President sets goals for e-health initiatives

President Bush has directed the Health and Human Services Department to develop a program that will ensure the use of electronic health records for most Americans within 10 years and electronic prescriptions within five years.

Under the president’s Health IT Plan, agencies have 90 days to review their programs and propose modifications to incorporate electronic health initiatives into their medical support systems.

Implementing widespread use of such systems at agencies such as HHS and the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments will drive health care providers to use them as well, the president said last week. Broader use of IT for health care services will improve the quality of care, and reduce mistakes and medical costs, Bush said.

For its part, HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released a request for proposals from vendors to develop a system to oversee care programs for patients with chronic illnesses.

Bush also announced that he would create a new position of national health IT coordinator at HHS. The coordinator will work with government and industry experts to proliferate the use of electronic health technologies.

“Modern technology hasn’t caught up with a major aspect of health care, and we’ve got to change that,” Bush said.

A key aspect of the chronic care initiative—mandated under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003—is the development of a clinical information database at CMS that would let physicians share information about and monitor Medicare patients, and evaluate results. CMS wants a system that will let health care providers exchange information with one another and CMS.

Seniors with multiple chronic diseases are a costly subgroup, representing 20 percent of Medicare patients but 66 percent of spending. Providing comprehensive prescription and medical-history data to care providers would reduce errors, duplicate tests, unnecessary admissions, complications and rejected claims, said Dr. Mark McClellan, CMS administrator.

As to electronic prescriptions, McClellan said the president’s five-year goal is achievable.
“I think we can have widespread use of e-prescribing within five years,” he said at a recent conference in Washington sponsored by the eHealth Initiative, an umbrella group of public and private organizations.

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