Q&A: An EHR vendors view on the new health IT bill
Steve Pacicco, CEO, eHealth SolutionsLast week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006 (H.R. 4157), a bill that sets out to improve care, reduce medical errors, and ease the exchange of essential health information via health IT adoption, and the implementation of standards, and other means.

Health Imaging News spoke with Steve Pacicco, CEO of eHealth Solutions, to get a vendor perspective on how the new legislation could impact the industry once it becomes law. eHealth Solutions is a healthcare technology company focused on point-of-care applications for physicians and nurses. The company’s target sectors are ambulatory care and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. One of their products is an electronic health record for the long-term care environment and they have an e-prescribing product on the physician care side.

Broadly speaking, what are the key benefits to H.R. 4157, in your view?

I think there are a few. First and probably most importantly is the Stark anti-kickback ‘Safe Harbor’ which will enable hospitals in particular to support, fund, or subsidize technology purchases by physicians in their areas. One of the major obstacles to physicians adopting technology is cost, and creating this Safe Harbor will really help.
Another benefit is just in the collaboration with the hospital that will occur as a result.  I think most physicians believe they are going to get a return on investment (ROI) but they want to make sure they are getting the right product. If it’s a purchase that they’ve done together with a hospital I think it reduces some of the fear of purchasing technology.

Where do most healthcare facilities in the United States stand as far as their preparedness for the changes this bill calls for?

I think broadly they are well prepared for this. A lot of this is consistent with work that is already going on and being pursued by vendors and nursing homes, physician practices and hospitals.  The one area they are probably not prepared for – and I think it is probably too aggressive – is requiring the ICD-10 coding system by Oct. 1 2009. What that would do is expand the coding system from 24,000 codes to I think 207,000 codes. I would imagine on the payer side it would require a pretty significant overhaul of their internal systems. It would also be somewhat confusing to doctors who are now comfortable with ICD-9.

One major benefit of EHR systems is likely to come when they can communicate with one another in an efficient way. How might this legislation help that process along?

Honestly, I think it will help that, but really the ultimate goal we want to accomplish is getting doctors and nurses to adopt clinical technology at the point-of-care. I don’t think the Bill does enough for that and I think it will not have as much of an impact as some people think. There was actually a competing piece of legislation (H.R. 4641) which provided tax incentives for physicians to adopt technology -- that’s what it’s all about. There are enough standards that exist right now that systems can communicate with each other. It’s not perfect and it’s not always easy but it will work. Cost is definitely a factor and providing some incentives, whether it’s tax breaks or some other type of incentive, is what would be most beneficial.

How can EHRs prevent medical errors and lawsuits?
Click here to listen to Steve Pacicco’s response.