Farzad Mostashari MD, SCM is National Coordinator for Health Information Technology of the US Department of Health & Human Services.
Has HITECH spurred EHR adoption to the level anticipated?
I think so. I think the EHR marketplace had been kind of growing, but slowly. After 20 years, we were at 20% EHR adoption. Then, with the passage of HITECH, I think it is undeniable.
You talk to practically any provider out there and they have either acquired, they are shopping for, or planning to get an EHR. The ice has broken run a very real way. The survey results from last year found that among primary care providers, it went from 20% to 30% in one year for having a basic EHR. I expect this year to be 40%. Next year, 50%.
That is pretty remarkable. As the Secretary put it, HITECH has been successful at “lighting the spark” that is now ignited in terms of getting this modernization of healthcare to happen. I think it had its intended effect.
Now for the long term, this is not a one-year or six-month or 18-month story. The longer test of HITECH will be: are we able to serve as a foundation for healthcare that costs less, that has higher quality, that is more patient centered and safer? We are going to have a little bit longer time before we can answer that definitely. But so far we, are hitting the milestones.
What do you think? Do you think HITECH has had its intended effect on EHR adoption?
Yes, it has had an effect, but what has been the benchmark? Was there a specific goal on the onset as to where we would be in Year One, Year Two, Year Three? There is still is obviously a lot of resistance out there for one reason or another.
Healthcare doesn’t change very quickly. It can take four years to get one hospital to go through an implementation. People who have done actual implementations of EHR know how hard it is to get one hospital to move. We did not say,” If we hit this number, we are successful. If we do less than that, we are unsuccessful.” But, I think by any metric, the early indicators are extremely positive.
Usability is one excuse that providers use for not adopting EHR. Is ONC doing anything to try to do to improve usability in the marketplace?
I think it is more than an excuse. I think that there really is a frustration on the part of many providers with usability of the systems they purchased. I was recently at my reunion for my residency class in internal medicine. Someone came up to me and said, “Thank you for what you are doing, but the EHR that we have is really lousy.” And I said, “I am really glad I didn’t choose it for you!” [laughs.]
That is one difference between the approach we took in the States versus what the UK did. They said, “We are going to do the procurement. We are going to choose the systems and that is what you are going to use.” We said no, providers are going to choose what system is right for them. I love that market-based approach.
The only problem is that providers consistently say, “I didn’t know what I bought until three months after I bought it. I didn’t know what the usability of the system was really going to be, because all I saw was these demos I had from people who knew their way around the system and knew spots to avoid.”
I do think usability is a serious issue for us — vendors, doctors, academics, and the government — to tackle together. The right question that you asked was, “What do you think you can do about it?” I think it starts with having some baseline expectations around user-centered designs, around user-based testing.
I hope we’ll have some common sense, consensus-derived standards for what are some aspects of usability that you actually can measure. I think if we can bring that to the industry and to providers, we will have done a great service.
Would that involve making usability a requirement in certification?
No. I think the first step is simply just to say, “This is how you would measure usability,” and vendors are free to test their products against this. There will be more transparency. People, when they are purchasing systems, they can say, “What is your usability on this or that metric?” and incorporate that into their decision-making. This is something we will have to monitor and adapt as we go along.
We are very aware of the policy balance between the protection of the safety of the patient, certainly, and responding to what we are hearing from providers that usability being a major sore point for them, but not stifling innovation and not saying, “You shall do design this way,” which is a sure way to not get the innovation that we want.
As the bar continues to be raised in Stage 2 and Stage 3, what happens if providers aren’t able to meet those requirements? Does the money not get spent? Does the stick not get used?
What we heard from the Policy Committee and the vendors and providers was that people are going to need more time in Stage 1 before they do step up. We have heard that. We agree with the logic of the Policy’s Committee recommendations on that. Under that scenario, people would have 2011, 2012, and 2013 at Stage 1 before they would have to move up to the Stage 2 requirements.
One of the things that we are going to be doing in rule-making is around what Stage 2 is going to look like. If you look at what the Policy Committee recommended, it is going to strike the same sort of balance we struck in Stage 1. Where Stage 2 requirements are ambitious, they do they move the ball forward, but they maintain connection and continuity with what went before. So, it is not a dramatic departure from what Stage 1 is. It is more evolutionary than revolutionary in terms of what Stage 2 is compared to Stage 1.
Our goal is for it to be achievable, but ambitious. I am sure will hear plenty of feedback as to whether we hit the target.
When is the last time you used an EHR?
Wow. I have had the great fortune of seeing a lot of different EHRs, but the last one was when I was in New York City, when we were not just using them, but actually helping create more usable public health than prevention-oriented functionality in the systems that we worked with there.
Was that with a variety of systems, or was that when you were implementing eClinicalWorks?
We were implementing eClinical, but also Epic at the Institution for Family Health and NextGen, so working with a number of different products to particularly implement decision support quality measurements.
Much of the country is critical of the Obama Administration and many feel that perhaps there’s been failure there. What is your opinion?
I am very proud of the work that we have done on HITECH and in this administration. I think a lot of what we have done sets the foundation for doctors and hospitals to provide care that is safer and more effective, and that is more affordable and more patient-centered. I have no second thoughts about the rightness of the approach this administration has taken on this issue that I am working on.
I also want to make clear that I think the Affordable Care Act is greatly underappreciated, in terms of how beyond what it does for prevention and beyond what it does for coverage. There are really, really fantastic aspects of the Affordable Care Act that people don’t know about and just don’t understand — around care delivery, around giving options for providers who want to deliver care differently and have different payment models.
There is a lot of attention focused on the ACO regulations that just came out. I think there is widespread opinion that they are greatly improved, and I absolutely agree. There are a whole host of different payment models that are enabled. Also, the Innovation Center, that can test different models and roll the out to the rest of Medicare.
I just think people think the Affordable Care Act is just about insurance, but it is about so much more than that. There’s a lot of good stuff there.
When you met with the HIT standards committee, you urged them to move forward on the HIE piece of it. Are you encouraged that we are moving forward?
I think we are, absolutely. I think the message was heard and they made recommendations for moving ahead on standards that are not going to be perfect, but will be good enough, and we will continually improve them. I felt that unless we move on moving data — not just structuring it within systems, but actually having standards for how that information gets transported — we are going to be me missing a big opportunity.
This is the most important question of all. In the last couple of years, Dr. Blumenthal earned HISsie awards for Industry Figure of the Year. If you should win it for 2011, are you going to accept your award in person at HIStalkapalooza?
I would be happy to.