HHS plans for e-records

Health and Human Services Strategic Plan on Health Information Technology

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Department of Health and Human Services officials released today a strategic framework for creating an interoperable health network and accelerating the adoption of electronic health records during the next decade.

The plan lists 12 strategies, including providing incentives for adopting the use of electronic health records, encouraging regional collaboration on electronic health information exchange, encouraging use of personal health records, promoting telehealth systems and improving public health surveillance architectures.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson also announced other related initiatives including the creation of a panel to assess the costs and benefits of health information technology.

"I want to appoint people [who] actually want to develop the system and are optimistic enough to believe we can do it, and I want the report done by October," Thompson said at a press conference.

Department officials also announced $2 million in grants to nine local and regional communities to help develop electronic health information exchanges. Thompson announced the development of a nationwide health information network. "This summer, HHS will issue a request for information concerning the requirements for a private-sector consortium that would join the regional exchanges into a nationwide system," he said.

Advocates say that if the health care industry adopts interoperable technology, particularly electronic records, health care costs will decline and patient care will improve. The report states that up to 98,000 deaths occur annually due to preventable medical errors.

However adoption of electronic health records has been slow. In 2002, only about 13 percent of hospitals and 14 percent to 28 percent of physicians' practices reported they used them.

"This is not about the technology itself," said Dr. David Brailer, whom President Bush appointed national coordinator for health IT 76 days ago and who was responsible for putting the report together. "This is about what it does in real patient care."

The report was unveiled at an HHS-sponsored summit on health IT in Washington, D.C.

A consumer-driven, provider-friendly government must boldly lead the creation of a patient-centered health system, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), in an address to summit attendees. Without going into detail, he said changes in the tax code and litigation systems are needed, as is more personal responsibility. "There is no single magic bullet," said Frist, who is a physician.

But of all the policy changes needed, he said the "greatest potential to bring about this bold transformation, which will be necessary, does lie fundamentally on the electronic medical records."

Electronic records will be the cornerstone of the health care system of the future, Frist said. It gives patient better tools to handle the information and make better choices. It gives doctors more time to focus on patients and will create a truly competitive marketplace, he added.

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