The House versions of the economic stimulus related to health IT are working their way through the Ways & Means and Energy and Commerce Committees. Then, it's on to the Senate. The House bills delay release of 90% of HIT funds until 2011, ostensibly on the grounds that the technology isn't ready for immediate investment. Paradoxically, the House approach works only if physicians start investing in systems right away, and it completely ignores the reality that the problem isn't the technology, it's the lack of a business imperative. The very same technology that they criticize is now expected to solve the mind-numbing flaws that currently plague our health care delivery system.
The House approach takes $20B and gives $2B to a government agency now, and $18B to physicians in the form of phased incentives starting in 2011. However, in order to get these incentives, physicians have to be already using these EHRs and HIE in "meaningful" ways (ie, electronical clinical quality reporting and care coordination) by 2011. Which would mean that for most physicians, they would need to start implementing within the next 18 months, because it takes that long to get up and running on these systems.
In taking this approach, the legislation assumes that each physician will make a roughly $50K investment now on the promise of being repaid for this by Medicare over a period of 5 years beginning in 2011. Assuming, of course, that they can pass Medicare's test on "meaningful" use, even though that hasn't been defined and at present there's little to no infrastructure to allow such meaningful use anyway.
Seems like a tough sell to me. There are very very few places in the country that have regional health information networks, and there are no places that have real infrastructure for electronic reporting of clinical quality data, so Medicare will have a hard time defining what meaningful use is, let alone certifying that physicians have successfully done it. They already tried to launch electronic quality reporting a few years ago in the DOQ-IT program, and it was an unmitigated disaster.
Then there's the problem of implementation. According to Medicare, 30-40% of EHR implementations fail. And the vast majority of the ones that don't fail aren't implemented to inter-operate with other systems or generate good clinical quality data.
The House approach glosses all of this over, however. It underinvests in a technological and organizational infrastructure to guide this massive makeover of 15% of our economy, and overinvests in a misplaced faith that IOUs to physicians will drive individual purchases of EHRs, and this, in turn, will induce demand for the network and implementation infrastructure needed for success. And according to success criteria that we're unable to define at present. And in time to meet the President's goal of ubiquitious adoption by 2014.
It reveals an almost religious belief in the power of incentives, however diffuse, and technology, however complicated, and markets, however dysfunctional, to solve the problems that have left 96% of physicians without a fully functional EHR up until now. Almost touching, really, this kind of faith, misplaced though it may be.