Blumenthal: EHRs will become 'an absolute requisite' for docs

It may seem unlikely today, but within the next 10 years there will be widespread use of electronic health records across the country, the nation's health IT chief predicted Thursday.

David Blumenthal, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology spoke at the 18th National HIPAA Summit  in Washington DC, where other federal officials and stakeholders said the adoption of healthcare IT is urgent.

"History has shown that things that improve healthcare become part of what is used," Blumenthal said. "I propose to you that in a few years doctors will all support EHRs," he said. "Using EHRs will become a core competency for physicians. And once we've established that, it will be considered an absolute requisite."

Blumenthal compared the kick-off of federal incentives for meaningful use of electronic health records in 2011 to boarding an escalator. "I think we're going to see the upward slope of the adoption curve within a year or two; but it will be difficult to predict the slope," he said.

Carolyn Clancy, MD, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said the usefulness of health data will naturally drive healthcare IT adoption.

"Information is the lifeblood of medicine," she said. "Clinicians are trained to look at patients one at a time. But, what's missing is aggregated information."

Andy Slavitt, CEO of Ingenix said, "One of the saddest parts of our jobs is that no one is asking the questions they once wondered about, but thought there were no answers to. Answers are available, they just aren't getting to doctors. "

Steven Stack, an emergency physician and a member of the American Medical Association's board of trustees said the use of HIT could be both a blessing and a curse. "Doctors don't know how much they don't know. They have no idea they practice differently than other practices."

On the other hand, rules that would determine how a physician must practice should leave room to allow for varying circumstances, especially in the ER, where duplicative tests are most often the norm due to urgency and limited access to patients' medical history.

"There's a lot going on in the trenches that is the only thing that keeps this flawed healthcare system going day in and day out," he said.