Experts: U.S. needs e-health record standard

Center for Health Transformation

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Creating a modern national health information technology system to exchange interoperable electronic health records will require national standards, federal leadership and an "honest conversation" about costs, according to participants at a health summit last week.

The Center for Health Transformation (CHT), a membership group founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, brought together about 100 individuals from the health care industry June 15 to discuss what kind of infrastructure is needed in transforming the system.

"Paper kills," Gingrich said during the summit. "A paper-based system is an ignorant system."

The issue has been around for quite some time, but advocates said momentum is just now building. About a month ago, President Bush appointed Dr. David Brailer as the national health information technology coordinator. There is also bi-partisan support from Congress.

"There's a stronger appetite for this transformation than there ever has been," Anne Woodbury, the group's chief health advocate, said last week during a phone interview. "There are such odd bedfellows supporting this transformation."

Brailer, who also spoke at the summit, said the system doesn't need to be radically restructured, but instead needs to be improved by examining success stories.

He is responsible for developing, maintaining and directing a strategic plan, due for release in late July.

To do that, he said the Department of Health and Human Services is cataloging its numerous health IT programs. His team is also coordinating outreach between the federal government and private sector.

Changing the health IT system, he said, will require automating a physician's practice, and interconnecting care through interoperability, among other things. "We're not at the if stage anymore, we're at the when stage," he said. Seventy-seven percent of the participants at the CHT summit said patient safety is driving the need to adopt electronic health records, Woodbury said. In order to create an interoperable health IT system, there has to be data standards, a legislative mandate and government funding.

Although private-sector involvement is crucial, she said many people want the federal government to take the lead in driving the issue because the industry is fragmented and diverse. She also said funding must be discussed.

"We need an honest conversation about what this is going to cost," Woodbury said.

Gingrich said government-guaranteed loans might be a market incentive for change. He said he didn't want them to be grants because then people would line up for free money. He said if federal government leads this effort, then major companies would follow.

Woodbury said CHT is developing a white paper from the summit results, which it hopes Brailer will use it to develop the strategic plan.

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