compliance problems?

Remember the regulatory rash that broke out several years ago, when every software vendor had just the balm for your HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, and other compliance problems? At this week's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Atlanta, the new compliance is "meaningful use" of electronic medical records, with vendors appealing to healthcare providers and other customers anxious to get their hands on the $793 gazillion (or thereabouts) in promised government subsidies.

It's not quite a frenzy, but at the booth of one clinical information software provider, a government type was overheard bragging to the vendor's chief medical officer about his new job, where he would "start handing out the funds" once the terms of meaningful use are finalized some time in the spring. It's almost as if he were ready to start printing the greenbacks in his basement.

Meantime, the software and consulting vendors exhibiting at HIMSS aren't shy about showing the way to the money. The booth signage of Healthcare Management Systems tells attendees that the vendor is "your partner in achieving meaningful use." 4Medica, a provider of clinical lab data over the Web, promises "integrated health records for meaningful use." Medicity, a health information exchange, assures attendees that it's "the standard for meaningful HIE." NexGen Healthcare Information Systems ups the urgency: "You have one shot to get the right tool for meaningful use reimbursements." Shared Health, a vendor of clinical decision-support systems, is handing out t-shirts emblazoned with "My meaningful use is more meaningful than yours" and "Are we in a meaningful relationship?"

Not that this marketing messaging is, well, demeaning; much of it is just opportunistic, and it's sometimes clever. There's clearly an audience for it: A conference session titled "Adoption and Meaningful Use of EHR Technology in a Hospital" drew a standing room only crowd. A study released Monday by HIMSS finds that the main driver of increased IT spending plans among healthcare providers is nothing other than meaningful use, even though the government financial incentives won't kick in till 2011.

But let's remember that meaningful use is just a bureaucratic means to the vast end of improving the quality of patient care, making it safer, extending access to it, and reducing its escalating cost. In his opening keynote address at the conference, Dr. Barry Chaiken, HIMSS chairman and chief medical officer of Imprivata, put the onus on the industry to create "healthcare IT solutions that are so compelling, so irresistible, that people just want to use them. We cannot rely on incentive programs or executive orders. We must create demand."

There's a raw energy at HIMSS reminiscent of the broader IT industry's go-go days, when there were myriad vendors and incomplete standards and fractious debates and lots of customer uncertainty, but when there was an unshakeable belief that IT could still change the world.

In his opening address, Dr. Chaiken captured that vibe, calling on the HIMSS membership to rise to the challenge. "Through the implementation of compelling healthcare IT solutions, you must transform the way healthcare is provided in this country, not the president, not Congress, not clinicians--you. If you don't do it, it will not happen. You must step forward and you must lead."

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