The federal government first firmly insinuated itself into the payment and regulation of modern healthcare in 1965 when it passed the Medicare and Medicaid acts as part of the Great Society programs of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. From there, people have looked more frequently to Uncle Sam for guidance and reimbursement on healthcare decisions.
In the last year, health reform and electronic medical record requirements for meaningful use have changed the face of healthcare forever. Expect care to be more tightly regulated, more closely scrutinized and probably less generously reimbursed. Of all the changes coming out of DC, providers are most concerned about health care reform. Some want to play the new ball game, some are just confused, some are concerned, and others are angry. With some exceptions, very few are pleased as punch.
In the meantime, analysts from all types of organizations and across the political spectrum are scrutinizing what health reform is going to mean to doctors, patients, hospitals, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, researchers, insurance companies, small employers, large industry, unions, retirees – or, put more succinctly, just about anybody taking a breath. And after all the analysis is in, there still are naysayers on both sides of the political aisle talking about “de-funding” the whole shebang and starting over.
We hear that it is pretty hard to rip up a huge piece of legislation after it has passed through the serpentine legislative process. It is far more than likely that some pieces of health reform, at the very least, are going to be put in place permanently.
I want to be a spoiler in this discussion. Yes, it matters which pieces are adopted, when and to what degree. But because we don’t know, and because it is out of the hands of the average healthcare provider, my fallback position is to control what you can. And the one sure thing that will occur over the next decade, health reform notwithstanding, is that healthcare organizations will adopt information technology with or without encouragement from the feds.
In the long run, technology marches on. Newly minted medical school grads, nursing school grads and people swarming out of medical coding technical schools are living in the age of technology. When they get to work, they will expect to use all the great technology that makes their lives easier everywhere else.
The federal government is just making it easier by putting a mandate on it, setting standards and guidelines for meaningful use, and providing funding to get it moving. Realistically, even with lots of help and money from the government, the process of integrating health IT into the workflow of many environments will present challenges.
A little education and training can go a long way toward helping the integration of health IT move more smoothly, quickly and toward a common goal. Of course, first we need technology that is easy to use for providers, secure for patients and easy to integrate for the IT staff that has to implement it. Education and training are only part of the answer, but they are an important part of the answer.
If education and training are the answer, we need to frame the question.
The question is: how are we going to get tens of millions of healthcare providers all on the same page by 2014?