National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal may be stepping down from his position in the next couple of months, but the impact of the time he spent as head of the nation's efforts to adopt electronic health records will likely be felt for many years to come. His office recently announced the release of a new Federal Health IT Plan that will set the agenda for technology adoption through 2015.
The new plan was mandated as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It lays out a strategy for how to get the healthcare industry to transition completely to electronic systems and deploy them according to the agency's meaningful use rules.
Blumenthal wrote in a cover letter attached to the plan that there has been a lot of progress made in the last few years toward these goals. This has included tremendous efforts from both the federal government and private companies. The plan is intended to address the question, "how does it all fit together?"
Toward that end, the proposal says that healthcare providers not only need to adopt electronic health records in greater numbers over the course of the next few years, they must also use the technology in smarter ways.
"The adoption and meaningful use of EHRs is the unifying focal point of our strategy," Blumenthal wrote. "However, meaningful use is necessary, but not sufficient, to harness the power of health IT to transform health care over the next five years. For instance, we must continue to be attentive to implementing and enforcing privacy and security protections."
Blumenthal highlighted three of the goals of the plan that could help propel the nation toward this goal. He said that health information exchanges will play an important role in unleashing the full potential of electronic health records. Additionally, as providers adopt technology in higher numbers, they should keep in mind ways they can use systems to involve patients in their own care.
Finally, he said that the creation of a nationwide network of heath information exchange should work toward creating a "learning health system," in which the latest clinical evidence and findings are made available to medical professionals even in remote parts of the country.
"We are only beginning to unlock the vast promise of electronic health information in informing providers' decisions, helping individuals better manage their health, and improving the health system's capacity for rapid learning," he wrote.
There are already some agencies in place that could serve as a starting point toward creating this learning health system, Fierce Government IT reports. These include the Food and Drug Administration's Sentinel Initiative, which will soon begin tracking all products regulated by the agency; the Centers for Disease Control's Health Surveillance Network; and a Department of Health and Human Services database that is expected to track health insurance claims for the purpose of providing data to researchers.
The broader use of electronic health records and a national information exchange system could help tie all these programs together and make disseminating the data they collect to individual medical professionals significantly easier. However, the news source reports that there will have to be technological developments that anonymize this data.
These advancements would truly represent the next stage of development for the healthcare industry. While Blumenthal will soon be exiting his position, the effects of this new plan laid out by his office are likely to reverberate throughout all corners of healthcare for many years to come.