The new National Coordinator of Health IT, Karen Desalvo, MD, published a blog post on The Health Care blog that proclaims that the “EHR Incentive Program Is on Track.” Of course, many would argue that it’s her job to be a cheerleader for healthcare IT, but I think this post is an important look at the measures that ONC and HHS have of what they consider a success.
If the goal of the EHR incentive money is just to get doctors and hospitals using EHR software, then indeed it’s been a big success. EHR adoption is through the roof at every level (although, I think they’d like it higher in the ambulatory space). This can’t be argued. The $36 billion in EHR incentive money got healthcare on board with EHR software.
If EHR use is your measure of success, then the HITECH act was a success. However, the goal of the HITECH act wasn’t just EHR adoption. If it was, then we wouldn’t have meaningful use. The goal was for doctors to adopt an EHR and then meaningfully use it. Of course, the jury is still out on whether doctors will follow through on meaningful use stage 2. I’m personally predicting a major fall out from those who attested to MU stage 1 and those that choose to sit out MU stage 2. Certainly Dr. Desalvo argues that this won’t be the case.
Either way, let’s assume that the majority of doctors do attest to meaningful use stage 2. Should we call the HITECH act a success? More pointedly, does meaningful use produce the results we want?
As someone who follows the EHR industry day in and day out, I think the jury’s still out on this. I’ve said many times that I fear the EHR incentive money might have incentivized doctors to adopt the wrong EHR software. The current and future EHR switching will likely prove this out. Although, we’ll see if organizations can get it right the second time.
However, choosing the right EHR is only half of the battle. Even the best tool used inappropriately won’t yield the desired results. There’s a strong case to make that meaningful use forces a doctor to use an EHR inappropriately. Every person at ONC calls this blasphemous and every doctor is likely to agree that meaningful use causes more work and does little to improve care.
I recently heard someone argue that they had “no sympathy for doctors having to accurately, legibly, and cohesively document what is happening.” I think it’s a real challenge to say that meaningful use equates the more accurate, legible, and cohesive documentation. In fact, many of the meaningful use hoops serve to make the documentation more illegible and difficult to read. Not to mention the issue of making the physician less efficient and therefore more likely to cut corners.
In this post, I’m not trying to make the case for or against EHR software. I’ve done a whole series on the benefits of EHR and so I believe that they can provide an amazing benefit to healthcare when implemented properly. My point with this post is that if our government is going to spend $36 billion on EHR software, then I wish they’d spend a little more time making sure that it’s not only implemented, but implemented well.
If they did this, then maybe we could call the HITECH act a real success. As it stands now, we’re using the only metrics we have available: EHR incentive spent and meaningful use attestation. I’d suggest there’s so much more value (both gained and lost) in an EHR implementation than either of those two things measures.
How about we track ways EHR use reduced costs, improved patient care, and saved lives? Maybe they don’t want to track that data because if they do, they won’t like the results. What would they do with meaningful use if they found out it raised costs, hurt patient care and did nothing to save lives? Would anyone want to make the case for why meaningful use should be scraped for something better? I wouldn’t want to as the new ONC chair either.