Blumenthal cites need for flexibility, consumer confidence in EHR transition

Oct. 7, 2010

PHOENIX, AZ, OCTOBER 6, 2010 – As the country’s providers move forward to implement healthcare information technology, the U.S. will need an approach that accommodates variations between states and calms consumers’ privacy concerns, according to the federal government’s top IT official.

Speaking to more than 600 attendees at the Fall CIO Forum of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), David Blumenthal, MD, head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), called for IT leaders to continue to play a leadership role in shaping the move to widespread adoption of electronic health records.

“This is a large and diverse country, with diverse providers, ranging from 10 bed hospitals to 1,000-bed mega-facilities,” Blumenthal said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and I know this is a big project for all of you. I’m still optimistic that the tools that have been provided through the HITECH act have been incredibly well-designed to deal with the barriers we face.”

Blumenthal said ONC has been working on surmounting major hurdles over the past year. The financial stimulus program addresses the pressures providers are facing to pay for expensive clinical systems.

“The financing’s been created for the meaningful use framework, but it’s more than just a money issue,” he said. For example, providers need assurances that the systems they select will last over time, and smaller providers need assistance with selecting and installing systems. Various government programs are in place to provide certification for products and educational support for providers.

Privacy and security remain major concerns for the American people, who want assurances that their clinical information will be kept confidential and secure, even as health information exchanges help to facilitate data exchange.

“We can never forget, as we get deeper into the technical side of our work, that the American people are watching,” Blumenthal said. “They are supportive, but they also are worried. Making them confident in our work is a constant requirement of success.”

ONC and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) are working closely to help give patients more control over their information. “We don’t think that’s the end of the story but we are working closely with OCR to make sure that their regulations, as they develop and perfect them, are consistent with our goals.”

Recent suggested changes to HIPAA laws are a start to ensure consumers that medical information is kept secure and private. But issues remain, such as how to best work with de-identified biosurveillance data. “I expect this discussion to be loud and vigorous, and perhaps trying to some of you, but it is necessary in a democratic society. (Consumer) consent is going to be front and center in the discussion, but the implementation of consent, and the technical infrastructure needed to support it, will be one of the major issues we’ll have to deal with.”

Blumenthal lauded CHIME for its support and assistance over the past year, saying such public-private partnerships will be essential in helping the nation make the switch to electronic health records.

“My mission is a time-limited mission,” he said. “I fully expect that we will pass the baton to you and others like you in the near future. We are looking to you provide that leadership. You and your leadership is as important as anything else in the framework we are trying to create and move forward.”

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