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eHI Conference: Day Two

January 24, 2011
by David Raths
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ONC’s Blumenthal, Pritts detail meaningful use, privacy developments

At a conference where the term “accountable care organization” was mentioned in every presentation, David Blumenthal, M.D., used his Jan. 20 talk to the eHealth Initiative to remind its members that the meaningful use effort is necessary to make ACOs possible.

Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology, said meaningful use is the “tip of the spear” for healthcare transformation in the coming era of ACOs and patient-centered medical homes. “None of those innovations will work without better and more timely information,” he said.

Blumenthal then reminded his audience of some milestones for the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC). He noted that the era of meaningful use officially began Jan. 3, with more than 13,000 providers registered to be meaningful users and the first payments already made to Medicaid providers in Kentucky and Oklahoma. He predicted that starting on May 1, thousands of providers would begin receiving bonuses under the Medicare program. “I believe that will be a galvanizing event for this process,” he said.

He added that the 62 regional extension centers will have enrolled 40,000 providers by the end of January, “enough to fill Fenway Park,” said Blumenthal, who lives in Boston. The 84 community colleges in the work force program will graduate 3,400 health IT professionals this year and are expected to graduate 10,000 a year in the next few years, he said.

Blumenthal said the biggest challenge ONC faces involves the development of a flexible, dynamic, and reliable system of health information exchange. But he said no matter how big the roadblocks, the effort is worth it because meaningful use depends on exchange. He said the entire meaningful use process has been unique because it has allowed stakeholders to come together to fashion a process for determining which information and capabilities are needed to improve care and meet patients’ needs. It is crafting a vision of an evolving, dynamic set of uses for that information, he said. “That is the fundamentally transformative part of the meaningful use era.”

In an earlier talk, Joy Pritts, chief privacy officer in the Office of the National Coordinator, reminded eHI members that it will be a busy spring on the privacy front. Final HIPAA rules that will be published in March will detail important regulations regarding business associates and the marketing of protected health information. In addition, a final rule about breach notification is scheduled to be published later this year. She said work on privacy issues is an iterative process. “Technology changes so rapidly that policymakers must continuously re-evaluate whether the rules in place are sufficient,” she said.