In about a month, it is highly likely that our industry (healthcare information technology) will be very different. In my almost thirty years in this industry, there has never been an industry change of the depth and breadth that we are about to experience.
Last week saw the introduction of the first of the Congressional bills that will cause this change. These bills are part of a broader set of government efforts designed to stimulate the economy out of its distress. The healthcare IT portion of these bills intends to rapidly accelerate the adoption and effective use of information technology in healthcare. The House Ways and Means bill (PDF – go to page 138 and read from there) describes some proposed changes:
- Provision of $40,000 in incentives (beginning in 2011) for physicians to use an EHR
- Creation of HIT Extension Programs that would facilitate regional adoption efforts
- Provision of funds to states to coordinate and promote interoperable EHRs
- Development of education programs to train clinicians in EHR use and increase the number of healthcare IT professionals
- Creation of HIT grant and loan programs
- Acceleration of the construction of the National Health Information Network (NHIN)
All of these changes (and more) are accompanied by the infusion of $20B into the healthcare sector. To put this in perspective, in 2007 the HIT industry in the US was $26B (Gartner).
The “final” form of these changes is not clear. The Ways and Means bill and the Energy and Commerce bill and the Senate bills need to be reconciled. As I write (a snowy Sunday morning in Boston waiting for the NFL playoffs to start) I am sure that a wide range of industry professional associations, lobbying firms, and interested individuals and organizations are plowing through the language to identify improvements, concerns, and sections that need further clarity. Their voices will need to be heard.
And while the legislative process and discussion that arrives at a final bill will be (as it often is) complicated, confusing, and full of ups and downs, we should fully expect that sweeping changes will pass within 30 days.
What should you do about this?
First, to the degree that you have time, you should weigh in on the legislation. Your comments can be sent to your employer (if they are planning to provide feedback to Congress), your elected officials, and/or to industry professional societies (CHIME, HIMSS, AHIMA, AMIA, AHA, etc.) that will be providing feedback.
Second, get ready for an interesting 2009.
John Glaser is vice president and CIO at Partners HealthCare System. He describes himself as an "irregular regular contributor" to HIStalk.