3 reasons to be cheerful about health IT
Unless you’ve just beamed in from another planet, you know there’s a bit of a debate underway about the current state and future of certain healthcare reform efforts. But when it comes specifically to the health IT transition, some stakeholders are still feeling downright upbeat.
As Greg Chittim, senior director of Arcadia Solutions, sees it, the first real wave of optimism about health IT came with the HITECH Act, "and the realization that the technology was at a level that people had a reason to be optimistic about how IT could change healthcare."
While Chittim says that first wave has passed, and many people have begun to ask, "What’s next?," he thinks that "the next 12 months will determine whether our overall optimism over health IT will continue or not."
For the moment, at least, three trends put Chittim firmly in the camp of the optimists:
1. The move from Meaningful Use to meaningful use. Stage 1 of the meaningful use incentive program really didn’t result in a lot of, well, meaningful use of new technology by providers. What it did do, however, is focus providers on the proper documentation of health information, and that, he said, "will help enable really meaningful things to be done with health data moving forward."
For example, he said, there has been a dramatic increase in quality improvement initiatives launched by both private health plans and state-level programs, largely because the data to measure them is available and accessible like never before.
"You can get the answer to questions you couldn’t even ask before," he said.
2. Increased collaboration. While he recognizes there’s still a long way to go, Chittim said, "We have actually seen some movement when it comes to players collaborating with each other."
Noting that health plans and health systems are understandably reluctant to share data, one of the advantages of the spread of IT is that stakeholders are increasingly able to share specific data sets without having to open up their books entirely.
"We’re starting to see some movement as health plans are willing to provide a more lucrative contract to providers in return for getting access to some subset of clinical data," he said.
3. Consolidation is leading to more focus. "The extreme version of collaboration is merger and acquisition," Chittim said. And this, he conceded, is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, too much consolidation can lead to intense competition between very large enterprises: "How big is too big when it comes to hospital systems?" Chittim offered as a question yet to be answered. But on the other hand, fewer players makes it easier for them to talk to each other, which can potentially lead to even more collaboration.
If there is one thing Chittim thinks would strengthen the overall health IT evolution, it’s less of a focus on what hardware is being used and more of a focus on improving workflows and managing data more effectively.
"All of the top EHR systems have good side and bad sides," he said.
As for what’s next, the optimist in him thinks physicians will increasingly figure out how to put whatever system they’re using to work in order to efficiently and effectively improve the health of their patients.
That being the end goal anyway, perhaps as those outcomes become more apparent optimism about health IT will once more rule the day.
[See also: Meaningful use definition key step to IT uptake]