Long-Term Care Could Emerge as an Important Player in HIT

Emily Beaver, April 20, 2009

Few nursing homes are using electronic health records that allow them to share information with other healthcare providers—a standard known in the technology world as "interoperability." But more nursing homes could begin using more interoperable EHRs soon, thanks to incentives provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and a push to certify long-term care health IT products.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) announced last Thursday that it aims to begin certifying long-term care Health IT products by July 2010.

CCHIT has created a volunteer task force full of industry players representing skilled nursing facilities, assisted living, home care, and hospice services, according to the CCHIT. The task force will advise a CCHIT work group creating the Long Term Care Spectrum certification.

Although certification is voluntary, the marketplace is starting to request it, said John Morrissey, communications director for CCHIT.

A certification would ensure buyers that certified long-term care HIT products would work seamlessly with other certified HIT products, said Majd Alwan, PhD, director for the Center for Aging Services and Technologies (CAST).

The ARRA is putting a lot of emphasis on standards-based interoperable health IT to guarantee every American has a health record that is portable or can allow the exchange of information, Alwan said. The certification is an indication that the investment in this product is somewhat protected and the system will not become obsolete because it is not compliant with national standards for interoperability, he said.

Achieving interoperability in HIT products is especially important in long-term care because the sector serves seniors who often have multiple chronic conditions and multiple care providers, such as physicians and pharmacists, Alwan said.

The population also tends to move across the several care settings. For example, if a senior who falls suffers from a broken hip, he or she may move from a hospital to a skilled nursing facility for rehab before transitioning to an assisted living facility within in relatively short period of time, Alwan said.

Also, sharing electronic records may be useful because seniors in long-term care facilities may have a primary care physicians or geriatricians who work outside of their facilities.

"The benefits of interoperable HIT across settings would be maximized in this segment," Alwan said.

The long-term care industry has adopted electronic records at a rate that is comparable, if not higher, than acute care and private physician practices, he said. However, many nursing homes are not using fully integrated or interoperable electronic records, he said.

"This implies the long-term care sector is not only ready for this, but stands in a position where it could leap-frog other sectors" in adopting electronic records, Alwan said.

—Emily Beaver

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