What can the ONC learn from the 80% of hospitals who are not on board with EHR?

The ONC’s State of the Union Message will be delivered this week over a two-day period.  Rather than attend, I have decided to wait until the operatic version of the meeting is available on YouTube.  Mind you, I am convinced of the good intentions of their efforts, but to write I am skeptical of their results would be unfair in that my optimism would have to increase substantially for me to reach skeptical.

I am disappointed to report Chicken Little’s “The sky is falling” keynote presentation at the ONC event has been omitted from the agenda in favor of continuing to get others to believe that not only is Meaningful Use is meaningful, but also relevant.  I am not being intentionally trite, in fact, just the opposite.

The question unanswered by the ONC is does their stick and garrote approach make it relevant from a business perspective?  Its only relevance seems to be that without complying, hospitals’ revenues will decline.  Why will those revenues decline?  Is it because the hospitals made a poor business decision, lost patients to a competitor, or could not manage their expenses?  Of course not.  Their revenues will decline for one reason, and one reason alone—the ONC will give them less money for services they perform.

There are almost two-thousand hospitals in the US.  What percentage of them will complete EHR in time to reap their full incentive payment?  I think we can agree with a high degree of confidence that the number will be less than 20%–I’m guessing it will be closer to ten percent.  How many of those will then re-implement a certified version of EHR?  And then, what percentage of the remainder will pass the Meaningful Use audit?  You can probably fit all of those hospitals CEOs in a Hyundai mini-van.

If these figures are close to accurate, one might thing the issues at the forefront of the ONC’s efforts ought to be working with the other 80-90%.  They have tried to add that focus through incentive payments.  When that didn’t take the ONC created the Regional Extension Centers (RECs).  What percentage of the majority of hospitals is benefiting from using the RECs?  Will hospitals and doctors be able to link to the HIEs and into the N-HIN?  Me thinks not.

I have begun to think Mark Twain’s story Tom Sawyer may have been prescient when viewed in the light of EHR and Meaningful Use.  In particular is the part where Tom gets others to whitewash the fence.  Is it possible the ONC’s vision is limited to equipping people with giant paintbrushes who are, sadly short of a giant pot of paint?

Is their existing plan one which is executable?  Just because they have a plan, if most of the country’s hospitals have not bought into it, does not that simply make it a plan in name only?  Even if they buy into it does not, in and of itself make it viable.

If eighty percent of the hospitals are not on board, what can be learned from their lack of response?  Is it due simply to a lack of effort, as some would have us believe, or is there something more to it?  I think the lack of response by the majority of hospitals should lead us to conclude that something important about the strategy is lacking, to conclude that something is amiss.  If someone asked me—and just to give you comfort, nobody has—my conclusion is that more would be gained by the ONC holding a two-day listening session instead of a two-day speaking session.

Can eighty percent of the hospitals have no message worth hearing?


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