Health IT Taking Flight - What Is in Store for the Year Ahead

Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the most important and notable highlights in the world of health IT and ONC over the past year. The achievements of 2011 built on hard work and progress, which has been underway for many years.The HITECH Act is helping to accelerate this momentum—like a turbocharger in a racecar.

As we start the New Year, I am excited about what the future holds and want to share what I see as five big health IT trends for the year to come.

Meaningful Use Takes Off. We sometimes refer to the stages of Meaningful Use as an escalator because it will get more rigorous and sophisticated over time. We might equally call it the necessary foundation upon which to build a truly 21st Century health system where care is better coordinated, patient-centered, safer, and where we pay for the right care, not just more care. Successfully attesting to Meaningful Use will not by itself achieve these goals, but it does help ensure providers have the right information at the right time so patients get the right care.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, by the end of November 2011, more than 20,000 eligible professionals and 1,200 hospitals had received payments from the Medicare or Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. These are pretty good numbers for the first year of a new program, especially when it involves doctors and hospitals making investments in new technology and changes to clinical workflow. There are other good signs that providers are taking up the challenge, including a survey indicating that attainment of Meaningful Use is a top priority for more than two-thirds of hospital executives and a five-fold increase in electronic prescribing by office-based physicians since 2000. My prediction is that at least 100,000 providers will receive Medicare or Medicaid EHR incentive payments by the end of 2012. But, in order for my prediction to come true, the entire health IT ecosystem, including technology vendors, physician and hospital leaders, Regional Extension Centers, state-level health IT coordinators, public health agencies, and many others need to pull together toward getting as many providers to Meaningful Use as possible. Let’s make 2012 the Year of Meaningful Use!

Health Information Exchange Turns a Corner. A key element of the Meaningful Use roadmap is the electronic exchange of important clinical information. With the foundation we have built in Stage 1, increasingly rigorous health information exchange requirements in Stage 2 and payment reform as a constant drumbeat, I think exchange will take off in 2012.

The Direct Project now provides a simple, secure, standardized way to send encrypted health information to trusted recipients over the Internet, enabling providers to meet Stage 1 Meaningful Use exchange requirements. Through intensive collaboration with on-the-ground implementers, the protocol went from concept, to specification, to pilot testing in just a few months, and now we are seeing widespread adoption by EHR and health information exchange  vendors. Increased use of Direct should go a long way toward replacing the slow and inefficient way most providers currently share information via phone, fax, and mail—ultimately improving patient care and outcomes. However, Direct is only the first step in achieving the health information exchange we will need in the future.