It has been a year of anticipation and activity for healthcare information technology and management systems. At this time in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus law, had just been approved two weeks earlier, and the year ended with the introduction on Dec. 30 of the draft regulations for electronic health-record standards and meaningful use.
Technology must be part of an overall patient-care plan
Then, from Dec. 30, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010:
The CMS released a notice of proposed rulemaking on meaningful use that identifies the criteria for becoming a meaningful user of health IT. Both programs have start dates of October 2010 for hospitals and January 2011 for eligible provider categories.
HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released an interim final rule on the certification criteria and standards for public comment, which will be used to support meaningful use for the start of the incentive payments in 2011.
The ONC was intending to release a notice of proposed rulemaking on an HHS certification process by the end of February.
These milestones in the history of healthcare IT represent more than the next evolution of healthcare delivery or deadlines to meet. Over the next five years, these final guidelines will set the pace for nationwide adoption of the electronic health record with a timeline in place for hospitals, physician practices and other health systems to follow. The proposed rule for meaningful use also includes five broad healthcare goals that offer an overall strategy to:
Improve quality, safety, efficiency and reduce health disparities.
Engage patients and families.
Improve care coordination.
Ensure adequate protections for personal health information.
Improve population and public health.
Upon closer review, the industry has been working toward these overall objectives. No matter how you read, review or analyze them, these goals capture the conviction of our efforts because they put the patient at the forefront of optimal care delivery.
Patients must be, and must remain, the beneficiaries of IT in the healthcare system. We know from the winners of the HIMSS Davies Award of Excellence that hospitals, physician practices, community health organizations and public health systems using the EHR spend more time with patients instead of searching for charts.
As of January, HIMSS Analytics identified 39 U.S. hospitals, out of the more than 5,000 that they track, at Stage 7 on its Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model, or EMRAM; 83 hospitals are at Stage 6. The EMRAM scale tracks EHR progress at hospitals and health systems by scoring them on their progress in completing the eight stages to creating a paperless patient record environment.
These healthcare organizations operate with interoperable EHRs, technology that transcends compartmentalization of care and, instead, introduces and helps foster collaborative and quality patient care. All members of the care team can, and do, work together via the EHR because patient health information is accessible, accurate and available—whenever and wherever it is needed.
Such synergistic patient-care demands more than technology; it requires a strategic and integrated plan for patient care where health IT and management systems are vital components. Data can be securely shared within, across and outside of health information systems through the functionality of a health information exchange operating with the framework of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise and harmonized standards made possible through the work of the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel.
But this discussion about quality and consistent healthcare delivery must always return to its focal point—the people involved. From the clinicians at the point of care to the IT professional developing or installing the EHR, those who deliver care and service must balance this equation for the benefit of the patient.
All of us in healthcare must help maintain that equilibrium and be equipped with the knowledge and insight to put the patient first. At HIMSS, we will continue to provide customized programming on stimulus preparation, workforce needs and growth, and overall guidance for careers in healthcare.
As the 2010 Annual HIMSS Conference & Exhibition opens on March 1 in Atlanta, attendees can learn more about these and other topics.
H. Stephen Lieber is president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
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