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Federal Leaders Release New Tools to Help Providers Better Leverage Health IT

September 26, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Kicking off National Health IT Week, President Obama also delivers message touting industry’s progress

President Barack Obama issued a message on Sept. 26 to kick off National Health IT Week, expressing optimism for where the industry stands today as well as hope for “reaching for the next frontier of innovation.”

Over the last eight years, the Obama Administration has invested billions of dollars to encourage health IT adoption across the healthcare community. In his message, Obama pointed to the fact that 97 percent of the nation’s hospitals and three-quarters of doctors are using electronic records to care for their patients.  And last year, the Administration launched its Precision Medicine Initiative, which the President, in his statement today, referred to as “a bold research effort to accelerate innovation and prepare us for a new era of medicine—all enabled by digital data.”

The message read, “During National Health IT Week, we recommit ourselves to improving the health of our citizenry using the breakthrough technologies of our time and reaching for the next frontier of innovation.” It continued, “We have also worked to clarify an individual’s legal right to access their health information and transmit it where they choose—whether it’s to a family member or to their smartphone.  These efforts help advance our Administration’s goal of fostering the seamless and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it is needed most.” Obama concluded by noting, “Though there is more to be done to realize a healthcare system that fits each of our needs, I am confident that if we continue working together, we can build a future of greater health and prosperity for coming generations.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has also kicked off National Health IT Week by releasing new tools to help healthcare providers get the most out of their health information technology such as electronic health records (EHRs): an EHR contract guide and a newly expanded Health IT Playbook.

The new contract guide, “EHR Contracts Untangled: Selecting Wisely, Negotiating Terms, and Understanding the Fine Print,” explains important concepts in EHR contracts and includes example contract language to help providers and health administrators in planning to acquire an EHR system and negotiating contract terms with vendors. The Health IT Playbook is a web-based tool intended to make it easy for providers and their practices to find practical information and guidance on specific topics as they research, buy, use, or switch EHRs. The Playbook builds on the Patient Engagement Playbook for providers that launched earlier this year.

“I know from my experiences practicing emergency medicine and managing information technology for a health system how helpful practical tools can be for clinicians and health care administrators as they navigate the purchase and use of health IT,” B. Vindell Washington, M.D., National Coordinator for Health IT, said in a statement. “The EHR contract guide and the Health IT Playbook incorporate feedback we have heard from the provider community about the need for clear, reliable information about EHR contracts and user-friendly, specific tools for how to get the most out of health IT to better manage patient health and care.”

Regarding the contract guide, according to a prepared statement from Ed Cantwell, executive director of the Center for Medical Interoperability, “Purchasing processes and contracts have an important role in ensuring information can move freely and securely across all the devices and IT systems used in patient care. This guide can help foster the dialogue between buyers and sellers to achieve that shared goal.”

And, Frank G Opelka, M.D., medical director, quality and health policy, American College of Surgeons, said the Playbook “will be an exceptional resource for surgeons who participate in all the various federal programs. It is a superb navigational tool for assisting surgeons in the emerging MIPS and APM world and it assembles the work across all the federal healthcare agencies into one workable website.”

In a joint blog post statement from Dr. Washington and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt that touted the EHR contracting guide and the Health IT Playbook, the federal leaders said, “From the small practice manager exploring new cloud-based EHR products and services, to the CIO contemplating a major EHR procurement, making the right choice for a practice— and advancing interoperability—hinges on having reliable, easy-to-understand information. But we have heard from providers in the field, professional associations, and other observers that such information can be hard to find. Moreover, EHR contracts can be confusing and may result in data blocking and other practices that limit opportunities to use EHRs to deliver safer and more efficient care.”

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