David Blumenthal: Benefits of HIT programs will surface with time

An "asymmetry of benefits" for providers has kept the healthcare industry from ubiquitous adoption of health IT--and electronic health records, in particular--and thus realizing its full potential, according to David Blumenthal, former national coordinator for health IT and current president of The Commonwealth Fund.

"From the patient's perspective, this is a no-brainer. The benefits are substantial," Blumenthal told The Atlantic in a recent interview. "But from the provider's perspective, there are substantial costs in setting up and using the systems. Until now, providers haven't recovered those costs, either in payment or in increased satisfaction, or in any other way."

While to that end, Blumenthal said, the medical marketplace is broken, he added that there is still some hope. He pointed to systems like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Permanente as examples where technology has thrived due to "internalized" benefits that have led to better and faster adoption.

"You don't need a thought experiment to find living, breathing examples of what happens when the incentives work right," Blumenthal said.

Time, Blumenthal added, also is a big factor in terms of effectiveness. While the VA, Kaiser and Geisinger all embraced the adoption of technology long ago, the federal government is only in year three of its efforts to push health IT out to the industry, at large. "When you change the way information is used and collected in medicine, you change everything about the way work is done," he said. "It is an enormously disruptive process within the healthcare system. It takes time to accommodate."

In a FierceEMR commentary this week, Marla Durben Hirsch questioned whether the Meaningful Use program has lost its utility for physicians. She pointed out that as the penalty phase of the initiative kicks into gear, many providers are considering abandoning the program.

"Policy makers and others should consider taking a hard look at physician dissatisfaction with their EHRs and the Meaningful Use program and adjusting the program to address this dissatisfaction more aggressively," she said.

To learn more:
- read the interview in The Atlantic