Editor's Desk: This Week in Government Health IT

By Tom Sullivan
09:32 AM

By way of a confession: I’ve suggested in the past that analysts forecasts will be off and time told that I was wrong, not them. So consider that, please, along with my suggestion that IDC’s report estimating that 80 percent of mid-size and large medical practices will be using EMRs by 2016 ought to have, perhaps, raised a few more eyebrows than it appears to have.

That projection, mind you, is up from approximately 25 percent in 2009. This would be a good time to point out that HHS on Wednesday said traction has doubled during the last two years, and the department eased the timeline for meaningful use qualification, albeit only slightly.

To be fair, any kind of widespread electronic health or medical record initiative is fated to slow growth after which momentum begets momentum. Take VLER, for instance. Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker, during this interview with Senior Editor Mary Mosquera, explained that “what generates the exchange of the information is that veterans actually show up to be seen at a VA facility or a private sector provider that is part of the health information exchange.” In other words, not only do you have to build it, but you also have to give them a reason to come out to the park.

VLER is massive in scope, of course, and with such size comes plenty of lessons from which the rest of us can learn. MEDfx CEO Colin Barry, in fact, shares 10 such teachings from linking VLER to private health entities, which there is “urgent need” to do since nearly half of the care veterans receive and more than half that active-duty personnel get happens outside government walls.

Stepping outside those walls, on Thanksgiving Eve last week Donald Berwick, MD, resigned his post as head of CMS. One can imagine a strong sense of relief wherever he enjoyed the next day’s feast, though peppered with frustration as many in the healthcare realm see the move as not only our loss, but even worse, as Healthcare Finance News Associate Editor Stephanie Bouchard reports, a Congressional tragedy in that politics effectively trumped health IT.

Not that it was even the biggest U.S. government failure, either. Congress simply failed to pass deficit reduction legislation, thereby entering sequestration -- though some are vowing to undo it. HIMSS vice president of government relations Dave Roberts writes that “HIMSS cautions against solutions that just shift spending from one part of the healthcare system to another, or that do not consider long-term implications," in a commentary about how sequestration will imapct health IT. "Let’s hope the government can figure out how to continue progress in transforming healthcare.”

We’ll see. What we do know, however, is that among the half-dozen most sought-after health IT experts for 2012, EMR/EHR pros rank second, lagging only those who understand ICD-10. What’s more, the future of healthcare, be that health reform legislation or otherwise, is rather heavily dependent on the use of EHRs.

Looking to debunk the debate, gripes, and myths around EHRs and their adoption, Healthcare IT News’ Michelle McNickle turned to David Hager, MD, a self-professed “life-time geek who played Star Trek on a teletype machine and learned to code in C from Kernighan and [Dennis] Ritchie’s first edition book,” for Hager’s 5 points of view from an actual EHR end-user. How to make EHRs fly off the shelves? “Provide a product that inspires and moves a customer beyond the mechanics of software and hardware.”

When that day comes, then meaningful use will actually mean something to patients – and IDC might well be right. Just don’t look to me to bet on that.