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Every time I come to Washington, D.C., I am overwhelmed by the significance of this city. Its beauty—its architecture, monuments, museums—and its power are truly awe inspiring. It is humbling to come here to participate in our government as part of the people. And, it’s thrilling that we live in a country where such a thing is possible.
As a member of HIMSS, I have been privileged to be part of the political process as an advocate for health information technology. Each year, I participate in National Health IT Week and the HIMSS Public Policy Forum, which provide unique opportunities to interact directly with policymakers and their staffs. Through HIMSS, I have learned that what we say matters, and that we can be heard if we work together.
This week, health IT advocates, constituents and participants from all over the country gathered in our nation’s Capital to delve deeper into the health IT conversation and to discuss the real progress we are making along with the challenges that remain. Together, we really are transforming healthcare through IT, and realizing the mission of HIMSS. As a longtime observer of this remarkable transformation, I wanted to share with you a few things you missed if you weren’t able to be a part of the festivities this week:
1. Presidential Support: President Barack Obama proclaims September 11-17 National Health IT Week. Techies everywhere rejoiced that an entire week will be devoted to health IT. An excerpt from the proclamation reads, “Health information technology connects doctors and patients to more complete and accurate health records. Tools like electronic health records and electronic prescriptions help patients and providers make safer, smarter decisions about health care.” Support from the White House is paramount to the continued success of health IT initiatives in the future. It’s refreshing to have Presidential-level support for that work.
2. The Super Committee: Technically speaking, it’s the Joint Select Committee of Deficit Reduction, and there was a lot of talk about the Committee and its work. The bi-partisan assembly composed of six members of the House and six from the Senate is charged with finding more than $1 trillion in savings over the next 10 years. That means the couch cushions will be over turned and every drop of savings matters. Even something as detailed and technical as health IT will be considered for cost savings and efficiencies. So, it’s crucial that the health IT community maintain an active dialogue with the Super Committee members about the integrity and importance of HITECH funding.
3. Minority Health: Numerous workgroups held Congressional briefings on the state of their affairs. One of those groups launched earlier this year is the HIMSS Latino community. Together with the HHS Office of Minority Health, they are addressing significant issues facing minority populations and how health IT can ease some challenges they face. In their Congressional briefing, the group shared a community-wide concern for healthcare provider shortages and ways to close the disparity gap in minority populations. They also discussed the increasing importance of patient involvement in the healthcare process and how health IT initiatives like patient messaging can improve the delivery of care.
Finally, HIMSS proposed three “asks” this week that I would also like to share with you:
• In order to improve the quality of your constituents’ healthcare while also reducing its costs, such as through elimination of duplicative care, Congress should continue its strong bipartisan support for Health Information Technology.
• Congress should preserve the investment being made in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records Meaningful Use Incentive Program as an essential tool that is critical to the healthcare transformation process.
• In order to ensure that your constituent is the right person getting the right healthcare at the right time, Congress should support the development of a nationwide patient identity solution by lifting the current statutory prohibition to allow HHS to address this issue along with other health IT policy enhancements.
As you can see from this very short list of highlights, there is a ton of significant health IT work happening on the Hill. The week was packed full with briefings, advocacy efforts and outreach to our policymakers around health IT – far too many to list in this short piece - and it is flat-out inspiring.
In parting, I encourage you to attend National Health IT Week next year, and in the meantime, continue your on-the-ground endeavors. Don't forget to stay in touch with policymakers and tell them what you like, not just what you don't like, about proposed legislation and regulation. As National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM, said this week, “the ice has been broken” in terms of momentum toward a fully electronic healthcare system where patient data flows seamlessly to the point of care, just in time. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.
I hope to see you in D.C. next year!