The last time we checked on this promise, we noted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the economic stimulus) had sent approximately $20 billion to projects involving health information technology. There has been no major additional funding since then, so President Obama is still short of his promise to send $50 billion over five years to the effort. However, the five years have not yet elapsed.
Still, efforts to implement electronic health care records are moving full steam ahead. The stimulus provided funds to create an Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That office helped develop standards for the meaningful use of electronic health records so that doctors and hospitals can apply for payments from the federal government to help them make a transition to using electronic records. Those standards were announced in July 2010, and on Jan. 3, 2011, physicians and hospitals were able to begin registering for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.
Whether Congress decides to spend more money for health information technology remains to be seen, particularly given the national budget situation and calls to freeze discretionary spending. Money from the stimulus is still being spent. A number of major grants were announced in 2010 for what are known as "Beacon" communities, for health care groups that intend to aggressively implement electronic records and use them to improve outcomes for patients.
At a Congressional hearing in September, Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., asked the national coordinator if more funding would be required beyond the stimulus to implement the transition to electronic health records.
The coordinator, Dr. David Blumenthal, said he was optimistic that the private sector would continue the implementation.
"I think the investment that the Congress and the administration have made was meant to correct a market failure, which stemmed from the fact that we don't sufficiently reward providers of care for high-performance, lower- cost, higher-quality. We pay them by piece work, whether it's a high-quality or high-cost product or a low-quality product," Blumenthal said. "We will very soon, I think, see that (health information technology) becomes an essential part of doing body care to the American people, one that physicians, nurses, health care institutions don't feel they can afford not to have. And at that point I think the federal government and my office can pass the baton to the professional community, to the hospitals, the nurses of the country, and the market will take off and do its own work for the American people."
Despite progress toward the goal, for now, we're leaving this promise at In the Works.