Blog — The Snow Report

As the new Congressional Debt Reduction Super Committee prepares to meet next month to cut government spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, supporters of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) are marshaling various arguments for preserving the electronic health records (EHR) incentive program. EHRs save money and improve outcomes. HITECH has bi-partisan support. Doctors and hospitals are purchasing EHR systems, diverting staff time and changing workflows under the belief that HITECH incentive dollars will eventually reimburse them for their initial investments of time and money.

These are all sound arguments that should be highlighted, but perhaps the most compelling case to be made to members of the Super Committee is that HITECH is helping create jobs.

Barring a war or other cataclysmic event, the results of the 2012 election will be closely tied to unemployment. Recent polls show that the public considers jobs to be the number one issue on which the President and Congress should be focused. Neither Democrats nor Republicans receive high marks on the issue from likely voters so both sides will be especially attentive to job creation this fall.

Washington’s renewed focus on jobs provides yet another opportunity for the HITECH program to show its worth. Talk to anyone in the health information technology (HIT) industry and they will share an anecdote about their company’s aggressive hiring or the dearth of qualified candidates to fill openings. Significant HIT job growth is surely happening, but unfortunately, there does not appear to be any hard data to support these anecdotes.

The most often cited figure is contained in a section of the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In their Outlook, BLS sees job prospects for Medical Record and Health Information Technicians growing faster than average (20%) and estimates that 35,000 new jobs will be added by 2018. Last week, Computer Economics, an IT research and advisory firm, revealed that 61 percent of health care organizations plan to increase IT staff in 2011. In testimony before a House Small Business Subcommittee in early June, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Farzad Mostashari, pointed to the fact that 60% of the HIT products certified as of early June had been developed at firms with 50 employees or fewer, suggesting that HITECH dollars were spurring job creation among small businesses.

Dr. Mostashari’s testimony illustrates this lack of hard data on job creation. Besides citing the BLS outlook, he said the following in his written testimony:

“Other sources suggest that many jobs are being created among private sector firms that install and maintain EHR systems for providers. The software and tech industries are also adding jobs as more EHR products are developed and hardware is manufactured. Our experience suggests that many jobs are being created among private sector firms that install and maintain EHR systems for providers.”

The Office of the National Coordinator should seek out these ‘other sources’ to provide more detail and data on job creation. Similarly, the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association may have figures to share on HIT job growth in large practice groups and hospitals. HIMSS should consider surveying its membership to gauge the pace of job growth in the industry between 2009 and the present. At a minimum, the upcoming HIMSS Policy Summit in mid-September provides an excellent opportunity to collect additional anecdotes and testimonials about job growth in the HIT sector.

With the public seeking answers on both the debt and jobs, members of the Super Committee will be hard pressed to cut any program that can demonstrate cost savings in the long run and job creation in the near term. There are already numerous studies to demonstrate the enormous cost savings EHR adoption will generate over the long term. If the HIT industry can also present solid data illustrating HITECH’s job-creating power, supporters of the EHR incentive program should be able to sleep soundly this fall.

Leave a Reply