In a recent interview with InformationWeek, National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal discussed some of the federal government's recent accomplishments and challenges in its efforts to encourage physicians to switch to electronic health record systems.
Blumenthal also addressed questions and concerns related to the "meaningful use" requirements of the 2009 federal economic stimulus package. Under the stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs will qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments.
Privacy and Security
On the issue of patient data security and privacy, Blumenthal noted that the health IT provisions of the stimulus package, or the HITECH Act, included numerous provisions to tighten privacy and security laws under the federal HIPAA rules. The HITECH Act also imposed new restrictions on the use of patient data for marketing purposes and stronger penalties for data breaches resulting from negligence.
Blumenthal said many of the health care providers he has met with over the past year have expressed concerns about the costs of acquiring EHRs, the technical challenges of installing the systems and potential productivity losses during the transition to EHRs. "They also raise questions about whether these systems will be compatible with their practice, their style, and their ability to do their work," Blumenthal said.
He acknowledged that a large number of physicians still do not know about the Beacon Community and Regional Health IT Extension Center programs, which are designed to address some of the challenges of implementing EHR systems.
Benefits of EHR Transition
According to Blumenthal, EHR adoption among private practice physicians would benefit hospitals because it would allow for greater accessibility and portability of patients' medical data.
He also said that upgrading a clinic's paper-based record system to an EHR system would make it more competitive and "give new life to the practice." He added, "This new generation of physicians isn't going to tolerate a paper world" (Kolbasuk McGee, InformationWeek, 6/15).