Meeting the Stage 1 Meaningful Use requirements of the HITECH electronic medical records incentive program is going to be tough on all healthcare institutions, but there is no doubt it will be tougher on some than others. Many of my readers at healthsystemCIO.com are far down the path to electrify their healthcare environments and liquefy health data in the process, but those individuals are mostly CIOs at large academic medical centers or from one of the few community hospitals featuring sophisticated IT shops.
What will become of the smaller facilities that boast only a handful of professionals most accustomed to refreshing the desktops every few years?
I discussed this issue today after an interview with Fletcher Allen SVP & CIO Chuck Podesta. He’s currently working to extend his installation of the Epic Systems Corporation EMR to the smaller community hospitals that surround his academic medical center — the only one in the area. According to Podesta, the effort isn’t being done to generate revenue for his organization, but to improve healthcare in the local community. Of course, the costs will be passed along to the participating hospitals and there will, theoretically, be an increase in the volume of referrals coming from those facilities to Podesta’s. But nonetheless, the vision does not rest on a hard return on investment.
So what will happen to organizations that don’t fall within the benevolent orbit of a Fletcher Allen? Perhaps it’s time for industry groups like the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) or the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to launch a formal “Adopt a Hospital” program.
As part of this voluntary system, experienced CIOs with clinical system implementation bona fides would mentor IT directors at smaller facilities (many of which don’t even have CIOs). The CIOs could provide guidance on gap analyses, strategic planning, budgeting, fostering project buy-in, system selection, infrastructure and network management, contract negotiation, implementation and, ultimately, meaningful use.
With Internet-spawned communication technologies, such as Skype, 80 percent of the collaboration could be handled remotely, much like the EMR certification “site inspections” many are talking about. Of course, since nothing beats an on-the-ground review to really walk in the pupil’s shoes, a semi-annual get-together should not be out of the question.
The benefits to both parties in this exchange are tremendous. To the mentee goes knowledge, advice and support. To the mentee’s organization goes a sound IT environment and, hopefully, Meaningful Use incentive funds. To the mentor goes what in all likelihood will be the most rewarding experience of their career, and the knowledge that they may have literally saved lives by ensuring system uptime and reliability. To the mentor’s organization goes as much positive PR as their department dedicated to that work can make of such gold.
If the government had set aside even a sliver of HITECH monies for a program like this, the industry would be in a far better position than it is today. Unfortunately, government did what comes naturally to it — spent far too much money in an inefficient and open-ended manner. Now, it’s time for healthcare providers to do what comes naturally to them — jump into the breach and lend a helping hand.