Leading the New Charge

The healthcare IT industry met its new czar in late May at the TEPR show in Ft. Lauderdale. Just days before starting his job as the President's new National Health Information Technology (NHIT) coordinator, Dr. David Brailer said he's focused on prioritizing his plan to accelerate the adoption of electronic medical records over the next decade. While specifics of the plan aren't due out until late July, he provided great clues as to the tack he plans to follow.

To the relief of industry-watchers, we shouldn't expect "another government plan" like HIPAA, Brailer said. "My sense is that there is no appetite - none whatsoever - for making EHR a requirement for participation [in Medicare]."

In fact, he's calling on the industry for help in defining a minimum set of EHR functions to establish a guideline for government assistance to providers for IT initiatives. He's also seeking return on investment (ROI) case studies to illustrate successful EHRs. Brailer further is looking to sell payers, and employers that hire them, on the merits of helping providers purchase IT systems - seeking governmental matches (or more) on investment.

This is consistent with Brailer's objective of studying options to create incentives in Medicare and other HHS programs to encourage the private sector to adopt interoperable electronic health records. It's estimated that a national health information network can save about $140 billion per year through improved care and reduced duplication of medical tests.

As Brailer works to craft his new plan (backed by $100 million in 2005) and seek bipartisan support, he is reviewing all governmental activity that could impact healthcare IT and doing some due diligence on the assets at his disposal. A huge task, for sure, considering that the federal government will spend $59.8 billion on IT in 2005. So far, he says he's impressed with Washington's involvement with IT.

Physicians will be among Brailer's first priority, specifically physician groups of 10 or fewer who make up the bulk of patient encounters and helping these staff- and ROI-challenged caregivers to deploy new infrastructure and IT strategies coupled with hospital IT systems. "My personal view, and it's not policy, is it's time to address the physician issue head-on. Physicians are the flexion point. It's time to work with those who directly are ready."

We know the industry is certainly ready to help take on the task, too.