Leavitt: U.S. is on track for EMR goals, incentives needed for wider adoption

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HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Source: MSNBC

Mike Leavitt, secretary for the department of Health and Human Services (HHS), believes that President George W. Bush’s 10-year plan for electronic medical records (EMRs) will be accomplished, if not exceeded, by 2014.

Leavitt was charged by the President to lead the effort to bring together private and public sectors to create a health IT infrastructure for the entire healthcare system, reported The Hill.

“I think it is important to remember that the goal here isn’t electronic medical records,” he said. “The goal here is to transform the sector of healthcare into a system of healthcare—a system that provides consumers with information about the quality and cost of their care.”

To reach that goal, the industry needs to shift away from paper to digital formats and create a means by which the digital data can be mobilized and assembled in various forms. This would provide benefits to consumers, practitioners, hospitals, researchers, public health professionals or anyone in the health business, he added.

Leavitt said that progress has been made toward the end goal, with the development of a process for developing standards and a process to certify systems that meet those standards with the Certification Commission on Health Information Technology.

Despite progress, challenges still remain. “The next challenge is to lay in a system for a national health information network, where information can be transported between systems.” Leavitt said they expect to see live data transmitted over that system in September 2008.

He said that a second challenge is in adoption rates among small- and medium-size physician practices, who question purchasing a system for $40,000 or $50,000 when the benefit will go to the insurance companies. “We have to change the macroeconomics of medical reimbursement so that everyone benefits,” Leavitt said.

To address that issue, Leavitt said that a Medicare demonstration project will be conducted with 1,200 small physician practices. “We’re going to start paying them more if they have an electronic medical record. In the second year, we’ll pay them more if they report a series of quality measures over their system.”

In consecutive years up to the fifth year, Leavitt said they will pay physicians more if they can demonstrate that they followed quality measures and report them on a certified EMR. The next step after that would be to implement the project on a national level, he said.

Leavitt also urged Congress to advance health IT efforts by supporting the standards-development process, encouraging EHR and e-prescribing adoption and resolving a dispute over the use of Medicare claims data, reported The Hill

“This isn’t about having people have computers that keep electronic data,” he said. “It’s about enabling the data to be in a form that’s usable to people and can be mobilized and assembled in a lot of different ways.”

“The actual implementation of the records is a necessary step toward that larger goal. The goal is the value that the records produce, not just the existence of the records,” he concluded.