The conference center in Chicago is buzzing about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Just about every hand shot up when Howard Burde, JD, a partner and health law practice group leader with the law firm, Blank Rome, LLP, asked attendees, "How many of you have a new favorite hobby: researching the ARRA?"
Providers are looking for answers to key questions:
During a session on strategies to manage the opportunities and risks for health IT in the economic stimulus, Burde said the ARRA, aka stimulus law, redefines government and private sector roles. "The federal government is taking over as the strategic leader," he said.
The main focus of the ARRA is to stimulate the economy, but it's also trying to reform healthcare at the same time, said Charles Christian, director of information systems and CIO at Good Samaritan Hospital in southwest Indiana. Healthcare IT can yield tremendous savings, but there are challenges to achieving those goals. For example, there is the manpower question. Do vendors and providers have enough staff members to implement all of this technology? The general consensus is no.
In addition, organizations have to revamp their processes if they are going to improve healthcare by the appropriate application of technology. "Just installing technology will not fix the problem," said Christian. "We are hoping this will give us the capital, but we are expected to do the work and show the outcome of that work before we get a nickel."
The law fundamentally redefines the language of heath IT—what is a qualified EHR and who will be the certifying agency. But one element the health IT section of the law doesn't include is accounting for disclosures, said Burde. That is in a different part of the law. "They didn't integrate a lot of the pieces together," he says. "Congress is counting on the regulatory process to fill it in."
So what will be the minimum necessary disclosure requirements? Will nurses and physicians have to enter a reason every time that want to access the EHR? Imagine the impact on workflow that would have in the provider setting. "Our job going forward will be to ensure that these disclosure requirements reflect reality," said Burde.
There are still a lot of questions about the stimulus package, but organizations shouldn't wait too long to start implementing their IT strategy, experts say. "It's not time to panic, but it is also not time to procrastinate," advised Christian.
Carrie Vaughan is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.