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President Obama Hopes to Modernize Health Care System

“That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.” (Remarks of President-elect Barack Obama Radio Address on the Economy Saturday, December 6, 2008)

I couldn’t agree with the President more. Fortunately, the House and Senate also agree. The House has proposed $20 billion in spending for health IT. Additionally, the economic recovery plan will establish standards, payment incentives and privacy protections to encourage the widespread adoption of health information technology. We applaud this effort, but we must focus on the details of the package because getting them wrong could dull the positive impact the President and many expect from health IT.

First, the money should be spent on systems that comply with standards and are certified.  This will ensure systems can “speak to each other” and that purchasers are confident their purchases meet the standards.

Second, privacy protections need to be enforced vigorously, otherwise consumers and providers will have little faith in new IT systems. If they lack faith, participation will be lack luster and potential benefits will not be realized. It makes little sense, however, to turn enforcement of this federal rule over to the State Attorney Generals, as the House bill seeks to do.  As we try to establish a nationwide, interoperable network – a stated goal of the bill – it would do real and significant damage to turn enforcement to the states.  Doing so will create a patchwork of different standards based on the legal challenges presented by each state AG. This will be a serious step backward that Congress should reject.

Third, data repositories envisioned in the bill have significant potential to improve care by giving researchers insight into care outcomes. This is data that CMS sits on and that could be used constructively, not to deny care, but to improve health outcomes by focusing on the patient.

I believe it is imperative that Congress invest in health information technology in order to stimulate economic growth, promote efficiency, improve health outcomes and dramatically reduce health care costs for consumers and taxpayers. Done the wrong way without standards and a 50 state based enforcement mechanism would be a serious mistake.  One Congress should avoid.

Joel White,

Executive Director
Health IT Now! Coalition

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