If the existing Meaningful Use deadlines and eventual outcome milestones get extended, critics of the Obama administration get to point to yet more healthcare dollars spent on Obama's watch with too little to show for it.
If Meaningful Use doesn't get extended, hasty implementations could lead to a series of embarrassing headlines and, in a worst-case scenario, HIT-triggered preventable patient deaths.
My pessimism arises from the continuing politicization of everything in Washington, and a fear that the Obama administration is taking an inflexible position on Meaningful Use for political purposes, a fear that arises out of recognizing that IT transitions of this magnitude take a long time.
Last week, I outlined the complexity of the health insurance exchange data integration effort. It is arguable that the HIX challenge is relatively simple compared to what is being asked of Meaningful Use, particularly if one is looking for solid returns on the investment, returns that can only be quantified with certainty after the outcomes-oriented goals of Meaningful Use are realized.
Originally, outcomes were to be achieved at the conclusion of Stage 3 of Meaningful Use. Given that we haven't yet defined exactly what is going to be in Stage 3, much less begun building it into our IT systems, it is clear that we won't be looking at measurable outcomes for several years to come.
Shouldn't we all agree to allow Meaningful Use to move forward beyond the Obama administration before we see measurable outcomes, or will the program end up dismantled like so many earlier attempts to fix healthcare?
Can the political process and the American people hold its breath that long? Should we expect technology to fix healthcare, and not nearly as fast as the next iPhone will arrive?