The HITECH incentive plan (estimated at around $38 billon) was established to provide up to $44,000 to every outpatient physician who uses a "certified" EMR in a "meaningful" way (as well as $2-$3 million to each hospital). While its spirit has good intentions, I don't believe they will create a significant amount of new adoption in the outpatient arena because
- The amounts are too low (most systems cost much more to implement).
- There are severe shortages of qualified staff to help physicians convert from a paper to computerized system - a challenging task that includes IT knowledge, workflow redesign and general change management skills.
- The EMR systems are just not very good - both in form and function. See earlier blogs of mine about poor EMR Usability, from April and August, as well as a nice report by Dr. Peter Basch on the problems with current systems. Also check out a new podcast on EMR Usability in which I, and an IT Usability expert, discuss this topic in detail. Finally, here is the HIMSS WhitePaper on EMR Usability: http://www.himss.org/content/files/HIMSS_DefiningandTestingEMRUsability.pdf
So let's review two reasonable options - which are not mutually exclusive:
Change the Underlying Healthcare Reimbursement System
The government could forget the "on-time incentive" idea, and instead focus on long-term reimbursement changes that support quality and efficiency. As we know, our current reimbursement system mainly pays for the volume of "face-to-face visits". EMRs usually slow providers down, although can help them increase their coding levels for higher reimbursement. At best, it's a draw. What if the reimbursement system were instead based on quality (e.g. Pay for Performance) and efficiency (e.g. take care of patients, whether face to face, email or phone)? An EMR has much more potential to help here - by using decision support, establishing registries, and allowing for easy electronic communications. In other words, the government can just help set the reimbursement guidelines to focus on quality and efficiency, and then let the market work on optimizing care in line with that.
Create a Single Healthcare Data Platform
For a fraction of that same $39 billion dollars, the government could rather easily create a single data model and warehouse upon which all other applications can reside - thus solving standards and interoperability issues, increasing adoption, and creating a free market for the "best applications" out there. In fact, a conspiracy theorist might even suggest that the government assumes the current HITECH plan will fail...and thus they put a clause in the plan that says if there is not significant adoption by 2015 - the government can release some type of universal EMR...maybe the universal health database is what makes the most sense?
Several of us have been talking about this "iPhone" like platform in the past year, and here is a link to an interesting meeting that happened in May 2009, which resulted in the following: Ten Principles for Fostering Development of an “iPhone-like” Platform for Healthcare Information Technology
And here are some videos from this meeting: