Healthcare IT Poised for grand slam

By Diana Manos
04:42 PM

It's not quite baseball season, but from the look of things in Washington, if healthcare IT were a game, the teams are warmed up and ready to play.

Every soul interested in healthcare IT is in this game  -  industry, privacy stakeholders, federal and state lawmakers and, of course, President Obama. The federal pitcher is winding up, and the industry is up at bat.

But what kind of game will it be?
Congress will decide much of the game in the stimulus bill that promises $19 billion for healthcare IT. Up for grabs in that debate is privacy. In fact, privacy could be the umpire, calling a foul on the first pitch, if Congress can't resolve its differences over how to keep electronic health records secure.

Still, if the game goes ahead as planned, experts contend the industry could face costly and difficult requirements for HIPAA compliance under the stimulus package. Business associates would have to comply with HIPAA as if they were a covered entity. The long and short of it is healthcare IT vendors would have to provide HIPAA coverage as if they were a hospital. Bad pitch? I wonder if some vendors will strike out.

And good news for the game: the stimulus bill will take the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology from its uncertain future under President Bush's executive order to a permanent place in the federal government, by law.

Three winning leaders (we could call them "head coaches") have issued a recent shared game plan worth reading. John Tooker, head of the National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC); John Halamka, chair of the Healthcare nformation Technology Standards Panel (HITSP); and Mark Leavitt, chair f he ertification Commission on Healthcare Information echnology (CCHIT), said they plan to work together now more than ever.

"Given the resources of the proposed stimulus package, our country is poised for great success in healthcare IT," they said.  

Most of the stakeholders I've talked with these past few weeks have shown excitement that healthcare IT is front and center, despite the privacy battle that promises to wage on even after the stimulus package is passed.

We have a president who vows healthcare IT will not only advance our healthcare system, but also help to save our failing economy. He's willing to put billions down for that. In many ways, that's a grand slam.