Ask The Expert: The Impact of Changes in Healthcare IT Regulations

For this Ask the Expert feature, we spoke with Angela Mitchell, President & CEO of ARM Consulting, a management and technology consulting firm, about the impact of changes in Healthcare IT regulations. Ms. Mitchell holds a Masters of Health Administration from Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Howard University. She has 20 years of combined professional expertise in the areas of public health, insurance, provider and patient education, quality assurance, information technology and management. Ms. Mitchell previously held senior level management positions with two Clinical Research Organizations (CRO), served as Special Assistant to the City Administrator in Washington, DC and served as the Deputy Administrator for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration (MRDDA). She has spent more than half of her professional career focusing on heathcare policy and its implications on access to quality healthcare and compliance.

Q.   What are the key issues that are driving change in Healthcare IT?

A.  The biggest issue driving change in Healthcare IT is the economy. President Obama has explained to Americans that Medicare and Medicaid are the largest contributors to our massive federal deficit. If we do not control these costs our deficit will continue to spiral out of control. Any Healthcare legislation that is passed by Congress will have to include Healthcare IT because it is a vital tool to help improve the quality of health care and reduce costs. Our current healthcare industry faces numerous technological challenges in five key areas - medical imaging, computerized patient records, electronic health records, revenue cycle management and computerized physician order entry. In order to control healthcare costs, we must identify and implement the right solutions to address these five key areas.

Q.  What are the biggest challenges healthcare providers are facing with regard to regulatory compliance?

A.  The biggest challeng healthcare providers are facing is keeping abreast of various versions of proposed legislation, figuring out ways to ultimately streamline healthcare operations and cut extraneous spending while providing quality, safe and cost-effective care. It is critically important for healthcare providers to identify ways to operate their businesses in a highly regulated environment to ensure compliance.

Q.  What do you think is the single largest IT related risk for healthcare providers today?

A.  This is a tough question to answer. If we look at the key areas previously mentioned, all five are driving the largest percentage of IT budgets and attention, and pose the greatest amount of risk. However, to mitigate risk, healthcare IT solutions developed to address these areas will require extra security protection to support compliance initiatives such as HIPAA, safe and secure wired/wireless internet access, and highly efficient and redundant architectures to ensure non-stop network operations.

Q.  What, if anything, is the government doing to help healthcare providers satisfy these compliance requirements?

A.  The current administration is helping healthcare providers satisfy compliance requirements by providing grants designed to help hospitals and healthcare providers implement and use electronic health records. Specifically, on August 20, 2009, Vice President Joe Biden announced the availability of grants worth nearly $1.2 billion. The grants will be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and will help healthcare providers qualify for new incentives that will be made available in 2010 to doctors and hospitals that meaningfully use electronic health records. I believe this is just one of many initiatives to come from the current administration.

Q.  What impact do you think tougher Healthcare IT regulations will have on health care providers?

A.  I believe it will have a positive impact on health care providers. We know that any change is always met with resistance. However, we must do what is necessary to achieve a positive impact. For far too long, the healthcare industry has been slow to change but now is the time because our current healthcare system will be unsustainable if it goes unchanges over the coming years. It is imperative that healthcare providers prepare to fine tune their business strategies and turn to information technology to eliminate inefficiencies in the value chain, to address issues of access, improve quality and reduce costs.