Could better manners spur bipartisanship on Meaningful Use?

I found last week's white paper released by six Republican Senators calling for a "reboot" of the Meaningful Use program fascinating. Not so much for what the senators said--although that was very interesting--but rather, how they said it.

What a difference six months makes. Last October, four House Republicans lambasted U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Security Kathleen Sebelius for her "weak" Meaningful Use program. Their tone was accusatory, almost scathing. They told her to "immediately" suspend distribution of Meaningful Use payments and "strongly" urged her to change the course of direction of the program. They also said that they were not surprised that the program appeared to "be doing more harm than good" and urged her to "rethink" its strategy.

Last week, the Senators also expressed significant concerns about the Meaningful Use program, but the approach seemed much more measured. The senators didn't just send off a letter; they used a 27-page report to back up their concerns. They pointed to real evidence that the industry needed a clearer path to interoperability, that electronic health record system misuse can increase costs and harm patients, and that the program would benefit from additional government oversight.

And look at the language they used.

The Senators "respectfully" asked Sebelius for a written plan and other information. They said they want to "initiate a dialogue with administration and stakeholders" and cited their purpose as wanting to "foster cooperation." Instead of ordering the administration around, they asked for comment--from them and others--about various issues.

What's more, they used the word "please" no less than nine times. The House Republicans didn't use that word at all.   

Now, I'm not going to get into politics here: the attitude of the House versus that of the Senate; pre versus post-election posturing. But this is a very promising development.

It sounds like the senators want to collaborate. They want to make it work. Rebooting the program doesn't mean that they want to trash it.

Ironically, exactly one week after receiving the letter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a fact sheet outlining the government's accomplishments in health IT and its "aggressive goals" for the future. Whether the fact sheet is meant as a response to the GOP, CMS' successes certainly are laudable.

But we all know that the program isn't perfect and that there's room for improvement.

I noted in October that when one uses rhetoric, the message itself often gets ignored. Here the Senators have avoided the use of rhetoric in favor of civility.

It sounds like a great opportunity for everyone to pull up a chair and work together. Let's not waste it.   

And who knows? Maybe collaboration on health IT will spur bipartisanship and collaboration on some of the other issues that this country is facing. Maybe health IT can take a different, greater goal and "change the course of direction" away from the nasty partisanship this country has been foundering in.

Please? - Marla (@MarlaHirsch)