"If Congress and the agencies don't get feedback from HIMSS and the health IT community, they tend to gravitate toward questioning the value," Thomas M. Leary, the new VP of government relations for Chicago-based HIMSS, said. Leary, who had been senior director of federal affairs in the organization's Arlington, Va., office, replaced David W. Roberts, who was elected to the San Diego County (Calif.) board of supervisors in November.
Leary told InformationWeek Healthcare that demonstrating the value that IT will add to healthcare is among the top three issues on the HIMSS public policy agenda this year and during the new 113th Congress. After all, HIMSS was one of the leading voices in Washington behind passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, the portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that created Meaningful Use.
[ How is health data exchange, one of the most crucial parts of the government's Meaningful Use program, progressing? Read Meaningful Use Deferrals May Hurt Healthcare Providers. ]
Also on the list are promoting interoperability of health information and making sure the "HIT foundation is there" for implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including technology to support accountable care and value-based reimbursement.
Leary said HIMSS is particularly well positioned to inform debate on interoperability, a key sticking point among critics of Meaningful Use and those otherwise impatient with the progress of health IT initiatives. "We have a long track record on addressing the issues important to interoperability," Leary said. He noted that HIMSS was a founding partner of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise -- now known as IHE International -- in 1998.
"This year, we will be looking for where we can provide practical advice that leads to interoperability and health information exchange," particularly for hospitals that have reached stage 6 or 7, the top two levels, of the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption Model (EMRAM), said Leary. He said it is important to make sure that hospitals with well-developed EHRs actually participate in health information exchange.
"Part of our mission has to be making sure providers understand the value of exchanging information," he noted. This will require the organization to educate its members about roadblocks to interoperability and how they might overcome these barriers, he said. Similarly, HIMSS will need to communicate to government officials via public comments about how various policies create or get around roadblocks.
"We also have to make sure that our statements on public policy reflect the technological capabilities of HIMSS members," Leary said.
In building the IT foundation for healthcare reform, HIMSS has to make sure providers get good data into their systems before applying analytics technology. "The HIMSS board has been pushing HIMSS and our public policy staff to make sure they help to educate the healthcare community on business and clinical decisions they can make once they have the data for quality improvement," Leary said.
Leary believes that the complex ICD-10 diagnostic coding scheme, which providers must adopt by Oct. 1, 2014, will help make clinical information more useful for the purposes of quality improvement. "We've been strong supporters of preparing the healthcare community for ICD-10," he said.
Leary also said that he would like to continue the discussion of how mobile technology affects care delivery and educate congressional staff about how health IT can help stamp out fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid.
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