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The Importance of State-Based Advocacy for Health IT

March 13, 2009
by Rich Temple
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We have, as an industry, a once-in-a-generation chance to be able to “change the game” as far as health IT is concerned. The recently-enacted HITECH legislation (known more formally as the “Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act”, signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” offers unprecedented opportunities and funding for those opportunities, and we as an industry have to do everything we can to make sure these funds are spent optimally and this opportunity is not squandered with money going down a bureaucratic sinkhole.

As we dive into the legislation, we discover that many of the real potential opportunities for the transformation we have long been seeking lie at the State level. Health information exchange projects are a big piece of this and, in order to take advantage of these, there needs to be State matching funds, the ratio of which will increase as we move further into the future. The HITECH legislation also provides for state-level revolving loan funds to facilitate EHR adoption by a wide array of providers. Furthermore, the legislation establishes “Health IT Regional Extension Centers” which are anticipated to take the lead in providing technical assistance at the local level for a multitude of potential health IT projects.

I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb here to posit that State legislators are, for the most part, not optimally attuned to the best way to turn this money into real benefit for caregivers and society as a whole. They may want to, but without guidance from leaders on our side, monies can be expended on things that are perhaps, at the very least, ill-advised or, at the very most, destructive to our goal of bringing technology to bear on a grand scale to save lives and improve patient outcomes. This isn’t a result of malice or worse on anyone’s part; it is just that the people who are charged with disbursing the funds don’t live and breathe in the world that those funds are designed to benefit.

We as health IT professionals DO live in that world. We need to make sure our voices are heard in our State legislatures and that we position ourselves as subject matter experts on the world of health IT. This won’t be resisted at all by the legislators – rather, it will be welcomed, as they have an awful lot of their plate and they would like nothing more than to have reliable sources of information that they can call upon. We need to be highest on that list of “reliable sources” as it relates to health care in our respective states. We need to articulate the vision loud and clear (once we have finalized it in our own heads) and paint an easy-to-understand picture for our governmental leaders the benefits, not only to society, but to the State coffers, through better coordination and less erroneous payments or unnecessary payments for duplicative services. It will be a very, very long time – if ever – before we have another chance like this; we cannot blow this!

In New Jersey, we held a very successful legislative Advocacy Day this past Monday. Over 100 leaders from health care from across the State gathered to share their vision with State legislators and begin to build those relationships. You can more about that day here, in Kate Huvane Gamble’s blog on this site, and how we were able to pull off an event of this magnitude. This is just the beginning, though, we need to build on this and keep in front of those who will be charged with administering the HITECH funds at the State level because this is where we can make a profound difference!

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