Sunday, February 1, 2009

Funding for HIT Discussed

Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) Co-Chairs of the 21st Century Health Care Caucus joined HIMSS at a press conference on Capitol Hill January 28th to stress how important the stimulus package is for health IT. Representative Kennedy is pleased and appreciative that President Obama has made HIT a priority and is anxious to see the bill signed into law.

Representative Murphy told the press that it is an exciting day with the House passage of the bill but he would like to see the work resulting from the stimulus package stay in the U.S. since it will use taxpayer money.

Sue Schade, CIO, Brigham & Women’s Hospital actively involved in health technology reports that 65 CIOs representing healthcare providers throughout the U.S. have just called on Congress to increase EMR adoption rates across the nation and have signed a “Congressional Call for Action”. The hospitals represented by the 65 CIOs are among the top hospitals in the U.S. in terms of EMR adoption.

To emphasize the need for health technology adoption, Stephen Lieber President & CEO, HIMSS, explained how the White River Rural Health Clinic in Arkansas with 24 medical locations has instituted EHRs in all 24 locations as part of their “Total Care System”. Patients now use a web-based Patient Portal to easily and securely communicate with their clinicians and the system is used to review prescription information, lab results, diagnostic results, and appointment information.

The efficiencies gained have enabled White River to open new facilities including two wellness centers and a dialysis center that are not federally funded. The efficiencies gained from using technology have allowed White River to reduce the workforce of more than 200 employees to 165.

The Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics held a briefing following the press conference bringing together leaders from many of the organizations that are addressing critical issues concerning healthcare technology. Representatives from AHIMA, ATA, eHealth Initiative, HIMSS, HIT Now Coalition, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare emphasized that their respective organizations are pleased that so much progress is being made and look forward to seeing changes that will help all Americans benefit from an improved healthcare system.

Meredith Taylor, Director of Congressional Affairs, HIMSS detailed the HIT provisions in the House bill that just passed that supports $20 billion for Health IT. The House bill provides for funding of $2 billion for the Office of the National Coordinator. Some of the provisions include having a Chief Privacy Officer to advice the ONC, establishing two advisory committees—one on policy and the other committee to advise on standards, and the bill provides grant programs, demonstration programs, and education and training. Medicare and Medicaid will provide increased reimbursements to physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare provided that they adopt technology.

Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO, American Telemedicine Association, said “the legislation represents a first step but we will then need to focus on how the legislation will be implemented and what the rules will be put in place.”

Linkous also mentioned that the $2 billion proposed for healthcare through the Office of the National Coordinator specifically mentions telemedicine as a priority for spending. Other areas for telemedicine spending include the USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant program and the Broadband grant program in the Department of Commerce. In addition, there are other funds for telemedicine that may be contained within expanded funding for federal programs at NIST, IHS, and SSA.

Linkous pointed out that since the stimulus package involves a number of agencies with HIT and telemedicine activities and responsibilities, it is very important to not only coordinate HIT and telemedicine activities within each of the agencies, but also in the Federal government as a whole.