From The Editor | October 2, 2013

Government Shutdown Halts Health IT

ken congdon

By Ken Congdon

Follow Me On Twitter @KenOnHIT

Okay, so I’m a bit guilty of a sensationalized headline here. The government shutdown that began on Tuesday October 1 has not “halted” health IT per se. EHR vendors throughout the country are still making enhancements to their software in line with government recommended certification standards. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are still implementing EHRs and other health IT systems, and striving to meet Meaningful Use (MU) requirements. Heck, according to CMS, the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program is still up, running, and continuing business as usual. So apparently, providers don’t even have to worry about having their MU incentive checks delayed as a result of the government shutdown.

That being said, not all health IT programs will be unscathed by the shutdown. For example, the impact of the shutdown is clearly visible on the social media outlets of several government healthcare agencies, including the ONC. Here’s the last post from the usually active @ONC_HealthIT Twitter profile:

Government Shutdown ONC Tweet

This tweet is a vivid reminder that not all government health IT systems are operating as usual. It’s the ONC equivalent to the “We’re Experiencing Technical Difficulties. Please Stand By” screen that is displayed when a television station can’t be broadcast.

The shutdown’s impact on health IT goes much deeper than the lapse in social media activity. It’s also being felt by multiple key ONC programs. For example, the administration of the Certified Health Information Technology Product List (CHPL) has stopped reporting to work. The CHPL maintains a public repository of EHR systems that have been tested and certified to ONC standards. Providers can only use products from this list to qualify for MU and receive payments under the program.

Work on the federally-funded Standards and Interoperability Framework has also ceased. This program is a collaboration of government agencies and private organizations geared toward improving the interoperability of health IT systems. In addition, the ONC will be unable to continue other standards, testing, and policy activities — all of which could have a marked impact on health IT privacy, security, and clinical quality measure development.

Finally, even though MU incentive dollars are still being paid out to providers during the shutdown, a lengthy government standoff could stall provider efforts to meet current Stage 1 and upcoming Stage 2 MU requirements. For example, without continued certification and testing, many health IT systems will remain uncertified, potentially stalling a healthcare provider’s ability to meet MU targets.

While the government shutdown isn’t “halting” health IT, it’s definitely an unwelcome obstacle standing in the way of continued health IT progress. Hopefully, the shutdown is short-lived. Regardless, the shutdown is a compelling fifth reason to add to my recent 4 Reasons To Delay Stage 2 MU article.