WASHINGTON—A report released Wednesday morning establishes goals and recommends policy options for making electronic health records a reality within the next decade.
The suggestions came from Tommy Thompson, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and from Dr. David Brailer, the recently appointed national coordinator for health IT.
The adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) today can be high-risk. Health care providers fear that newly adopted systems will quickly become outdated and will need replacing, according to Brailer.
Few physicians and hospitals have taken the risk, as only 13 percent of hospitals have implemented EHRs so far. Among physician offices, estimates for electronic health record adoption range from 14 percent to 28 percent.
To encourage the adoption of electronic medical records at the point-of-care, HHS plans to offer increased financing options. These include providing regional grants and contracts to stimulate EHR adoption, offering low-rate loans for health care providers implementing EHRs, and paying bonuses through Medicare for improved quality of care or for simply using EHRs.
Later this year, well ahead of the official 2006 deadline, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is expected to lay out the first set of widely adopted e-prescribing standards.
In order to help interconnect clinicians using EHRs, HHS is focusing on developing local and regional collaborations—such as the Indiana Health Information Exchange—that are working together to achieve a workable health IT framework.
And to extend this effort to the national level, HHS is issuing a request for information to health IT vendors, inviting their participation in a private-sector consortium that would start to sort through standards, architecture and security issues.
An additional priority is making federal health IT efforts compatible across various arenas, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Further personalization of health care—and patient access to this information—is another goal. Patient portals will allow consumers to access information about their own health, assess insurance and cost information, and communicate with health care providers.
Telehealth, a process that enables the transmission of information to physicians from remote regions, is another step backed by HHS toward further improving individual health care.
The final goal unveiled in the report, the full text of which is available here, is to use electronic health records to help improve the overall health of the population. In order to do this, public health surveillance architectures must be unified, quality of care data needs to be systematically tracked, and the clinical research process must be thoroughly integrated into the health care system, potentially accelerating the introduction of novel treatments.