ONC: Supreme Court Decision Won't Affect Health IT Efforts, EHR Push

April 18, 2012

Despite what the high court decides this summer, federal health IT initiatives will remain on-track, says one federal official.

The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains up in the air - and along with it, questions about how that decision will affect physicians and practices.

But at the AHIMA 2012 ICD-10-CM/PCS Summit in Baltimore this week, Doug Fridsma, MD, director of the Office of Standards and Interoperability, part of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), provided some clues about how the Supreme Court’s decision could affect the future of health IT.

The ONC, which is at the forefront of federal health IT efforts, was started in 2004, well before health reform, Fridsma told attendees during a question-and-answer session following his keynote address.

And though the ONC receives additional funding due to the health law, if “this money goes away, our regulatory role doesn’t,” he said. “Our responsibility goes well beyond the moneys that were provided with the ACA.”

Moreover, Fridsma added, the movement toward greater health IT implementation is “not tied to healthcare reform, it’s tied to providing good care. I think that our work, regardless [of the Supreme Court’s decision] will continue to accelerate as we move forward.”

And the movement has been steadily accelerating over the past few years, Fridsma noted during his session. “We’ve really been able to create acceleration and excitement” about EHRs, he said.

In fact, according to ONC findings, the percentage of primary-care physicians who have adopted EHRs in practices doubled from 2009 to 2011, from 20 percent to 40 percent. And hospital adoption is not too far behind; it jumped from 16 percent to 35 percent.

As more and more physicians implement EHRs and attest to meaningful use, interoperability will increase and healthcare will benefit as a whole, Fridsma said.

“Meaningful use is staged to do things incrementally,” he said. The first stage is about getting “people to think about what information we needed to capture in an electronic format and getting that into an EHR.” The second stage is about refining that data and beginning to exchange that information across healthcare systems. The third stage is about determining how to use that data to improve quality of care and get better health outcomes.

“Without that foundation we can still get to better … health and reduce cost,” he said. But the movement toward interoperability is like building a building. “You’ve got to have a strong foundation … [health] IT is part of that strong foundation we need.”

Fridsma acknowledged that steady progress is being made toward interoperable EHR use, but there is still a lot of work to be done. “Interoperability is a journey, not a destination,” he said.