The Department of Health and Human Services is releasing $220 million dollars (made available by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act) to fund 15 pilot communities with the necessary IT technology to incorporate Electronic Health Records (EHR). This amounts to a bit over 1/10th of the entire $2 Billion allotted to achieve meaningful use of new health information technologies. The goal is that every person in the US have an EHR by 2014. According to Kathleen Sebelius, HHS hopes that the pilot program will “Offer insight into how health IT can make a real difference in the delivery of health care.” In her written statement, she expressed hope that HHS will be able to “tap the best ideas across America and demonstrate the enormous benefit health IT will have to improving health and care within our communities.”

Now the reality check. That’s 14.66 million dollars per community to get patients, community providers and Federal programs all on the same page? The joint statement from Sebelius and Vice President Joe Biden suggests that the pilot programs will support tens of thousands of jobs in the health IT industry. One would hope so. It would also pay for 18,000 $800 laptops or 29,333 $500 desktop computers in each of those communities. In short, depending on populations, that much money should just about put a computer on every street corner and medical office, and still leave money to spare for the actual integration! But wait! That’s not all! Another $30 million is available for additional Beacon Community awards, so you, too, may end up with a laptop on every street corner and office! But what will any of this actually do?

According to the statement, each community has specific measurable goals to work towards in improving quality, cost efficiency and the health of their people. Sounds nice. Very… nice, but what does any of that actually mean?

Doctors offices already have computers. There is already some tax credit available to medical offices as incentive to integrate EHRs. What is needed is a standardization and integration of that information at a national/central level. That doesn’t require pilot programs. It requires specific applications and integration systems.

It’s all well and good and warm and fuzzy that the Federal government is funding jobs in these communities. We knew that the Act would create government jobs. The question that begs to be answered though is “Which communities?” How did they choose which 15 communities would hit the EHR jackpot? Was it done randomly? Poorest neighborhoods (in which case, the pilots will not be applicable to those places which already have advanced IT in place,) or some back room deal brokered by congressmen?

Funding 15 Beacon Communities isn’t going to bring EHR to this nation. Why isn’t that money being spent on the assistance the medical profession actually needs? Where are the standards and implementation plans that actually might get the job done? One can’t expect these pilot programs to provide practical standards and implementation for the whole country’s circumstances. HHS wants us all on line with EHR by 2014 but hasn’t yet provided one shred of substance or guidance as to precisely how we are supposed to do that. So why is this $220 Million being spent this way? Why are physicians still being treated like mushrooms (that’s kept in the dark) in regards to the EHRs that the physicians themselves will be expected to use by 2014? Taxpaying minds want to know.