The senators' thoughtful letter was applauded by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and other industry organizations, which have supported the efforts of the lawmakers and their staffs to understand some of the complex factors affecting implementation of digital records, as encouraged by federal HITECH legislation.
For me, the letter provides important validation of providers' efforts over the past several years to implement digital clinical systems. It demonstrates the importance that these senators—and others in government—place on giving health IT the best chance to successfully improve healthcare delivery.
The senators' letter mentions concerns that have long been important to CHIME and the industry—tight deadlines for massive EHR projects, worries about exacerbating the digital divide between large and small providers and interoperability concerns. These important issues will continue to require focused efforts by the healthcare industry to ensure that health IT is able to deliver all potential benefits.
While healthcare has come a long way in its adoption of IT, there's still a long way to go. We are still at the beginning stages of making healthcare digital. Most providers are just getting their feet wet with the idea of capturing patient information electronically, not on paper. We're only at the early stages of figuring out how to use digital data to improve healthcare delivery.
As CHIME's recent case study on Sharp HealthCare in San Diego (PDF) suggests, implementing and supporting healthcare IT is still hard work. Ensuring that patient identities match up with electronic records is a major undertaking at Sharp, and as more providers make progress in installing these systems, we'll need a more foolproof way to match patients' identities to ensure patient safety and save healthcare dollars. We need to have a process in place to evaluate the meaningful-use program to ensure that we don't miss the end goal of supporting improved and cost-effective patient care.
The tenor of the senators' letter echoes that of CHIME and others who desperately want this program to succeed, but also know that some changes are needed. CHIME looks forward to continuing our work with the CMS, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and members of the House and Senate to ensure that the nation's hospitals and physicians achieve the benefits of an e-enabled healthcare system.
As our country tackles healthcare reform and economic revitalization, it's crucial that we maximize the benefits of health IT—for healthcare and our nation. We welcome other like-minded IT executives to join with us in these efforts.
Russell Branzell is president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.
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