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Survey: Docs, Public Agree on Health IT Priorities; Funding Threatened

The Markle Foundation released a survey yesterday that found strong agreement among health care providers and the public on health IT priorities. The public and doctors both cited the need for electronic communication tools, the importance of sharing health information to improve care and the importance of privacy protections. The Markle survey comes at a time when government funding for major health IT initiatives are under debate. A bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would likely repeal billions from the federal program that is jumpstarting health IT adoption around the country.

The Markle Survey on Health in a Networked Life 2010 analyzed the attitudes of physicians and the public as health reform and programs to encourage the use of health IT get underway. The findings show that the majority of the public and health care providers are aligned in their expectations for the goals of health IT, and that these expectations largely track existing government efforts to promote health IT adoption. According to the survey

  • A majority of doctors want to use electronic means to share information with patients and other physicians.
  • A majority of patients and doctors believe patients should be able to download their personal health information and share it with physicians electronically.
  • About 80% of both doctors and the public believe privacy protections are important requirements for public investment in health IT.
  • Large majorities of doctors and the public support specific privacy protections, including breach notification, audit logs, a clear process to request corrections to information, and prohibiting the government from collecting personally identifiable health information for quality improvement programs.

The federal ‘meaningful use’ program is encouraging doctors and hospitals to adopt health IT. Under the program, the government will reimburse doctors and hospitals for the cost of electronic health record systems, provided the systems meet certain criteria. The first set of criteria include the capability to share information electronically with patients and other professionals, as well as certain privacy and security requirements. Following the success of federal health agencies offering a download capability to their constituents, there is also discussion of including a download capability in the next set of meaningful use criteria. It would seem that the meaningful use program is ensuring the public gets at least some of what they want out of the digitization of health records.

Yet the meaningful use program may be repealed under a cost-cutting bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Section 302 of HR 408 would repeal the title of the 2009 stimulus legislation that authorizes funds for the meaningful use program. Repealing meaningful use would render redundant the work to date in developing standards and infrastructure for health information records and exchange, and may also shortchange many providers and hospitals that bought electronic health record systems with the expectation that they would receive a reimbursement. More importantly, as the Markle survey shows, meaningful use is driving changes to the delivery of health care services that the public and doctors agree are needed.

HR 408 is unlikely to survive the Senate. However, the question remains whether members of Congress view health IT funding programs as a ripe target for spending cuts. In our rush to address the urgent issue of government fiscal reform, let’s not demolish programs that are working – that, like meaningful use, make long-term economic sense, improve the quality and efficiency of health care and align with the expectations of the American public.