• Commerce Department Broadband Funding for HIT / Telemedicine in Rural and Urban Areas
The Commerce Department’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has allocated more than $4 billion in Recovery Act dollars for broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and efforts to adopt broadband services.  Grants have been made in 56 states and territories.  The Iowa Health System, for example, has used funding to upgrade its 3,200 mile broadband network that connects more than 200 health entities including community health centers. In New York, the ION Upstate New York Rural Broadband Initiative will expand a broadband middle mile network in Upstate New York and parts of Pennsylvania and Vermont. BTOP estimates that nearly 3,000 healthcare facilities nationwide would be positively impacted by the funding. Read more in Federal Telemedicine News.

• GAO Finds Much Room for Improvement in FCC Rural Health Care Program
In a report to Congress titled “FCC’s Performance Management Weaknesses Could Jeopardize Proposed Reforms of the Rural Health Care Program”  the General Accounting Office states that while telemedicine offers significant promise for improved patient access  in rural communities, the FCC Rural Health Care Program (established under revised telecommunications laws in 1997) has fallen significantly short of its goals.  GAO reviewed both the primary program as well as more recent attempted FCC administrative “fixes” under a healthcare pilot program.   In the view of GAO, the FCC has done poorly on both counts.  During the past 12 years only $327 million has been expended, though $400 million is available every year to rural health care providers.  As for the more recent pilot program, “FCC’s poor planning and communication during the design and implementation of the pilot program caused delays and difficulties for pilot program participants”, GAO concludes.


• Rhode Island  Quality Institute Beacon Community
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse visited Thundermist Health Center on January 7th for the launch of the Rhode Island Quality Institute’s (RIQI) Beacon Community Program.  RIQI is one of 17 communities nationally to have been funded through the Beacon program, and plans to use the funds to improve health care quality by leveraging health information technology in “Patient-Centered Medical Homes.”  Read Thundermist’s  News Release.


• DHHS Seeks Comment on Stage 2 & 3 Meaningful Use
The Health Information Technology Policy Committee (HITPC)  a federal advisory committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on federal HIT policy issues, has issued a call for comments with regard to proposed “Meaningful Use” Objectives and Measures for Stages 2 and 3 of HITECH implementation.   The HITPC has developed a preliminary set of recommendations specifically designed to solicit public feedback. The proposed objectives and standards for eligible providers during Stages 2 & 3 are detailed in the request for comment.  To be assured consideration, comments must be received at one of the addresses provided no later than 5 p.m., Eastern Time, on February 25th.

• ONC Issues Permanent Certification Standards
In early January 2011, The Office of the National Coordinator issued the final rule to establish a Permanent Certification program for HIT. The existing temporary program will remain in effect until it expires on December 31st, 2011.   ONC anticipates a number of further programmatic activities toward implementation of the permanent program through the remainder of 2011.

• Electronic Health Records Incentives Registration Started January 3rd
CMS and ONC announced the availability of registration for the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, beginning January 3rd, 2011.  Also on January 3rd, Registration in the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program became available in Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.  In February, registration will open in California, Missouri, and North Dakota.  Other states likely will launch their Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs during the spring and summer of 2011. Read more in the CMS press release on EHR Incentive Registration.

In a January 11 release, The California Health Information Partnership and Services Organization (CalHIPSO) Regional Extension Center announced that more than 3,000 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and midwives have enrolled since last June to receive subsidized support in implementing Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems.

On January 7th, Kentucky and Oklahoma became the first states to issue Medicaid incentive payments.   Then, on January 12th, the Louisiana Department of Health together with CHRISTUS Health Louisiana announced that Winn Community Health Center (Winn CHC) became the first federally qualified health center (FQHC) in the nation to receive and incentive payment.


• RCHN  CHF Supports Institute for e-Health Policy 2011 Capitol Hill HIT Briefing Series
The RCHN Community Health Foundation was a major sponsor of the  January 12th  Institute for e-Health Policy  Awards Dinner kicking-off the 2011 Capitol Hill “Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics” briefing series.    Peter Shin, PhD, MPH Director, Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy and Associate Research Professor of Health Policy School of Public Health and Health Services attended the event. Steering Committee Honorary Co-Chair Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) was on hand to receive an award for his work in advancing the cause of EHR adoption.   A program focused on Future Care  featured presentations on Translational Informatics, Cloud Computing, and Social Networking for Healthcare.

• CMS Center for Innovation Chief Briefs Plans for $10 B Per Year Effort
Richard Gilfillan, M.D., the Acting Director of the CMS “Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI)” outlined plans for the $10 billion per year organization at a day-long conference“Innovations Across the Nation in Health Care”  convened by Health Affairs.  Gilfillan said that he was open to new and innovative ideas from across the healthcare industry in support of the establishment of   “open innovation communities” that might serve as clearinghouses for best practices.  In December the CMMI held listening sessions around the country to gain input on new approaches to models including Accountable Care Organizations called for in the Affordable Care Act.


• CBO Says Repealing Healthcare Reform Legislation Would Cost $230 Billion
In a January 6th letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said the effect of passing H.R. 2, known also as “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”, would increase the federal deficit by a total of about $230 billion by 2021. CBO Director Doug Elmendorf wrote in his analysis that: “CBO and JCT (Joint Committee on Taxation) estimated that the March 2010 health care legislation would reduce budget deficits over the 2010-2019 period and in subsequent years; consequently, we expect that repealing that legislation would increase the budget deficit”.  House Republicans immediately challenged the validity of the CBO estimates.

• Large Proportions of Hospitals and M.D.s. Planning to Adopt EHRs and Qualify for Incentives
Four-fifths of the nation’s hospitals, and 41 percent of office-based physicians, currently intend to take advantage of federal incentive payments for adoption and meaningful use of certified electronic health records (EHR) technology, according to survey data released January 13 by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).  The survey information, commissioned by ONC and collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and American Hospital Association (AHA), was released as the registration period opened for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.  Per the HHS news release, “We know that adoption of EHRs and conversion to EHR-based care is expensive and challenging, especially for smaller providers,” Dr. Blumenthal said.  “With HITECH, we are able to provide unprecedented funding and technical support programs to help providers make the transition and to help our nation achieve the improvements in health care quality, safety and cost effectiveness EHRs will bring about.”

• CDC Reports On EMR Adoption by Office-based Physicians
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a statistical report of all or partial EMR/EHR system adoption in M.D. offices , entitled  “Electronic Medical Record/Electronic Health Record Systems of Office-based Physicians: United States, 2009 and Preliminary 2010 State Estimates.”

Overall the report, based on based data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS)., concludes: “There has been an increasing trend in EMR/EHR use among office-based physicians from 2001 through the preliminary 2010 estimates”.  The survey shows that 48.3 % of physicians reported using all or partial systems, with  about 28% reporting having systems that met the criteria of a basic system, while only 6.9% said they had systems that met the criteria of a fully functional system.

Meanwhile,  a new report by the I T services firm CDW Healthcare says that the average cost of   an EHR (based on a survey of 200 physician practices nationwide) is $120,000 per doctor.  However,  CDW also estimates that resulting adjustments to workflow resulting from EHR adoption could help increase patient encounters by 15% — or $150,000 per physician in annual revenue.