Healthcare Reform a National Priority?

During the election season of 2008, healthcare reform was one of the highest priority items discussed on the campaign trail. Everybody seemed to be in favor of it, whatever it is. Each candidate had their own version of healthcare reform, but both of the principal candidates agreed that adoption of interoperable technological solutions would be a crucial part of increasing the quality of care and decreasing the cost of that care.

Since the September and October financial crashes, healthcare has taken a bit of a backseat in media discussions of what comes next when President-Elect Obama is inaugurated. Everyone is clear that the financial wreckage must come first, but many who work in the healthcare arena have worked hard to maintain a focus on our broken healthcare system.

During late November and December Obama requested public input about the healthcare system and how it should change. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare reported in its January 8 Public Policy Update that over 8500 small discussion groups met in person and virtually to give their input on change needed in the system. Also on January 8, former Sen. Tom Daschle testified before the Senate committee about his confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Healthcare Reform Czar. 

A common theme throughout these discussions is the need for Information Technology (IT) to be a central part of all this reform. There are many who believe that Electronic Health Records (EHR) will massively change the way healthcare is delivered, along with the quality and the cost of the care that is provided.

On Thursday, January 8, the National eHealth Collaborative was launched. This organization is a public-private partnership that is the successor to the American Health Information Community (AHIC), the quasi-governmental group founded to further the goal of developing a secure interoperable nationwide health information system. This group is moving forward toward the goal of having all health records accessible to all healthcare providers in real time when the person is sitting in their office or clinic or hospital.

Always keeping the needs of the behavioral health community in its focus, the National Council through its Excutive Director, Linda Rosenberg, MSW, includes funding of IT for behavioral health community organizations as one of their primary goals for the next year. Of course, this does not include providers in the private sector. In the general healthcare arena, some large health systems have been providing EHRs to their physician members, but I have seen no such activity in behavioral health.

In late October of 2008, Robert M. Kolodner, M.D., National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported on the progress of adoption of IT at the 2008 Institute of Behavioral Health Informatics. An Open Minds On-Line news service article suggests that enough momentum may have been accomplished in 2008 to bring us to a tipping point, and that IT adoption will move forward rapidly from here.

What is your take on healthcare reform? What needs to happen to our system to cut costs and improve care? Do you see IT advances like interoperable EHRs as essential to saving our healthcare system?

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Kathy Peres
Vice President
Synergistic Office Solutions, Inc.

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