HHS Officials Focus on Triumphs of Meaningful Use, Health IT Programs

HHS officials Sebelius and Blumenthal praise CMS’ meaningful use initiative, calling on providers to embrace federal health programs.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicked off the third day of the HIMSS 2011 conference in Orlando with an optimistic, forward-looking speech that echoed her department’s enthusiasm over the Obama Administration’s healthcare reform law, EHRs, and meaningful use.

Sebelius spent much of her time at the podium giving examples of how embracing health reform under the Affordable Care Act and technology will help physicians' practices and other organizations.

“In the long run, EHRs will make it much easier to gather the data to improve outcomes,” said Sebelius, who later joked that doctors’ reputation for having bad handwriting will soon “be a thing of the past.”

She also called on providers to welcome new technology initiatives from HHS and other federal health organizations it works with.

“If we want electronic health records to spread, we need you to be more than advocates for the technology,” said Sebelius, adding that there is still a big health IT gap between large healthcare organizations and small practices. “We need to work harder to close that gap.”

Following Sebelius, David Blumenthal, national coordinator for the HHS' office of health information technology, touted the successes of the meaningful use incentive program, and hailed the progress of the federal Regional Extension Center (REC) program, which so far has enrolled 57,000 health providers.

“We’re well on our way to reaching our target of supporting 100,000 providers,” he said. “State Medicaid programs have paid providers in four states. Meaningful use is no longer a theory. It is a working, operating reality.”

Blumenthal said that going forward, his agency will be concentrating on creating conditions of trust and interoperability, and that he envisioned a flexible, reliable system of health information exchange.

“Last year, when I came to HIMSS, I was flushed with naiveté about what was possible,” said Blumenthal. “Now we can finally say ‘welcome to the age of meaningful use’ … ‘welcome to the age of opportunity.’”

Marisa Torrieri is associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at marisa.torrieri@ubm.com.
Check out our full coverage of the HIMSS 2011 conference here.