Building the Future through CMS eHealth

By Robert Tagalicod, Director, Office of E-Health Standards and Services

Transforming Health Care

What is the most important electronic initiative in health care today? Is it the switch to ICD-10 that will enable us to capture information more accurately? The widespread adoption and use of electronic health records (EHRs) to provide an infrastructure for electronic data exchange? The establishment of clinical standards that allow physicians, hospitals, and patients to communicate with each other, regardless of their chosen electronic platform? Or is it the introduction of new payment models that focus on quality of care and patient improvement in order to reduce the overall cost of health care?

The truth is that each of these initiatives will have a significant impact on the practice of medicine, but taken together they have the potential to dramatically transform the delivery of health care.

We are living in a time of rapid and unprecedented change for health IT. Initiatives like the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs are driving hundreds of thousands of hospitals, physicians, nurse practitioners, and many others to not only adopt an electronic framework for patient information but also use the tools of health IT to better coordinate care, improve public health, and reduce health disparities across different populations. The adoption of ICD-10, operating rules, and clinical standards will facilitate electronic data exchange and put information in the hands of patients and their caregivers in a way that has never been seen before. Accountable Care Organizations and Patient Centered Medical Homes are introducing new ways for us to provide better care not only for individuals but for entire populations.

Yet each of these initiatives introduces new challenges for all of us. Physicians, hospitals, and health care providers across the country are rushing to adopt new hardware, new software, and new workflow processes that make all of these initiatives possible. Health IT vendors are working hard to build the kind of technology that will realize true electronic interoperability. CMS itself is introducing new systems, aligning programs, and introducing new ways to electronically measure quality. The process can sometimes seem chaotic, even to those of us who are intimately involved in effecting the outcome.

CMS Launches eHealth

Today, the Office of E-Health Standards and Services is launching a new eHealth initiative that specifically aims to help providers, health IT developers, and other industry partners overcome the challenges of collectively implementing this new electronic infrastructure. As part of this eHealth initiative, we are launching a dedicated CMS eHealth website (www.cms.gov/eHealth) and listserv to act as a central hub of information on implementation, guidance, milestones, and critical steps so that providers and other stakeholders have a “single source” of information on coordinating efforts toward implementing ICD-10, EHRs and meaningful use, operating standards, electronic quality measurement, and payment models.

This is only the first of many steps we plan to take to help providers. Over the next several months, the Office of E-Health Standards and Services will take an active role in engaging physicians, provider associations, payors, and technology developers to identify ways to meet the challenges they face. As we more closely integrate our many efforts using the infrastructure of EHRs, we will be looking at some of the challenges presented in areas such as information exchange and coding. We will also be convening stakeholder groups and working closely with health IT organizations to establish a “roadmap” for successful integration of EHRs, operating standards, and quality measurement.

Learn More at HIMSS and Online

There is a lot of work to be done by all of us—and your voice needs to be heard. I hope that you will take advantage of the opportunities we will present to engage with CMS about how we all can build a health IT framework for the future together. If you are at the HIMSS conference in New Orleans today, I hope you will stop by our CMS Town Hall (Session 81, 1:00-2:00 pm, New Orleans Theater C) to hear more about our eHealth initiatives. And if you are not able to join us in person, I hope that all of you will watch our eHealth website for more information on ways to engage with us.

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