CIOs prepare for patient portals

While MU proposed rule is daunting to some, they agree it’s critical for patient engagement

Most hospital CIOs would agree that achieving meaningful use of electronic health record systems is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a rigorous, complex program that demands difficult and bold action from even the most seasoned IT experts. Most seem ready to tackle the work, both to improve patient care – and to collect the attendant incentive money.

Still, it seems no other aspect of meaningful use has sparked as much comment, angst and controversy as the patient portal. (Quality reporting might run a close second). The patient portal is the gateway through which hospitals can meet the meaningful use objective of engaging patients. Under the rule as proposed (the final rule is expected this summer), hospitals would be required to make sure patients can view online, download and transmit information about a hospital stay within 36 hours of discharge.

Can’t do that, says the American Hospital Association, which represents 5,000 hospitals and healthcare networks across the country. First of all, asserts its executive vice president, Rick Pollack, in a letter last month to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid, it flies in the face of HIPAA rules, and CMS has no authority over patients’ access to their health records. Second, the objective is just “not feasible.”

Consumer advocates blasted Pollack for attempting to block patient engagement. Christine Bechtel, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, and a member of the federal Health IT Policy Committee called the arguments “spurious,” and one of her colleagues on the health IT policy panel, Deven McGraw, characterized the AHA’s comments as “a Hail Mary pass.”

Individual hospitals, though, have been more measured than the AHA, with their responses to the Stage 2 proposed requirement, and many are already gearing up for it.

“I suspect this requirement will not be the "one" Stage 2 criteria that prevents hospitals from achieving overall compliance, but it will likely create a fair amount of challenge for many,” said Rick Schooler, vice president and CIO of Orlando Health, a seven-hospital health system in Orlando, Fla.

Schooler said Orlando Health intended to meet this particular Stage 2 requirement through its existing portal technology.

“However, we do have concern about the requirement for 10 percent of our patients to view, download or transmit the required information to a third party,” he added. “We believe measurement of this activity can be accomplished, but influencing patient behavior will be more of a challenge.”

That aspect of the patient portal requirement is a sticking point for the AHA, too, and for many individual hospitals.