Maryland well positioned for Health Care IT

Maryland state hospitals, particularly the four largest systems, have invested aggressively in electronic health records (EHR) and stiff competition exists for experienced health care IT practitioners and new entrants, a health care IT expert told GBC Technology Committee members on March 18.

Meanwhile, federal stimulus funding earmarked for health care IT use could give Maryland an opportunity to accelerate development of an integrated electronic medical records system, said Christopher Brandt, managing partner of Audacious Inquiry, a management and technology consulting firm.

There are three trends to building a health-IT enabled future in Maryland, including EHR adoption, development of a health information exchange, and consumer engagement, said Brandt. There is a movement to get physicians and hospitals to use documents electronically. Health information exchange is important because if someone is on a lot of medications and goes to an emergency room, their medical records should be available instantly. And consumers need to be educated about the benefits, privacy, and security so they are less fearful of interfacing with their own health care records electronically, he said.

Until recent federal initiatives, IT in the health care sector has lagged. Brandt explains that it has been due to misalignment of incentives where doctors shoulder upfront cost while benefits inure to patients and insurers. There’s also a lack of uniform standards. In addition, there are misperceptions of privacy and security. People don’t want their health records “floating around in cyberspace,” when the reality is that systems can be put in place to make health records even more private than now, said Brandt.

The federal stimulus package passed in February provides more than $36 billion in health IT spending to overcome barriers and drive adoption of technology in health care,” Brandt said.

Meanwhile, the current nationwide adoption rate for electronic health records and practice management applications is 20 percent, said Brandt. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities’ adoption rates are lower. Maryland is well positioned for leading health care IT and is moving forward with statewide health information exchange plans later in 2009, he said. The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Social Security Administration (SSA) are spending on health care IT in our backyard, so Maryland has a head start and a competitive advantage, said Brandt.

“There’s anecdotal evidence that electronic data exchange will save lives,” said Brandt. “There needs to be adoption at the physician level and hospital level – they need to be talking to each other so that it’s accepted by everyone.”

Brandt emphasized a few opportunities to capitalize on accelerating health care IT spending in Maryland:

  • Widespread EHR and practice management system implementation projects as thousands of physicians’ practices, other facilities comply with requirements for use of stimulus funding
  • Integrating consumer devices and healthcare stakeholders with the health information exchange
  • Direct contracts with CMS, SSA, and other federal agencies
  • Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene-Computerized Health Record Information System and Medicaid Management Information System —aggressive Minority Business Enterprise and Small Business Reserve subcontracting goals
  • Training, support, data management

There wasn’t money there before to put standards and processes in place and to get physicians practices on board, but now Maryland can get there because there’s funding, said Brandt.

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