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Gratitude and HIT in 2009

December 31, 2008
by Mark Hagland
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Many in the United States and around the world will be glad to say goodbye to 2008, a year that saw economic disaster on a global scale. Still, there is much to look forward to, as well as ponder, in 2009, as the new year comes across the threshold (as I write this, it’s already 2009 in Asia, in fact).

On a personal level, 2008 was a great year for me. I was blessed with great work, terrific colleagues, wonderful family members and friends, and numerous personal milestones, including publishing my second book on healthcare quality; all of these were deeply gratifying for me.

And on a broader, meta level, I can say that I look forward to 2009 not only personally, but also professionally. One thing that we can all look at as a ray of hope in hard economic times is the potential, announced by President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, for possibly a significant infusion of cash into healthcare IT, as part of the overall economic stimulus package the transition team (soon to be the Obama administration) is working on. While nothing is set in stone, President-elect Obama stated his intention to include healthcare IT in his stimulus package during a December 6 radio address. In fact, even as a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama had called for the investment of $10 billion per year for five years in a row in healthcare IT, as part of an effort to modernize the healthcare system and make it more efficient. Now, in the context of an ongoing effort to pull the U.S. economy out of a deepening recession, those numbers could likely increase.

Of course, some wrangling over money will inevitably take place, once the size and scope of the stimulus package are determined by the incoming Obama administration, and then worked over in Congress. But the potential for the healthcare industry to be helped significantly is there. Most likely, some of the monies will be targeted towards helping physicians and physician groups implement EMRs. But it would be very surprising if a goodly chunk didn’t also go to hospitals and health systems, at a time when purchasers (including the federal Medicare program) and payers are demanding great transparency, accountability, and more sheer data from healthcare providers, yet providers are constrained by a deepening credit crisis that has leaked into healthcare, constraining providers’ ability to continue expanding their investments in needed IT.

Of course, the precise shape of any healthcare or healthcare IT stimulus package has yet to be determined. But just knowing that the healthcare sector (which, after all, already represents more than one-seventh or greater—and growing daily—of our nation’s overall GDP) will receive some economic stimulus from the federal government is a cause for hope during these difficult times.

The outcome of any economic stimulus package remains unpredictable. But as 2008 draws quickly to a close, knowing help is on the way as we walk through the portal of time into 2009 is a hopeful sign. And hope will be an important resource—and one that at least is free of charge—as we enter the new year.

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