Dr. David Blumenthal, the national health IT coordinator, is responsible for doling out government grants to reimburse health care organizations that implement electronic records technology. According to the HITECH section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, nearly $22 billion in federal funds has been set aside to "advance the use of health information technology." A significant portion of that amount will take the form of grants to those health care organizations that can demonstrate "meaningful use" of such IT.
However, what exactly "meaningful use" will entail has been unclear. HHS is expected to release a definition in December, InformationWeek blogger Mitch Wagner says. But those who attended the Medical Informatics Association's symposium got a "heads up" from Blumenthal on what that definition will focus on.
FierceEMR's Neil Versel quotes Blumenthal this way:
The meaningful use framework will be about the goals of care, not the technology.
It's a matter of using technology to improve patient care, not just installing the technology to say you have it. Versel speculates that the goal is to make electronic recordkeeping a best practice, the EMR system a standard medical tool, just as stethoscopes and examination tables are standard now.
Take, for instance, my own experience. I visited the local immediate care center over the weekend when I got tired of a wrenched neck muscle making my life miserable.I filled out the initial paperwork, listed my maintenance prescriptions, gave them the name of my primary care physician, the date of my last visit to her office, insurance information and all the rest. When they called me back, I gave my primary doctor's name and listed all my meds and my medication allergies (again) for the nurse who took my temperature and blood pressure.
Then, guess what? The doctor came in, looked at my chart, asked again who my primary care physician was and what kinds of anti-inflammatory and muscle spasm medications had worked for me in the past, which ones irritated my stomach and which ones didn't. After a little over an hour, I was out of there, prescriptions in hand, confident that the pain in my neck was about to go away.
All in all, it was a good experience -- especially considering I would have waited at least twice that long if I had gone to the emergency room. But, I was reminded how helpful health IT will be. If the immediate care center and my primary care office had EMR systems that allowed easy sharing of patient information -- with my consent, of course -- then my visit would have been even quicker. I wouldn't have had to go through the litany of information three times, and the doctor who treated me would have had my medication history at her fingertips, allowing her to make better informed decisions.
It's certainly a worthy goal to pursue, but it will take a while to get there.