Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Real EMR Incentive: We want LONG-TERM EFFICIENCY, not short-term funding!!!

This is a mantra I have long been espousing, and it was nice to see a recent report from the CapSite research firm backing up this assertion.  More specifically, this study of more than 2000 medical groups across the US found that "the most important reason driving Ambulatory EHR purchases was the goal of physicians making their practice more efficient and not the ARRA / HITECH Act Stimulus funding".

Said another way, to get real adoption - we need to figure out how to promote USABILITY not just Certification.  And let's continue to move from the inefficient paper-based paradigm (EMR 1.0) to the much more appropriate web-based or iPhone paradigm (EMR 2.0).   My last post, which talked about "The Future of EMRs", provides more details on this idea.  And I am looking forward to learning more on this topic when I go to SanFran this week for the "Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society" - where I will be listening to the top experts across all fields, as well as speak on a panel of EMR aficionados discussing the importance of improving usability of these tools.

So what can we (especially the government) do if this concept is true (the key to adoption is Efficiency)?  Maybe we should reconsider how we spend the $30+ billion in HITECH funds?   Perhaps instead of giving "relatively" small grants to a lot of doctors, we use the money to help the whole industry create more Efficient and Usable products?   Myself, and others, have brought up this concept before (see "How should we use $36 billion to promote EMRs").   But it becomes more relevant when one of their own ask the question, which just happened:

As reported in this article, at a recent DC conference, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill (who has authored academic papers on patient safety with current Medicare chief Dr. Donald Berwick and Lucian Leape) posed a technical question to keynote speaker Dr. David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology: "Why is it that we're reluctant to declare that we are going to design the best prototype that we can with an idea that we will have [iterative versions] as we learn more and we identify more needs?  Why is it that we can't call to question and get on with what's a clear and apparent need for a national standard that's a work in progress?  It's not that it has to be perfect from day one, but your office basically says, 'We're going to do this now?'," O'Neill said before a packed house of doctors and administrators of corporatized health systems. 

Dr. Blumenthal's answer did not clear things up as he talked about analogies to the interstate highway and the Internet - which actually seemed to hurt his own conclusion.  In other words, if you look at those government investments - you see that they created the infrastructure upon which others could build.  They did not involve the government giving money to end-users (e.g. local truckers) to buy and install concrete paths themselves, nor did the government give money to Internet end-users to buy and install web-servers themselves.  And yet, here we are - giving money to end-users (physicians) to buy and install a variety of proprietary systems that don't talk to one another without heavy lifting since each vendor creates their own versions of the concrete road - with proprietary data models and back-end functionality.

If the government believes in these past analogies - then they need to reconsider how they distribute their EMR monies...perhaps building a single standardized EMR platform (like they do with highways or Internet protocols) upon which the vendors can add their "value" and healthcare providers and patients can benefit from consistency and competition around the key issue at hand - Efficiency.

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