Dr. David Blumenthal, the outgoing head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, declared the dawn of “the age of meaningful use” in his keynote speech last week during the HIMSS 2011 national convention in Orlando, Fla.
'Age of meaningful use'
HIMSS convention delivers with hot IT topics
Meeting meaningful-use requirements is a condition to receiving government IT incentive payments and it was a predominant topic at the show this year, which celebrated its 50th anniversary with a show-record 31,225 attendees. “It can be a transformative power to change our healthcare system forever and for the better,” Blumenthal said.
Overall attendance for the 2011 show was up 7% from the previous record of 29,100 set in Orlando in 2008 and up 12% over last year's show in Atlanta, according to HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber. Lieber said the organization recorded a 7% increase in “professional,” non-vendor registrants, to 14,639, along with 1,043 companies registered to tout their wares, up 10% over last year. “To me, the really interesting stat is on the companies, and not the total, but 312 exhibiting for the first time,” Lieber said.
“Meaningful use is driving everything,” Lieber said. “It is driving more companies to try and come and be recognized, to try healthcare, and to try this audience and say, there may be people here we need to see.”
Still, the healthcare industry has many more items on its problem list, evidenced by the number of HIMSS educational sessions as well as thousands of products on display in the sprawling exhibit hall.
For example, accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes—what they are and how IT can help an organization prepare for a future involving both—joined meaningful use among the hot topics. So, too, did the looming, year-end deadline for conversion to the ASC X12 Version 5010 transaction standards, which itself is only a warm-up to the more arduous task of converting the entire U.S. health IT industry to the International Classification of Diseases Version 10, or ICD-10, family of diagnostic and procedural code sets. The deadline for ICD-10 conversion is Oct. 1, 2013.
Blumenthal, who will be stepping down soon to return to academia at Harvard University, outlined the accomplishments made by the ONC over the past two years. Those changes include launching 62 regional IT extension centers, establishing IT education programs at 84 community colleges, providing funds for the startup of state health information exchanges, and working with the CMS to launch IT incentive programs under Medicare and Medicaid that could dole out an estimated $27 billion to providers who adopt and meaningfully use EHR systems.
The regional extension centers, created to provide doctors and hospitals with assistance in buying and installing EHRs, are enrolling 6,000 providers a week and have 47,000 signed up so far, Blumenthal said. The educational programs have 3,400 IT trainees due to graduate this spring, he said.
“Today, every state and territory has a health IT coordinator, and 35 states have implementation plans for health information exchange,” Blumenthal said. In addition, 21,300 providers have registered for incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid while four states already have paid out $20 million in Medicaid IT incentive payments. Starting May 1, Medicare will begin paying meaningful users of EHRs, he said.
Work is under way developing Stage 2 meaningful-use criteria for use beginning in 2013, and a panel of privacy and security advisers is developing recommendations for national policies in those areas, he said.
“We are aware that the timetable for Stage 2 of meaningful use will be challenging,” he said, but ONC remains committed that Stage 2 goals “will be reasonable and achievable.”
Dr. Farzad Mostashari, deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at ONC, told several hundred physician informaticists and EHR pioneers at a pre-show symposium that they were part of the “vanguard” of meaningful users. Mostashari called on them to work in their communities with later adopters of technology “to pull the rest of the curve” toward them.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also delivered an address, and she promised that despite “lots of disagreement” in Congress, health information technology “is one of those issues where Democrats and Republicans stand together.” She and her colleagues in the administration, she said, “believe in health IT because it's an investment in a stronger economy.” President Barack Obama's budget proposal includes a 25% increase for ONC operations, she said.
Typically, healthcare IT industry organizations squirrel away nuggets of news for release at the HIMSS show and 2011 was no exception, only this year, it was the government, not the private sector, that had the big news.
CMS Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick used his address on the final day of the show to announce that the CMS is planning a major patient-safety initiative. Berwick was sparse on the details, but said the effort will make more widely available some known strategies to achieve safer patient care.
Roger Baker, assistant secretary for information and technology for the Veterans Affairs Department, also told a HIMSS audience that a decision was coming soon on how the VA and Defense Department will proceed with development of a joint, longitudinal health record. The system will enable the health records of military personnel to move as they transition from the Military Health System to the VA's Veterans Health Administration and its VistA EHR.
An IT industry panel last year recommended the VA adopt an open source governance model to upgrade the VA's venerable and largely home-grown VistA clinical IT system. An integrated VA and defense EHR would likely present IT contracting opportunities in the tens of billions of dollars. Baker said that while he “may well be the biggest fan of VistA ... we've got modernization to do.”
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