Health IT report calls for fed leadership

Health Information Technology Leadership Panel Report

Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said investment in health care information technology is essential and a high priority for the U.S. health care system. He also released a report calling for the federal government to lead the promotion of widespread adoption of health care IT.

IT “is a pivotal part of transforming our health care system,” Leavitt said today. "We are at a critical juncture. Working in close collaboration, the federal government and private sector can drive changes that will lead to fewer medical errors, lower costs, less hassle and better care."

He spoke at the CEO Health Care Summit in Washington, D.C., organized by the Business Roundtable, an association of executives of major U.S. corporations.

Leavitt released a report prepared by HHS and the Business Roundtable's Health Information Technology Leadership Panel. The document states that widespread adoption of interoperable health IT should be a top priority for U.S. health care officials. As the biggest health payer and provider in the United States, the federal government should lead the widespread adoption of health technology, the report states.

Members of the Leadership Panel include the following chief executive officers: Frederick Smith of FedEx, Rick Wagoner of General Motors, John Faraci of International Paper, John Barth of Johnson Controls, Robert Ulrich of Target, Steve Reinemund of PepsiCo, Alan Lafley of Procter & Gamble, Richard Kovacevich of Wells Fargo and David Glass, formerly of Wal-Mart.

The report's authors call for private-sector purchasers and health care organizations to collaborate with the federal government on using and disseminating health IT. Other recommendations include:

• Strengthening efforts to coordinate the adoption and use of interoperable health care IT systems in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments and the Indian Health Service.

• Continuing to promote and develop consensus-driven health IT standards.

• Funding health IT demonstrations.

A lack of federal leadership would impede development of health IT because neither individual companies nor the entire private sector can achieve the breadth of adoption necessary to require the transformation of health care, the report states.

Estimates of national health care spending on current technology range from $17 billion to $42 billion a year, with annual increases projected at 5 percent to 15 percent. But the report’s authors argue that the benefits of additional investment in technology will far outweigh the expenses, with electronic health records alone expected to reduce total industry costs by $112 billion a year.

The HHS budget for 2005 contains only $50 million in finding for healthcare IT projects and $125 million in the proposed 2006 budget. However, Leavitt’s responses to questions after his speech suggest that federal spending on health IT could increase, said Scott Wallace, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology. Leavitt was “very comfortable [in talking about] a federal role in the financing of healthcare IT,” said Wallace, adding that the attitude is a shift from Leavitt’s predecessor, Tommy Thompson.

The amount of money spent by the federal government is not as important as how it is spent, Wallace said. “We don’t need more money today, but we do need to make sure it is going to the right places,” he said.

Dennis Giokas, chief technology officer for Canada Health Infoway, the federally funded, nonprofit corporation spearheading health care IT in Canada, agreed that health care IT investments have to be made wisely and smartly. Canada’s federal investment of $970 million for health care IT eclipses U.S. funding levels.

Canada Health Infoway takes advantage of its funds by requiring provincial partners to also put money into any projects the company funds, Giokas said. “We want them to have skin in the game,” he added.

Standards are also essential for a national system, Giokas said, adding that Canada Health Infoway will only fund projects that adhere to Canadian standards, including Health Level 7 messaging standards, which are also used in the United States.

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