How New Health Information Technology Will Save Money and Lives

Evan Farr, CELA

Why is it that our most sensitive, personal data is often in an unorganized state of disarray? Most of us probably could more quickly pull a given DVD or book from our collections than proffer to a doctor a condition or illness we may have suffered 1, 2, 5,  or 10 years ago!

The electronic consolidation of health information is finally coming to fruition, as States, entities, and individuals are being presented with incentives (including common-sense!) to upgrade health information exchange technology. Absent privacy concerns, the benefits patients will receive are astonishing. Money will be saved, as will be lives. For example, we can eliminate duplicative and/or unnecessary tests. They will be a burden of the past. Doctors will be enabled to more accurately diagnose and treat patients.

I want to distinguish between two common terms that are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably. An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is maintained by a person’s provider, whereas a Personal Health Record (PHR) is a consolidated electronic record of information, derived from numerous sources, and controlled by the individual. Both are essential to the dignity of healthcare in the wireless age moving forward.

EHR’s are useful; they document medical progress, treatment, and records rendered by a given provider. If you would like more information on EHR’s, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provides an informative online overview here.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, approved hospitals and healthcare professionals will begin receiving incentives (payments) if they implement a “meaningful use of certified EHR technology.” This phrase is the standard established by the “HITECH” Act (the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act).  The Incentives Program begins in January 2011 and is scheduled to run for 10 years. The proposed timeline, in my opinion, correctly includes a generous “buffer” period (when incentives will no longer be provided) for the Medicare and Medicaid programs to initialize IT overhauls. This period of time should be more than enough for entities that lag behind the trends; once the efficiency of EHR technology is realized and in full-swing, I find it hard to believe that any state or eligible and able organization would forego the receipt of incentive payments to utilize technology they would otherwise need to implement to stay competitive and viable.

As I alluded to earlier, privacy concerns are real. In fact, medical conditions and diseases have historically been treated as among the most confidential of all personal information. I am happy to see that CMS has worked alongside the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, with the purpose of instilling standards and criteria for EHR technology. In addition, CMS is working with the Office for Civil Rights to focus on privacy-related concerns. As the year draws to a close, I will update my blog with developments within the realm of EHR’s and privacy. For now, I will refer you to The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Privacy and Security Page.

It appears that 2011 will be a year of important decision-making at the State level. I will continue to update my blog with developments and my thoughts. I would like to shift to another concept – the PHR – which I mentioned earlier.

I want to touch on three aspects of PHR’s that I believe are important – Control, Security, and Consolidation.

As I noted above when distinguishing EHR’s from PHR’s, a PHR is within (almost) complete control of the individual. This feature alone is what I believe will bring the American public on board to the entire electronic health information idea. I use the word “almost,” because sometimes a health plan provider will automatically create and maintain PHR’s, while others require the individual actually enter the information manually. Whatever the case may be, “Notices of Privacy Practices” generally require disclosure of the measures in place to keep the information safe and secure.  Moreover, companies have correctly realized that PHR’s should be readily accessible by allowing for unique user ID and password protection.

Consolidation is the key. It’s the key to saving money and saving lives, as my title indicates. The information consolidated by a PHR can vary, but may include important data such as emergency contacts, medication dosage and history, previous surgeries, allergies, hereditary conditions, and more. For information on selecting a PHR, visit Medicare online.

We have come a long way. I am happy to live in a proactive country with a government that insists on promoting advances that can save lives. We have the legislation (The HITECH Act), but now we need the participation. States and Medical providers will ultimately decide whether to take advantage of the incentives to put health technology in place.

At the Farr Firm, we have always taken your health and privacy concerns seriously. For many years, we have used the most advanced measures available to ensure that our clients (and their healthcare providers) have private access to their healthcare records.  For instance, for over a decade we have offered to register the Advance Medical Directives (AMDs) of our clients (and more recently, the Child Protection Plans (CPPs) of our clients), with an electronic registry, at no cost to our clients, to make these documents available in an emergency or simply for convenience.  DocuBank is the registry we currently use – an organization that has been trusted for many years with electronic storage of medical records. These records can be retrieved online by hospitals. The benefit of registering PHR’s in the context of an AMD or CPP is enormous. AMD’s are critical in emergency situations. According to their site, “a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, living wills are not accessible in 74% of cases when needed in hospitals.”  Although this study was performed in 1998, I don’t think we have advanced tremendously since then. With the HITECH Act, I do think that America is finally on the cusp of revolutionizing healthcare information technology.

Whether you have a young family, or a family with seniors who are contemplating long-term care options, we can provide the solutions that you may be looking for. Achieving long term peace of mind is an invaluable asset that we are honored to assist you with.  Please do not hesitate to call us at 1-800-399-FARR to schedule a free, initial consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.