This week (Sept. 26-30) marks National Health IT Week and, as in years past, it presents an opportunity to raise awareness and recognize the value of health IT with regard to innovation, expanding access to care and making communities healthier. I personally was immersed in health IT this week by attending the New York Health IT Summit, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics, this past Tuesday and Wednesday and I attended another conference Thursday focused on driving innovation in medical imaging, sponsored by Ambra Health (formerly DICOM Grid).
At the Health IT Summit in New York City, I heard dynamic discussions among thoughts leaders on the panels, as well as among attendees, focused on issues such as navigating data security threats, the future of telehealth, how health IT can enhance patient-centered medical homes and health data exchange and the need for actionable data. And the second event, Ambra Health’s thinkRADical event, there were thought-provoking discussions around imaging interoperability and the role that imaging can play in population health management as well as in the transition to value-based care models.
While it’s fantastic to have a week dedicated to recognizing the value of health IT, these discussions are likely occurring every week among healthcare IT leaders at hospitals and health systems and among practicing physicians as the industry tries to keep pace with the accelerating changes and evolutions in healthcare.
In addition to National Health IT Week, this past week also marked another important event, one that is perhaps more relevant to a wider audience outside of health IT—the first presidential debate in what has been an unconventional, for lack of a better word, presidential election year.
For anyone who tuned in to the debate Monday night, the topic of healthcare did not come up—much less the topic of health IT—during the contentious back-and-forth between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. But, perhaps if we tune in for the second or third debates, we’ll get to hear Clinton and Trump tackle the issue of how best to achieve widespread interoperability in the U.S. healthcare system. Well, here’s hoping.
Just in time for both National Health IT Week and the first presidential debate, a new survey was released this week that gauges healthcare IT professionals’ opinions about how the 2016 presidential election will impact health IT from both sides of the aisle.
For the survey, IT infrastructure and cloud services provider Peak 10 polled 157 health IT professionals, and some of the findings are part of Peak 10’s 2nd National IT Trends in Healthcare study. Given the extremely small survey sample, I would urge readers to be cautious about drawing general inferences from the findings. Additionally, respondents were not asked specifically about Clinton or Trump’s platforms but more generally about a Republican versus a Democratic Party win.
However, I found some of the survey results interesting as far as providing some insights into the current mood, if you will, of health IT leaders—what they see as their current pain points and the potential positives and negatives of both a Democrat or a Republican president in the next four years.
For a pulse check of health IT leaders right now, the study findings indicate that constant change within regulation is greatly impacting resource-strained IT departments, and reporting demands are also adding to the strain. A bird’s eye view of the survey results also indicate that fulfilling Meaningful Use Stage 3 requirements is top of mind, and CIOs are being pushed to deliver faster and more transparent data to regulators, as well as their patients.
The findings suggest that while the upcoming elections are not causing major concerns overall, healthcare CIOs expect that if Trump is elected, as the Republican Party’s candidate, there will be fewer regulations but less funding. Some decision-makers within healthcare IT are worried that Republicans will dramatically cut funding for the Affordable Care Act and other healthcare initiatives, according to Peak 10.
Conversely, healthcare IT decision-makers are also worried that Democrats will continue to add paperwork, process, and regulation, while increasing the cost of doing business without increasing compensation, the study findings indicated.
When specifically asked which elected party they believed would cause the most positive and negative impact on the field of healthcare IT, 41 percent of respondents believe the Republican Party will have the most positive impact, compared to 18 percent citing the Democratic Party. Twelve percent said either party would positively impact health IT. Almost a third, 29 percent, said they weren’t sure.
At the same time, 38 percent of respondents said that the Republican Party would cause the most negative impact on health IT, while 33 percent said the Democratic Party would have a negative impact, and 21 percent anticipate either party will have a negative impact.
It’s interesting that relatively the same percentage of respondents view a Republican win as having a positive and negative impact, and when drilling down a little more, it appears that the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act is viewed as a cause for both celebration and concern.
When asked about perceived positive impacts from a Trump victory on Nov. 8th (a Republican win), respondents specifically cited the repeal of ACA, although the survey results do not specify how many respondents cited this as a positive impact. Additionally, respondents also saw a push for more efficient processes and increased competition, which will drive prices down and fewer reporting requirements, as potential positive impacts.
Healthcare IT leaders responding to the survey also seem to be hoping that a Republican president will alter Meaningful Use Stage 3 and incentives for more IT innovation as well as potentially restructure Meaningful Use to be geared toward more efficient workflow for doctors, while continuing to improve the quality impact to patients.
When asked about perceived positive impacts from a Democrat winning on Nov. 8th, respondents cited a continued push for healthcare reform and investment in transitional programs, improvements to the ACA and potential repeal of Medicare incentives.
As far as potential negative impacts from a Republican win, healthcare IT leaders seem equally worried about the potential repeal of the ACA. Healthcare IT leaders “spent a significant amount of money and resources to implement software to accommodate the Affordable Care Act and a repeal would make the last five years a waste,” the survey report stated.
In addition, respondents said there is no viable alternative plan for the repeal of ACA and the loss of ACA means less funds for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and research. And, the ACA will be challenging to address for current patients, with respondents citing concerns that there will be more uninsured people and lower reimbursements. And, respondents anticipate more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid payments under a Republican presidency.
With a Democrat win on Nov. 8th, respondents are concerned about more regulations, as well as what they termed as skyrocketing insurance costs, lower reimbursement, more legislative controls and audits and added demand for healthcare services, but not additional funding. Respondents also are concerned about decreasing margins that would squeeze already tight budgets and also cited “medicine will continue to be socialized” as perceived negative impacts of a Clinton/Democrat win, according to the Peak 10 survey.
As Healthcare Informatics’ Contributing Editor David Raths wrote in the September/October issue, health IT policy advocates are facing a lot of uncertainty with this election year. “The potential policy differences between a Trump presidency and a Clinton administration are so vast that it’s difficult to bring them into focus,” Raths wrote.
Yet, despite the election’s uncertainty, there are major policy initiatives already in motion with the MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act) final rule scheduled for release before Nov. 1, and several other value-based payment reforms already in place involving bundled payments, the oncology care model and Comprehensive Primary Care Plus.
It will be interesting to see what happens Nov. 8th and to see what the next president’s health IT policy platform will be. But, with so many policy issues already in play, I’m eager to see where things stand this time next year when we mark another National Health IT Week, and to note the progress health IT leaders make on all these initiatives. With less than six weeks until the general election, what do you think the possible results of the elections will mean for the health IT world?