HHS pushes health information tech

The Obama administration Wednesday announced a major push to prioritize the adoption of health information technology in the health care industry in 2013.

One major initiative of the plan is to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records among physicians, while also aiming to improve interoperability.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner praised the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for “improving the way care is delivered while lowering costs.”

“We are already seeing benefits, such as a reduction in hospital readmissions due to these reforms,” she said in a statement. “Health IT and the secure exchange of information across providers are crucial to reforming the system, and must be a routine part of care delivery.”

HHS is aiming for half of all physician offices to use electronic health records by the end of this year. EHR adoption has tripled since 2010, increasing to 44 percent in 2012 and computerized physician order entry has more than doubled (increasing 168 percent) since 2008, the department says.

Still, EHR adoption has not been as fast as many have hoped, as many doctors have had a hard time accepting and using them.

In recent analysis from the RAND Corp., researchers say despite huge investments in them—upwards of billions of dollars—cost savings are still elusive. That’s mostly due to the “sluggish adoption of health IT systems,” coupled with the choice of systems that are neither interoperable nor easy to use; and the failure of health care providers and institutions to reengineer care processes to reap the full benefits of health IT.

“We believe that the original promise of health IT can be met if the systems are redesigned to address these flaws by creating more-standardized systems that are easier to use, are truly interoperable, and afford patients more access to and control over their health data,” RAND researchers said.

Health officials promised to implement rules regarding exchanging and streamlining data and said they are working with the Veterans Administration and more than 450 different organizations to make health care information available to patients and health plan members.

They also are increasing the emphasis on interoperability, today issuing a request for information seeking public input about a variety of policies that will strengthen the business case for electronic exchange across providers to ensure patients’ health information will follow them seamlessly and securely wherever they access care.

The RFI can be found online, and deadline for comments is April 21.

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