5 intriguing health IT storylines from 2012

Data theft. Fraud. Political wrangling. While those all sound like things you'd expect to read about in a crime novel, in 2012 they also were very much a part of the healthcare IT landscape. As the year comes to a close (and without the world ending, to boot), FierceHealthIT is taking a look back at some of the more intriguing storylines from the industry. Let us know what you would add in the comments section, or via social media on Twitter (@FierceHealthIT), Facebook or LinkedIn.

The Affordable Care Act stays intact

By and large, most in the healthcare IT industry seemed pleased by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act in June. Stephen Stewart, CIO of Mount Pleasant, Iowa-based Henry County Health Center and a FierceHealthIT Advisory Board member, told FierceHealthIT after the ruling that health it would "only become more prominent as a result."

John Halamka, another Advisory Board member and CIO of Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, added in a post to his Life as a Healthcare CIO blog that the decision "ensures that … foundational components [to health IT] will still have urgency, since every provider organization will be motivated to implement them in order to thrive in the healthcare marketplace of the future."

The decision has been a point of contention for others in the industry, though, namely medical device manufacturers. Medical imaging device vendors, in particular, worry about the impact that the law's 2.3 percent medical device tax will have on jobs. A report published in March by the Advanced Medical Technology Association concluded that the tax will, which is set to go into effect next month, will result in the loss of close to 39,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic output. David Cooling, director of state and federal policy with the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance, recently called the tax "burdensome" for the vendors he represents.

Meaningful Use has its ups and downs

In late August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published the long-awaited final rules for Meaningful Use Stage 2. While some hospital CIOs, like FierceHealthIT Advisory Board member Drex DeFord of Steward Health Care in Boston, expressed positive sentiments about the rule, telling FierceHealthIT that federal officials listened and gave providers "more time to plan and do the work better," others weren't so pleased with all of the rule's aspects, like a measure requiring eligible hospitals to have more than 5 percent of unique patients viewing, downloading and transmitting their information to a third party electronically.

"I understand the desire to drive patients online and change behavior," CentraState Healthcare System CIO Indranil Ganguly, also an Advisory Board member, told FierceHealthIT, "but feel that it is unreasonable to put that burden on the healthcare provider."

This past fall, meanwhile, the Meaningful Use program was called out by both House and Senate Republicans for being "weak" and a "waste of taxpayer dollars." Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Wally Herger (Calif.) and Joe Pitts (Pa.) called for delaying penalties against providers who choose not to adopt electronic health records, as well as a freeze on incentive payments to providers until the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services could "promulgate universal interoperable standards."

A recent survey by New York-based audit, tax and advisory services firm KPMG found that many hospital leaders are apprehensive about the ability of their facilities to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.

ICD-10 gets a one-year delay

The same week that the final rules for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use were announced, CMS officially pushed back the deadline for providers to the ICD-10 coding system one year, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Oct. 1, 2014. While some organizations, like the American Health Information Management Association and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, approved of the decision, others, like the American Medical Association and the Medical Group Management Association had decidedly different takes.

MGMA President and CEO Susan Turney, in a statement made shortly after the delay was announced, expressed concern that HHS did not take care to prevent physician practices from experiencing "debilitating cash flow disruptions."

The AMA continues to voice its displeasure with the mandatory move to ICD-10. As recently as last month, some of its members kicked around the idea of eliminating ICD-10 altogether and instead waiting for ICD-11 in October 2017. In May, AMA called for a two-year delay of ICD-10, to Oct. 1, 2015.

EHRs and fraud

In September, a report by the Center for Public Integrity shed light on the potential problem of EHRs enabling providers to upcode for various procedures. Things seemed to spiral out of control after that, with Sebelius and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder almost immediately afterward sending a letter to five healthcare provider organizations, including the American Hospital Association, promising to come down hard on providers who misused EHRs to financially game the healthcare system.

Shortly after that, the aforementioned letter sent by Republican House members to Sebelius calling for a freeze on EHR incentive payments was sent. In addition to blasting Meaningful Use for a lack of interoperability, the congressmen in their letter claimed that the EHR incentive program "appears to be doing more harm than good," citing a New York Times article that referenced the Center for Public Integrity research about physician upcoding.

In mid-October, National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari said that he and his colleagues would investigate the upcoding matter. Later that month, HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson announced that much of his office's focus in 2013 will be on EHR-enabled fraud. There is a need to "guard against the use of electronic records to cover up crime," he said.

Breaches, breaches, breaches

According to a recent report unveiled by the Ponemon Institute, data breaches cost healthcare entities nearly $7 billion annually, and a look at some of this year's headlines does little to disprove those findings. Here's just a small sampling:

  • Thousands of Social Security numbers compromised in California data breach
  • e-Break-in at Carolinas Health compromises info of 5,600 patients
  • HIPAA breach in Kentucky impacts 2,500 individuals
  • Boston teaching hospital fined $1.5M for ePHI data breach
  • MD Anderson suffers second data breach this year
  • Stolen computer from Beth Israel Deaconess risks 3,900 patients' info
  • Laptop theft risks info of 30,000 hospital patients
  • Stolen laptop risks data of 2,100 Boston Children's patients
  • Patient data for 7,000 compromised in Arkansas
  • Health department Medicaid breach impacts 228,000
  • Health department breach impacts 24K Medicaid patients (later, the number of affected individuals jumped to 780,000 individuals)

Which of these (or other) news stories had the greatest impact on you and your organization this year? And what kind of headlines do you hope to see in 2013? Please share by leaving a comment, below. 

Read more on