WASHINGTON – Dozens of health IT advocates from around the country made the rounds on Capitol Hill this week, meeting with lawmakers and staffers to press for an array of policies to advance e-health initiatives.
Advocates participating in the Capitol Hill fly-in, organized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and referred to as National Health IT Week, arrived in Washington with a series of "asks" for their representatives and senators, starting with an appeal to harmonize the efforts of the various federal agencies working in the health IT space.
Aaron Miri, CTO at Children's Medical Center in Dallas and a co-chair of the HIMSS Public Policy Committee, describes the situation within the government as "a multitude of agencies that don't necessarily synch up."
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HIMSS says that lack of coordination has created layers of sometimes overlapping and conflicting bureaucracy. That has saddled the industry with a forbidding compliance challenge in the form of mandates and changes to programs involving health IT incentives, funding for health information exchanges, patient safety and other areas.
"At a high level, what we're asking is minimize the disruption of health care from federally mandated health information technology program changes," Miri says.
Wanted: Health IT Roadmaps, Funding and Telehealth Legislation
HIMSS' proposed solution to that challenge would compel the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publish a five-year roadmap outlining all of the federally mandated health IT directives and program changes in the offing, giving the industry greater insight into its compliance obligations and trimming the expense of duplicative programs.
Additionally, HIMSS calls on lawmakers to ramp up funding for HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to further the agency's work on capital-letter priorities such as interoperability and the drive for nationwide standards, as well as efforts to promote security and privacy protections for patient data.
ONC chief Karen DeSalvo, who wasn't involved in the congressional meetings, delivered a keynote address Thursday morning, taking the occasion to emphasize the importance of developing interoperable EHR systems to better serve patients.
"They have an expectation that you can go to the computer and look up things about them that happened to them other places, because that happens in every other sector," DeSalvo says. "They would like for that experience to occur in healthcare because it's so intimate and personal and important and so time-consuming."
At the same time, she acknowledges the tall order her agency faces as it moves ahead on the next phases of meaningful use, works to harmonize e-health standards and tackles a spate of other issues. "We have so much work to do – so much that the country is expecting of us – and such a short order of time to accomplish it," she says.
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The HIMSS advocates want lawmakers to set ONC's annual budget at $75 million, a steep uptick from the agency's historically static annual funding of $60 million.
Finally, participants in the HIMSS fly-in are pitching lawmakers about telehealth, appealing for legislation to broaden access to remote care, particularly in rural and other underserved areas where broadband service is often unavailable.
"There are a number of barriers to widespread adoption," says Kathy Wibberly, director of the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center. "If we're trying to improve care, we need some mechanism to drive adoption in a widespread fashion, not just in the large, wealthy, urban hospital settings."