September 24, 2009

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View Rachel Block's PowerPoint presentation

Building a robust Health Information Technology system can bring a great number of benefits, including lower costs, greater efficiency, and better health outcomes. However, the obstacles to creating such a system are also great: the technology is expensive; it comes with a number of privacy issues; and perhaps most daunting, a lack of standards for Health IT means that records from one provider may not synch with records from another.

The challenges are steep. Nationally, only 4% of physicians and 1.5% of hospitals have implemented robust Health IT systems. Another 13% of physicians and 7.6% of hospitals across the country have instituted basic Health IT systems, but that still leaves roughly 80% of all doctors and 90% of all hospitals without any form of Health IT.

New York State has laid out a strategic plan to address the main obstacles to adoption and improve utilization rates. Key among New York’s efforts is creating agreement on common standards, both in policy and implementation. When digital records are not compatible with one another, the system is ineffective at eliminating the type of inefficiencies now common in our health care system. To resolve this, Block said New York is essentially attempting to create a Health IT “interstate”—a system where all providers could connect and interface under common practices and guidelines. Once established, this network will serve as the backbone for Health IT in New York, making adoption much easier for providers statewide.

The State is also working to develop payment incentives to encourage provider use and is coaxing insurance companies, Medicaid, and Medicare to support them. Part of these incentives, Block pointed out, is finding ways to offer providers long-term support and ensuring that funding or incentives don’t dry up before the cost-saving benefits of Health IT are realized.

Finally, the State is looking at ways to address the many privacy concerns of health care consumers. One of the main obstacles preventing adoption, Block asserted, is a lack of widespread consumer demand. Worried that their private medical information will fall into the wrong hands, patients are not encouraging their providers to use Health IT systems. If the State can address those fears, it could accelerate implementation.

Broad-scale adoption requires a great deal of time and effort, but the benefits of developing a robust Health IT system are considerable. Some national studies have calculated $70-80 billion in potential net savings once Health IT systems are fully implemented.

Block ended her discussion with this caveat: though Health IT carries great promise for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of New York’s—and the nation’s—health care system, its impact will be minimal without broad health care reform.

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