The presentations and panels featuring policymakers from Washington D.C. are always a big draw at a HIMSS conference and this year was no exception. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave a keynote address urging attendees to help deliver on the promise that recent government mandates for the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology will help boost the economy and lead to more efficient use of healthcare resources and better outcomes for patients. Secretary Sebelius refused to give any ground on the aggressive deadlines that will require hospitals and physicians to adopt “meaningful use” by 2015 or face a reduction in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
The departing head of Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr.David Blumenthal, used his speech as occasion to deliver a valedictory address and defense of his two-year tenure in the post, citing progress in designing and implementing the state and federal systems required to meet the deadlines.
Other federal officials outlined additional regulatory guidelines scheduled to be issued in 2011 authorized under the HITECH that will provide the government with greater ability to impose sanctions for HIPAA violations.
Since 2003 when HIPAA rules went into effect, there had been no civil money penalties imposed for violations of the act’s privacy provisions. I don’t think it was any coincidence that the feds used the week of the HIMSS conference to announce two large fines against providers for breaches of the security of patient information. One of those entities fined was Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation’s oldest and most respected hospitals.
The balance of 2011 will be an active time as hospitals and physician practice organizations move rapidly to adopt meaningful use of electronic health records so they can qualify for incentive payments from Medicare. If your organization hasn’t started developing and implementing a plan to qualify for incentive payments this year, you are late to the party and its time to get moving.
The federal government will continue to use a combination of incentives and penalties to move health care providers of all sizes to adopt electronic health records. Predictably, given the time and expense involved, studies are showing that independent physician practices and small specialty groups are among the slowest in moving to electronic health records. Whatever else the future may hold for federal healthcare policy, one clear fact is emerging: the roundabout intersection located at HIPPA Boulevard and HITECH Ave. will be a challenging one to navigate. Good luck and give a shout if I can help.