Health IT Savings May Reach $261 Billion

Innovative health IT systems that go beyond electronic health records to provide better analytics and drive greater efficiency could save billions over a decade.

As the healthcare system braces for a new age, using technology to develop interoperable, patient-centered health IT systems could yield billion of dollars in savings, a report predicts.

The report, "A 21st Century Roadmap for Advancing America's Health: the Path from Peril to Progress," highlights the role HIT will play in re-engineering healthcare through the adoption of electronic health records, providing better analytics, and driving greater efficiency as the country builds a more comprehensive framework that strengthens the public health infrastructure. Additionally, new systems can create cost savings.

"If used in innovative ways, the estimated savings from HIT expansion could reach $261 billion over 10 years," the report said.

However, the goal of widespread implementation of EHRs is still in the nascent stages of development, with only 20.5% of physicians and 8-10% of hospitals using basic EHRs. Fewer still are meaningfully applying HIT to advance care coordination, aide clinical decision-making, or report health outcomes, among other practices. However, to gain appreciable benefits from HIT, a comprehensive approach must be adopted.

"HIT's potential, as opposed to EHRs alone, does not center solely on making patients' records more accessible, but rather on improving the information available for medical decision making, collecting performance data, and ensuring that avoidable medical errors will be more difficult to occur," the report said.

This is the second report published by the Commission on U.S. Federal Leadership in Health and Medicine, which is a group of national healthcare experts convened by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, based in Washington D.C.

The document, published May 5, provides a roadmap of recommendations, which include re-engineering America's healthcare system, advancing public health in the United States, promoting global health and health diplomacy, and strengthening U.S. medical and public health research.

In technology, the report recommended that issues of HIT interoperability, protection of patient privacy, and the need for a clearinghouse of health information be addressed.

The document references the passing of recent health reform legislation by noting that the law sets the stage for progress in the development of a national strategy for healthcare improvements that are enhanced by the use of HIT and EHRs.

Describing the benefits of the health reform law, passed in March, the document cites three areas that provide a foundation upon which the new healthcare infrastructure is being built. The law will:

1. Enact national standards for electronic data submission and collection, as well as for reporting mechanisms, to increase transparency and reduce fraud.

2. Develop a standardized set of rules for electronic funds transfers, healthcare payments, and health plan information to simplify health insurance administration with the use of IT.

3. Develop new state-based health information/data exchange networks with enhanced interoperability and security.

The document calls for an interoperable data network to collect and analyze health data from multiple sources and to use the information to examine patient outcomes. It says, "Data from EHR should also be more directly incorporated into comparative effective research (CER) collection. Ideally, a joint EHR-CER system would be applied on a nationwide level, with all hospitals, providers, and patients able to access their records in a seamless electronic framework, while addressing cyber security and privacy concerns."

To accelerate the adoption of HIT, consideration should be given to the development of individualized patient portals, which would enable patients to access their personal medical records and take greater action with their health and wellness. Additionally, the "pay for value" principle should be applied to the implementation of HIT, the report says.

"HIT can assist in preventive medicine, chronic disease management, care coordination, and medication management efforts in health systems where financial incentives have been realigned," the report said. "However, in many healthcare delivery settings today, HIT services are often not reimbursed by insurance companies."

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