Strategic Plan missing outcomes measurement

By Molly Merrill
04:23 PM

The lack of a way to measure whether the ONC's Federal Health IT Strategic Plan is meeting its goals – in quality or cost efficiencies – is one of the major shortcomings of the plan, according to one expert.

Thanks to an extended deadline, comments on the Strategic Plan, which lays out the ONC's roadmap for realizing Congress and the Obama Administration's health IT agenda, will continue to be accepted for another two weeks.

[See also: ONC pushes deadline back for comments on HIT agenda.]

The Strategic Plan's mandates include achieving adoption and information exchange through meaningful use of health IT, improving care, improving population health and reducing healthcare costs through the use of health IT, inspiring confidence and trust in health IT and empowering individuals with health IT to improve their health and the healthcare system and achieving rapid learning and technological advancement

"The plan is full of vision – good vision," said Wendy Whittington, MD, chief medical officer of Dallas-based Anthelio Healthcare Solutions, which provides comprehensive information technology and business process services to hospitals, healthcare providers and other businesses across the United States.

"But," she says, "it's our concern that, while it is terrific, there is no clear plan for carrying it out from a financial perspective."

[See also: Comments begin to flow on ONC's strategic plan.]

Whittington says what the plan requires from providers in terms of dollars invested far exceeds what those providers will get in return.

The plan doesn't discuss how to measure ROI, she says.

Outgoing ONC head David Blumenthal, MD, has said that "information is really the lifeblood of medicine" and that "health information technology is its circulatory system."

But Whittington says the plan doesn't adequately address how to keep this lifeblood flowing.

One of the Strategic Plan's goals is to reduce healthcare costs through health IT. Whittington says that while she believes this can happen, it can't be done through health IT alone. She says it will require "significant process reengineering."

[See also: CHIME seeks changes to ONC Strategic Plan.]

"We need to figure out how to measure, measure, measure," she adds. And it needs to be done at "every microscopic level along the way."
She says there should be a way to, for example, measure the decrease in duplicate testing that may occur once hospitals start sharing patient information. Or, she says, the ability to measure how much time a physician is really saving by having test results at their fingertips.

The ONC does not necessarily need to loosen the deadline or requirements, says Whittington. Rather, providers need to be smart about understanding that just putting in information systems won't solve our problems.

She says if ROI and measuring outcomes aren't considered, "we are going to be wasting a lot of money."  She also believes we will have to redo a lot of what has already been done. 

We should pause for a minute to consider whether the results we are getting are the results we intended, Whittington, adds. "If not, we are at risk for ripping things out and starting all over again."