GAO finds that some protective laws hinder e-health adoption

Efforts by health care providers to implement IT systems are sometimes hampered by regulations designed to prevent fraud and abuse, the Government Accountability Office has concluded. The Health and Human Services Department has made greater use of health care IT a priority.

In a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released yesterday, GAO said antitrust, tax, intellectual property, malpractice and state licensing laws also present some barriers. To read the letter, click here.

For example, laws governing physician self-referrals and prohibiting kickbacks block arrangements between providers, such as the provision of IT resources.

'Because the laws frequently do not address health IT arrangements directly, health care providers are uncertain about what would constitute violations of the laws or create a risk of litigation,' Janet Heinrich, director of health care and public health issues for GAO, wrote in the Aug. 13 letter. 'Health care providers are reluctant to take action and make significant investments in health IT.'

Attempts by HHS to address concerns under the fraud and abuse statutes have fallen short, while other federal agencies, which have oversight of other laws that come into play, have done little to help providers find a way around the barriers, Heinrich said.

HHS is using its influence as health care purchaser, provider, regulator and sponsor of research, education and training to encourage physicians, hospitals and insurers to incorporate more IT in their operations. HHS provided about $228 million this fiscal year for 19 major health care IT initiatives, most for programs and grants that support demonstration of IT systems and development of standards in clinical terminology.

HHS also has tried to influence the adoption of health care technologies through advancing the National Health Information Infrastructure to promote regional e-health networks, the Consolidated Health Informatics Initiative to develop standards, and the Federal Health Architecture.

Last month, National Health IT Coordinator Dr. David Brailer unveiled HHS' strategy to accelerate adoption of e-health, such as electronic health records, e-prescribing and computerized physician orders. Link to GCN story.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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