Speaking at the HIMSS exhibition this past February, a group of high-ranking officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services dispassionately laid out some facts about the nation’s financial future--at least as far as health care goes. A series of slides spelled out the scenario: rising enrollment in Medicare coupled with rising incidence of chronic diseases and a corresponding surge in unnecessary readmissions. Tony Trenkle, acting CIO, noted that “if health information technology doesn’t do it for us, we’re in a heap of trouble.” He was referencing the meaningful use incentive program as well as efforts to streamline claims submissions and reward quality outcomes.

There’s no doubt that the meaningful use program is imperfect, and my colleague Joe Goedert has done a great job of reporting on the pitfalls of participation. But the program recognizes one crucial fact: that unless the nation gets on board with a standardized, high-tech approach to clinical decision-making, its health care industry faces serious problems. Of course it’s one thing to get physicians and hospitals to use EHRs. What about consumers? Can health IT tools play a role in getting them—meaning us—to alter the kinds of behaviors that ultimately turn into chronic conditions?

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