HHS marches with states on health IT

HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

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Mike Leavitt, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told state chief information officers that he intends to lead a collaborative effort with a forced march mentality to create a digital health care environment.

Leavitt gave a keynote speech today at the midyear conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, in Washington, D.C. Although he was short on specifics, Leavitt seemed to indicate the federal government will soon unveil a proposal that will involve every state in some kind of privacy and security initiative. The federal government needs to formalize some collaborative effort with state governments, he said.

In the past year, information technology for improving health care delivery and lowering costs has emerged as a significant part of the Bush administration’s agenda, starting with the appointment of Dr. David Brailer as the nation's first health IT coordinator.

Leavitt, a former Utah governor who is considered tech-savvy for a government official, said containing health care costs is an economic imperative. The nation's per capita health expenditure now stands at more than $5,700 per person, compared to $143 in 1960. During the same period, health care as a percentage of gross domestic product has tripled to 15.3 percent, Leavitt said.

Technology, he said, can improve efficiency in the health care sector, one of the last segments to adapt electronic records as an industry.

The health care sector has many information standards, but state and federal governments -- payers of 46 percent of all health care -- are positioned to drive the development of a uniform standard in a collaborative way, Leavitt said. Those governments can begin to move the market, become an early adopter and start a series of tests, he said.

Leavitt said Brailer’s office has asked for $125 million next fiscal year to continue such efforts and is confident it will be adequately funded. Technology can be used to prevent adverse drug events or instantly provide health care workers access to electronic health records of a patient who walks into a clinic, he said.

"The dilemma isn't getting computers to work together," he said. "The dilemma is getting people to work together."

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