In yet another outbreak of initiative in the area of information technology, a group of IT-minded trade associations is rounding up a spectrum of leadership in the healthcare industry this week to explore establishing a voluntary certification program for computer applications serving ambulatory-care settings.
The private-sector push for a minimum set of features and functions common to all IT products aims to eliminate obstacles to the widespread adoption of computer automation in physician offices and clinics, said Stephen Lieber, president and chief executive officer of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
It also would pre-empt any notion among federal officials or legislators to impose a government-hatched program out of "frustration over a failure of healthcare to coalesce around common standards," he said.
Calls for such a coalition have been part of a standard speech during the past month by David Brailer, the new national coordinator for health IT initiatives. During an address to the National Alliance for Health Information Technology in mid-June, Brailer asked industry leaders "to think about what we can do to bring a trusted governance organization that can bring objective, discriminating evaluations on products that are sold and used in the market."
Healthcare trade associations including HIMSS, the American Health Information Management Association and the alliance embraced the issue late last month during a meeting on IT advancement organized by an advocacy group called the eHealth Initiative, Lieber said. "If this is going to happen, then associations are going to have to take the lead," he said.
The new coalition will gather on July 13 to map out a direction and then report its initial findings at a national conference on healthcare IT advancement July 21-23 in Washington, Lieber said. Brailer, the keynote speaker, will unveil a strategy for bringing the private sector and government together to increase IT adoption. HIMSS called the confluence of activity on certification "a brief but uniquely powerful window of opportunity and we must act immediately."
Both HHS and private payers have launched initiatives they hope will stem rising healthcare costs by offering incentives for measurable improvement in the quality of care for certain acute and chronic conditions. But they're concerned that a proliferation of pay-for-performance programs won't make much headway unless physicians are able to manage the care of their patients using computer IT systems and consequently improve care enough to qualify for incentives based on outcome targets, said Francois de Brantes, program manager for healthcare initiatives at General Electric Co.
Lack of standards identifying what should be included in an electronic medical record has been "a major stumbling block" for physicians who want to computerize but are averse to the risk, according to HIMSS. Doctors with little prior exposure to the world of clinical IT are faced with trying to evaluate a maze of product claims while avoiding the prospect of being stuck with a system that isn't up to the task and won't communicate with those of other providers.
"Certification will greatly reduce the investment risk on the part of the physician," de Brantes said. "You've got to decrease the knowledge gap, and certification is the logical thing to do."
If it's not created in the private sector during the next year or so, Brailer cautioned, a vehicle for certification will have be created one way or another to satisfy a need to peg federal IT payment incentives to a clearly defined package of functions and capabilities. The specter of regulations along the lines of the much-criticized Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is something the healthcare industry should strive to head off, he said.
"I do not want to see the `Son of HIPAA' put into law," Brailer said.