Shutdown stalls meaningful use work

October 16, 2013 in Medical Technology

The timing of the government shutdown, which coincided with the start of meaningful use Stage 2 and left the Office of the National Coordinated gutted, seems an unfortunate turn of events that industry observers say is causing delays to health IT progress.

“The fact is ONC’s work is very important and it does disappoint that they aren’t able to continue doing that,” former deputy principal director of ONC David Muntz said in an interview with Government Health IT after leaving the ONC for a new position as CIO at GetWellNetwork. “Because ONC is focused on deployment of HIT, anything that might slow that down, I think, is unfortunate.”

Muntz was not alone in expressing such disappointment. And with meaningful use Stage 2 commencing on the same day much of the government closed down, not to mention the health insurance exchanges opening, the timing seemed particularly painful.

[See also: ONC to take hit in government shutdown.]

Should HHS re-chart its backup plan so that during the next government shutdown at least part of ONC would remain operational? Perhaps keep enough staff to manage the Certified HIT Products List and some of the standards development driving EHR adoption and health information exchange? Or, is ONC non-essential enough to leave the plan as is?

The answer is not so clear. Some say that ONC was not necessarily critical during a shutdown but definitely more important than other facets of the government.

“I think a lot of the work that ONC does is very important and high-value,” said Steve Sisko, a healthcare business and technology consultant. Sisko added that is particularly true as “compared to government funded pork barrel-like projects such as $505,000 to promote specialty hair and beauty products for cats and dogs, and $27 million for Moroccan pottery classes.”

And while no one is disputing that, in a breakdown of ONC activities, Keith Boone, a.k.a. @motorcylce guy, concluded that ONC overall is not essential, but that it is missed when not operating at full capacity.

“I think the most hurtful component of ONC cutting back to the healthcare economic sector is what these delays mean for healthcare providers and healthcare IT vendors with respect to meaningful use Stage 2. There seems to be some economic impact here,” Boone wrote on his blog Healthcare Standards. “The next most challenging impact is on the final quality of results should ONC try a hurry up to hit some of its internally set deadlines with regard to new regulations. If Congress shuts you down, and you wind up being late, I don’t think they should count that against you.”

[See also: What the government shutdown means for health IT.]

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