Private industry, not the federal government, will eventually drive health information technology initiatives, said David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, at a policy conference sponsored by the National Committee for Quality Assurance in Washington.
The federal government “has been investing a lot of effort and funds to push the adoption of health IT,” Blumenthal acknowledged, though he envisions a time when “the feds won't be in this business, that we won't be pushing health IT into the community,” but instead be trying to keep up with the advancements taking place in the private sector.
Overall, he seemed confident in physician adoption of electronic health records. A recent study of physician practices showed that 20% were using electronic records in 2008. Of those users, 90% said they were satisfied with the technology “and could point to quality improvements” as a result of using electronic records, Blumenthal stated.
Even for those physicians who had complaints about using the technology, “it's clear that very few physicians would go back to paper-based records,” he said.
Blumenthal reiterated his commitment to issue proposed rules on the so-called “meaningful use” of EHRs last month
, as well as offer grants to establish 70 health IT regional extension centers nationwide that will offer technical assistance, guidance and information on best practices to support and accelerate providers' efforts to become meaningful users of EHRs.
The first grants are expected to go toward 20 to 30 extension centers, with the awards going to small hospitals and primary-care physician practices. These grants will be announced shortly, Blumenthal promised.