IT security breaches teach valuable lessons
There have been several high-profile healthcare IT security breaches resulting in either hackers getting into a system’s health records or employees peeking into the records of someone with “celebrity” status. Whatever the reason, it’s wise for facilities to take these violations of privacy seriously and act accordingly in the early stages of EHR planning and implementation.

One of the problems with healthcare IT -- given today's challenging economy -- is that many facilities might shortchange the process of choosing the most optimal EHR for their needs. The EHR needs to do many things, including “talk” across the enterprise, gather data that can be mined in a meaningful way, handle quality metrics for the purpose of reimbursement or other incentives, and be impenetrable to unauthorized individuals.

Pittsburgh-based health insurer Highmark is giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to help primary-care physicians adopt EHR systems. Other payors might adopt similar incentives. In any case, cardiologists in the Pittsburgh area might reach out to the primary-care doctors and forge relationships based on the new electronic technology they are employing.

In another interesting plot twist, several companies, such as Allscripts, Nuance Communications, Dell and Intel, have launched the EHR Stimulus Alliance aimed at educating 500,000 U.S. physicians about opportunities aligned with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The alliance intends to deliver virtual and physical education programs.

The ARRA has stimulated great momentum for healthcare facilities and practices to convert to electronic health records. Much is happening, and there is still much to do. Stories of security lapses should serve as warnings so that information officers and IT planners think through all possible negative EHR scenarios and implement steps to safeguard patient data. In addition, everyone involved with IT planning needs to learn about the incentives offered locally and nationally to implement meaningful EHR.

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C.P. Kaiser, Editor