The meaningful use era

David Blumenthal, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (HIT), told nearly 400 NRHA Rural Health Policy Institute attendees “we’ve entered a new era in the U.S. health care system, the era of meaningful use.” “It’s more than a federal program and a statute, it’s a new way we’ll do business in the health care system,” he said. “I hope to convince you this isn’t a transient change but an enduring one.” Since the registration period for the electronic health records (EHR) incentive program opened Jan. 3, Blumenthal said 13,360 providers have registered. “People are stepping up to say ‘I am ready to be of meaningful use’,” he said. “I consider that a really positive start.” Blumenthal said a lot has changed since he spoke to rural health advocates at the 2010 Policy Institute last January. “When I was here last year, the rural extension center program was just an idea,” he recalled. “Now it’s a reality with 62 centers.” Following Blumenthal’s presentation, NRHA president-elect Lance Keilers, Balinger Memorial Hospital CEO, had a chance to share his concerns as a critical access hospital administrator. Keilers told Blumenthal rural hospitals like his face timing, cost and workforce barriers to implementing EHR. “We’re absolutely on board, and we want to do it right,” he said. “We’re asking for more time and capitol. We’d like to walk beside you to get there and at the end of the day, we will get there, we just need your help.” While Blumenthal said legislation dictates the compensation incentives and called it a balancing act, he suggested Keilers and other administrators start with their regional extension centers to coordinate group purchasing agreements. “They’re not just there to help with the nuts and bolts,” he explained. “They’re also a resource to change the playing field and improve buying power for rural providers and hospitals.” Blumenthal also spoke about funds supporting programs at 84 community colleges, including distance learning courses, to train 40,000 HIT professionals, 3,400 graduating in the spring. “They are being placed in jobs as we speak, and I hope some will find their way to your communities,” Blumenthal said. He said he learned from a recent trip to Holland where they had success organizing EHR locally and standardizing nationally. “Make your organization able to communicate across the river, down the road, across the board to another state and beyond,” Blumenthal suggested. “Health information exchange is a team sport. You have to form teams in your communities. We can help you do that and connect your teams, but you have to find local trust, local will, to knit your community together.” He said it starts with a conversation that “hasn’t happened enough.” “Folks who are interested in technology need to talk to people who deliver care every day,” Blumenthal advised. “We need to have conversations between the producers of health information technology and the users of health information technology guided by the meaningful use framework.”

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