The nation's health information technology czar said today that his office will be pooling the advice from multiple studies under way that are looking into what the returns to Medicare on investment in healthcare IT may be.
David Brailer, M.D., would not put a deadline on when the studies would be completed but said, "I'm counting it in months. It's urgent."
Armed with those numbers, the government will be able to consider ways Medicare should participate in sharing the cost of provider investments in healthcare IT.
"I think the discussion is how much and in what form," Brailer said at a press briefing following a speech to a meeting of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology in Chicago. The alliance is an organization of healthcare industry leaders seeking to use IT to improve quality and efficiency.
Brailer said several methods of financial assistance have been discussed to help providers implement IT, including helping them pay for it at time of purchase, pay later for its use, or pay based on the value it brings to healthcare. No final decision on a method has been reached, he said.
In addition, Brailer said his office would seek to place a dollar figure on the national return on investment on healthcare IT.
"My sense is there has been a lot of churning on this, but no one has put pencil to paper," he said. "There aren't even good estimates as to what this costs."
He reiterated statements made in previous public addresses since his appointment was announced May 6 by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson that the government is willing to help pay for IT, but it will seek partners among private sector payers and other beneficiaries.
Brailer told the lunchtime audience of about 170 attendees to the day-long alliance meeting, which otherwise was closed to the press, that the physician-patient relationship should be the focus of what he described as "healthcare reform from the inside out."
And while congressional interest in healthcare recently has exploded--there are eight or so pieces of federal legislation directed at healthcare IT--Brailer decried the vision that IT "has gone from a supporting role, to a critical role, to top of the heap."
"This is not about computerization," he said. "It's about what we do with information" and changing concepts of care so that information is seen as a form of therapy.
Broadly speaking, Brailer said healthcare IT needs to automate the practice of healthcare, allow for interconnectivity from one system to another and provide for the needs of population-based healthcare.
The lack of interoperability, he said, has been a barrier to physician adoption. It raises the risk of selecting the wrong system, he said, because without interoperability a physician?s ability to choose an alternative system is constrained.
Brailer also said that, as an ultimate goal, the data itself must be mobile, "down to the individual patient."
"To me, this is fundamental," he said.
President Bush created Brailer's position of national health information technology coordinator on April 26.