'Reboot' health information program to achieve better acute, post-acute care coordination, report says

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The federal program to encourage adoption of health information technology is seriously troubled and should be reexamined, according to a report released Wednesday by six Republican senators. They say incompatible systems are preventing hospitals and other providers, including post-acute operators, from enhancing continuity of care.

Passed as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provides incentives for providers to acquire electronic health records systems.

“Unfortunately, the program as laid out by [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT continues to focus less on the ability of disparate software systems to talk to one another and more on providing payments to facilities to purchase new technologies,” the report states.

Unified, specific standards are needed to create large-scale interoperability, according to the report. The GOP senators – John Thune (SD), Lamar Alexander (TN), Pat Roberts (KA), Richard Burr (NC), Tom Coburn (OK), and Mike Enzi (WY) – also raised concerns about the costs of HITECH, waste and abuse related to its provisions, privacy issues and the sustainability of the program. They suggested certain aspects be slowed or halted.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the lawmakers laid out questions they want answered by June 16. In a separate letter, they called for provider input on their report.

Skilled nursing facilities were excluded from federal-level HITECH incentives through Medicare, but are eligible for funding under the act's Medicaid Nursing Home Grant program. Eligible nursing homes in participating states can receive up to 90% of the costs related to implementing an EHR system.