In an earlier post we were introduced to Watson and potential advancements in health information technology (HIT). Before we get too far ahead of ourselves with what’s to come, we must establish the groundwork for today’s HIT.
Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), doctors and hospitals can get incentive payments when they adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and meet meaningful use objectives. Eligible professionals could receive as much as $44,000 over 5 years through medicaid and $63,750 over 6 years through Medicaid. Already the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have paid out over $37 million in incentives.
Why incentivize adoption of EHRs? It seems that the benefits of EHRs would be incentive enough. When fully implemented in each doctor’s office and hospital, EHR’s will make a patient’s health information available wherever the patient is, keep all of a patient’s information in one place, improve convenience for doctors, hospitals, and patients, provide clinical decision support, reduce paperwork, improve privacy and security, allow patients greater access to their own records, and reduce costs.
However, even with all of these benefits, a survey by the CDC found that only 6.9% of physicians reported having an extensive, fully functional electronic record system in 2009. EHR technology is expensive (with estimates that adopting this technology will cost up to $240,000 for a physician practice and up to $340,000 for hospitals) an investment many may not be able to afford. Implementing such technology also takes training and technical support, a further burden on the EHR adopter. Even when doctors and hospitals can afford such systems, many of today’s EHRs are rudimentary and limited in functionality. Thus the need for such incentives to spur demand for and adoption of more sophisticated EHR technology that meet meaningful use requirements, ensuring that when adopted, EHRs can live up to their full potential.
Electronic health records will ultimately change the way our health care is delivered (to be cliche – much like e-mails changed the way we communicate with each other) and will have implications for monitoring public health in cities, states, and the nation. In future posts, I hope to move beyond just introducing meaningful use requirements and discuss their implications as well as what barriers providers cite for delaying adoption of these requirements and even what new technologies could further facilitate adoption.
Until then, consider the opportunities that lay before us as we embrace health information technologies. I remember when I would write a document on a Macintosh computer but could not then save it on my floppy disc and pull up the document on my PC. This is where we are at with health information technologies like EHRs. We have separate systems that cannot interact, are limited in function, and are frankly quite rudimentary. Advancements in technology now allow us to write a document (.doc) and pull it up on any computer (without even needing a floppy disc). While a silly analogue, I believe that the HIT industry will similarly develop to bring us an interconnected, accessible health care system which will hopefully also bring with it higher quality care and improved health.
More to come.
*Just a note to end today’s post – I know that some of these longer policy posts might not be so interesting. However, I believe that discussing these policies and their implementation will illuminate our understanding of how we develop and modify health care systems and their impact on the right to health.