Lynn Goes to Washington – with AHIMA!

The trip to Washington, DC, as part of AHIMA’s Hill Day was everything I thought it would be and more. It was busier than I expected! Somehow I expected a lot of wait time with meetings scheduled here and there, and time for “tweeting” in between – but instead we had our running shoes on heading from meetings on one side of Capitol Hill to meetings scheduled on the other side, only to be running back in the opposite direction again 30 minutes later.  Hats off to AHIMA for what must surely be the extreme sport equivalent of appointment scheduling!

For those who are not familiar with AHIMA’s Hill Day, there were 175 AHIMA members on Capitol Hill that day, all of us divided into our component state associations (CSAs). AHIMA schedules Hill Day attendees to meet with their own elected officials so that officials actually talk with their constituents – the voters who put them in office – and who can take them out again. After all, that is the power of our process, right? AHIMA participants then attend meetings with senators with their CSA groups and with their House representatives in groups or alone depending on their districts. In my case I was the only AHIMA representative from District 4 in Pennsylvania, so I attended the meeting in Congressman Altmire’s office alone while the other PA attendees headed to their meetings. Then we met up again later on. What a schedule!

There were six of us there from Pennsylvania. Three were experienced Hill Day attendees – Valerie Watzlaf from the University of Pittsburgh, Denise Dunyak from Siemens Health, and our group leader, seven-time Hill Day veteran Wannetta Edwards from Precyse Solutions. Newbie attendees in our group besides me (from M*Modal) were Laura Rizzo from Lancaster General Health and Stephanie Donovan from Pierce College. Our group had a perfect mix of experienced and first-time Hill Day attendees – and our group’s members came from a diverse mix of backgrounds representing health care providers, HIM service solutions, HIT companies, and education.

Our group from Pennsylvania did not, unfortunately, get to meet with the senators or representatives themselves but instead met with staffers whose positions ranged from legislative assistants to legislative correspondents to health policy advisors to health correspondents. These are the gatekeepers to the elected officials – catch their attention, and you have a good chance of getting the attention of the senator or representative. Bore them – and you’re done. But no pressure, right?

This was a particularly challenging time for AHIMA to make its case. With one week left in the countdown to government shutdown if an agreement on the federal budget isn’t reached and debates underway over the U.S. presence in Libya, AND health care conversations happening this same week about accountable care and other concerns, our health information issues were not likely to be foremost in discussions on Capitol Hill.  Add to that the House repeal of health care reform after last fall’s elections and continued threats to that legislation as well as big budget concerns, and we had a big task in front of us.

But AHIMA had an important case to make, and did a great job of summarizing Hill Day issues both for us as attendees – knowing that we might have to make our case in less than 15 minutes –  sometimes less than 5 minutes – and in the information packets we left behind.

Here are the major issues that we brought to the attention of Capitol Hill:

  • The HIM profession and AHIMA. Who are we? What do we do? Why should legislators listen to us? What impact do we have on health care and on issues important to legislators? AHIMA, an organization 61,000 members strong, has a big role to play in the successful implementation of the EHR and health information exchange, the adoption and successful use if ICD-10, and most importantly, continued use of health information as tool for communication and collaboration between care givers.
  • The Health Information Professions Advancement Act. What is the skillset and the knowledge required of HIM personnel given the changes to our industry in recent years, and in years to come? How do educational requirements for the HIM professional change to support those requirements? How do we preserve and protect funding established for the education of HIM and HIT professionals?
  • Protection for ARRA – HITECH and meaningful use initiatives. With the budget under scrutiny, AHIMA wants to ensure that progress that has been made towards the adoption and effective use of the electronic medical record doesn’t go away. We can’t go backwards!
  • Support for a study by the GAO for a solution to the challenges presented by patient identity. The use of electronic health records, or the sharing of meaningful health information in any medium, requires that we know who the patient is without risk to the patient’s privacy or the security of the patient’s personal information.  AHIMA wishes to gain governmental support for a study into how to identify patients without risk to the patient’s privacy.

All of these issues are of tremendous importance in health care today if we are to ensure that health information and technology achieves its potential to decrease costs, improve quality of care for individual patients, and to improve overall health for the population of the United States. Who better than HIM professionals, the “keepers of the keys” to safe, accurate, useful health information, to support and promote this cause?

And who better than to help to ensure quality, comprehensive health information than those who have been providing it for many years – medical transcription professionals?

Those of us who are involved in medical transcription must remember that transcription is indeed a valuable part of HIM and should support AHIMA in its efforts to preserve quality health information.

Even better – AHDI and CDIA have their own Advocacy Summit coming up in May.  This is your opportunity to tell your representatives in government about your contribution to health care – and what you’d like them to do to help to preserve that role in helping to decrease the cost and improve the quality of health care by enabling the availability of high-quality, comprehensive, and complete health information.

We will talk in more detail in coming weeks about these and other concerns and what we can do to preserve excellence in health information.

More to come…



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