Friday, May 22, 2009

HIT as a Catalyst to Healthcare Improvement

The Center for American Progress - a think tank group dedicated to improving the US through policy and innovation) published a report: "A Historic Opportunity - Wedding the Health Information Technology to Care Delivery Innovation and Provider Payment Reform". You can download the executive summery here (pdf) or the full report here (pdf)

They make the point tat the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s HITECH $19 billion investment is not just about technology. In fact if this is the way the program is actioned:
failure is effectively guaranteed if the HITECH program embraces technology adoption for the sake of adoption. But if this new health IT investment program is wedded to a strong commitment to provider payment reform in forthcoming health care reform legislation and implemented specifically as an accelerator of health care delivery innovation and payment reform, then the investment program can help transform U.S. health care as we know it.
We know technology can contribute significantly to our lives. Everything from basic tools in our homes from cell phones to computer access that replaces the limited access to the Encyclopedia Britannica that we had some years back based on the sale to individual homes. This has been replaced for school children and households with access online to all this information in an instant.

Technology has had similar extended effects in healthcare that have seen revolutions in the diagnosis and treatment that previously were unimagined. But technology alone will not solve the underlying problems of our healthcare system and in the US we must change the payment model that currently incentivises everyone int he system to "do more". The system rewards for volume of service delivered and this is the underlying challenge faced by clinicians and facilities that continue to strive to maintain income when presented with the decreasing reimbursement per unit are forced to increase volume. This leads to the current circumstance where a consultation and patient interaction must be limited to minutes if the number of patients to be seen is to increase and the income stream to be maintained.

But seeing more patients for less time does not help manage chronic conditions, allow for a focus on prevention and chronic condition management that demands time and attention to detail. So as they suggest health care reform should include:
  • Proactive improvements in individual and population health status
  • Collaboration among health care providers necessary to accomplish these improvements
  • Achievement of efficiencies in care, such as the elimination of duplicate services, avoidable hospital readmissions, and unnecessary in-person visits
and should also include a change in the documentation and in particular coding requirements. As they rightly point out the current system of coding
so called evaluation-and-management, or E&M, coding of office visits—which drives extraordinary complexity into clinical documentation and EHR workflow—could be replaced by payment-and-documentation standards that are simpler and more focused on what is actually valuable for patient care.
The much used term "meaningful use" comes up again and the suggestion that this be focused on Health IT that actually helps improve care and accelerate payment reform. IN fact the suggestions include:
  • Tracking key patient-level clinical information in order to give health care providers clear visibility into the health status of their patient populations
  • Applying clinical decision support designed by health care providers to help improve adherence to evidence-based best practices
  • Executing electronic health care transactions (prescriptions, receipt of drug formulary information, eligibility checking, lab results, basic patient summary data exchange) with key stakeholders
  • Reporting a focused set of meaningful care outcomes and evidence-based process metrics (for example, the percentage of patients with hypertension whose blood pressure is under control), which will be required by virtually any conceivable new value-based payment regimes.
And in each of these is the implied requirement to capture this information at the point of care which has been a significant challenge to date. I've said it before and I'll say it again - turning our clinicians into data entry clerks does not make sense. Whatever systems are put in place must allow for the capture of this information in way that does not interfere with the patient/clinicians interaction and includes the ability to capture the detail and the data to drive these activities of tracking, clinical decision support and evidence based metrics. There does not seem to be many technologies that can fulfill this at the time of care delivery and one that shines out constantly is that of speech and in particular speech understanding that is able to understand the meaning and generate meaningful clinical documents that can be used in these clinical systems to help deliver this higher quality care.

To this commentator, speech technology and in particular speech understanding must be a fundamental component of the success of healthcare IT as part of the HITECH investment act. What do you think - are we there yet?

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