Fierce Q&A: CMIO calls Meaningful Use an 'all-or-nothing bet'

Stanley Huff, MDWhile Meaningful Use incentives, no doubt, are a primary driver of hospital and physician adoption of the technology, providers must remember that federal funding is a finite resource, Stanley Huff, MD, chief medical informatics officer at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare told a group of attendees at the ninth annual World Health Care Congress yesterday afternoon.

"The money is short term, so it doesn't increase the resource pool much," Huff said. "It's not going to increase your budget 10 percent long term, for instance. It's an all-or-nothing bet; you either meet the requirements or you don't."

To that end, Huff said that facilities need to use caution when determining strategies for bringing on extra help with implementing electronic health records.

FierceHealthIT caught up with Huff after his session to discuss how Intermountain is handling Meaningful Use and the system's involvement in the Care Connectivity Consortium--a group created to demonstrate the feasibility of cross-country health information exchange consisting of Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System.; Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative (GHC); Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente; Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic; and Intermountain.

FierceHealthIT: How did you go about hiring IT staff and prioritizing their workload?

Huff: What we've done is increased, somewhat, the number of contractors, but the other thing we've done in equal measure is changed our priorities. Some things we would have normally done earlier are going to come later. We basically increased the priority of a lot of the Meaningful Use requirements to make sure that we get that incentive money while we can.

FHIT: What outcomes have you seen from your partnership with the Care Connectivity Consortium?

Huff: We're still very early in the process, so it'll take a while for us to know what kind of impact we're having. What we're really trying to do among the group is prove out the technology and prove that we can do it as opposed to figuring out the value of different technologies and strategies. If we were going to try to prove value, we would be doing exchanges between us--our other hospitals and organizations within Utah--as opposed to with California and Rochester, Minn.

FHIT: You mentioned that Kaiser and CEO George Halvorson specifically selected the facilities participating in the CCC. Was there ever any hesitation on your part to accept that invitation?

Huff: [Halvorson] told us that he wanted to work with some healthcare organizations that were known for having good IT but were also known for high quality of care that would have the technical capabilities to participate. We discussed it, and from the start thought it was a good idea.

Part of what it does is it gives us an opportunity to do things that are hard to do through federal standards adoption. Case in point, we can set a strategy and figure out how we want to do global patient identification within our network. In spite of the fact that everyone who works in IT recognizes the value of having those unique global identifiers, you can't do it in a federal standards environment.

That gives us a chance to approach that and maybe come up with a solution for the country that alleviates a lot of the initial fear around that and demonstrates value. Part of what we're doing is trying to do that kind of thing where we can try some things out that the government just can't do either for political reasons or for financial reasons.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.