A component of the health care overhaul discussion includes a concerted effort on the part of the federal government to encourage the adoption of electronic health records and the exchange of health care information among providers, payers and throughout the health care field.
“Essentially, health information technology involves having those entities become interoperable thereby allowing for the exchange of health information regarding patients, the exchange of population health information that may be occurring in a particular area and allowing the entities involved to more effectively care for patients,” says Jeff Porter, co-chair of the Health Care Technology Practice at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter.
A lot of people liken health information technology to the automation of banking that occurred with the introduction of the ATM.
Smart Business learned more from Porter about the role of health information technology in health care reform and the challenges involved in its adoption and active use.
Why should a company implement health care information technology?
To make health information more portable and accessible. For example, the government, through Medicare and Medicaid, provides grants to give reimbursements to physicians to adopt electronic health or medical records that would be maintained for patients within a physician’s office. Those physicians are required to use those records meaningfully. A meaningful use standard is currently being developed at the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
There are many vendors out there right now who are trying to encourage consumers to, either through an insurance provider or on their own, utilize a personal health record. It involves recording information about their health conditions, including downloading information from devices whether it be a glucometer or taking their blood pressure as a way to engage the consumer and make them more responsible for their health.
Overarching everything else is the idea of health information exchange. The government is seeking to help states develop the ability to exchange health care information, not only within the state but also with the federal government. Take, for instance, what we’re seeing with H1N1. Getting information regarding the illness from a particular state to the federal authorities can help the government determine if they need more vaccines in a certain place, or find out if there’s a bigger outbreak in a particular area.
What are the advantages of health information technology?
There are many advantages, though it’s hard to quantify in monetary terms. One study concluded that, through the adoption of health information technology, we could expect to save $80 billion.
From a patient standpoint, the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of care that’s available. From the perspective of dealing with hospitals and providers from a monetary savings standpoint, what we’re looking at is reducing the amount of unnecessary testing and improving the ability of physicians, through e-prescribing, to prescribe medicines that are both effective and cost-effective for a consumer. You’re looking at trying to reduce waiting times, even in emergency rooms. Somebody with an electronic medical record will be able to be treated with increased efficiency.
What are the challenges of adopting broader health information technology?
The incentives that are out there for the adoption of electronic medical records only address Medicare and Medicaid providers. There are obviously going to be specialists out there that may not receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, so the goal is to get everybody together in this process. That’s going to be one of the challenges.
Speaking from concerns about privacy and ownership of data, you’ve got a multitude of issues. The recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included the HITECH Act, which is essentially providing for the previously mentioned incentives for health information technology. It also addressed changes to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), because originally HIPAA wasn’t really geared toward dealing with the issues that we might be seeing concerning the exchange of information.
Laboratories and facilities conducting testing on patients will also be impacted. The whole idea is to be as inclusive as possible with getting entities into an information exchange. There will be issues with state and federal law about who laboratories can release results to.
What can consumers and businesses expect going forward?
Health care costs are one of businesses’ major expenses for their employees. What we can expect from health information technology is greater efficiency, an emphasis on wellness programs and getting people involved in their own health care. Part of the meaningful use standards that the federal government is currently considering is an emphasis on doctors being able to consult with patients in new ways, whether it be through telemedicine or a system whereby patients can discuss matters with their doctors via secure e-mail. Another goal is to allow patients to be able to download information to a personal health record so that records can be more portable.
Speaking from the perspective of the legal industry, I think you’re going to see more and more issues arising with having to address agreements between providers. You’ll see disputes between the provider of an electronic health or medical record and the people who have purchased that record or program, disputes among people who are involved in health information exchange, as well as concerns about privacy involving HIPAA.
Jeff Porter is co-chair of the Health Care Technology Practice at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach him at (614) 462-5418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.