Intel chairman: Big employers should push health IT

Canada outpaces U.S. in health IT

San Diego -– Large employers should use their purchasing power in the health care market to drive adoption of health information technology, said Craig Barrett, chairman of the board at Intel, in his keynote address to the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference.

Barrett said large employers, which he referred to as mega-consumers of health care, need to band together to push medical providers to adopt health IT. Eventually, those employers should only use providers that deploy IT systems such as electronic health records, he said.

Large companies -- including Intel, which has 60,000 employees in the United States -- should also consider adopting pay-for-performance standards that are linked to medical providers’ use of health IT, Barrett added.

Technology companies can also help reduce health care costs by making it possible to move diagnostic services once performed in hospitals or doctors’ offices to patients’ homes, he said. For example, he showed how a device now in limited use in Korea remotely monitors blood sugar levels in diabetic patients via cell phones.

Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, estimated that IT systems could cut annual U.S. health care costs by $140 billion by reducing medical errors and increasing efficiency. Such potential savings beg for widespread adoption of health IT systems, he said.

The United States must find ways to reduce health care costs or face a growing Medicaid bill that will bankrupt every state in the country by 2020, Warner said. In many states, Medicaid costs already exceed the cost of supporting public schools, pitting health care against education, he said.

Although President Bush has strongly backed health IT in a series of speeches, Warner said current federal funding levels do not demonstrate that support. The government should invest $1 billion to jump-start health IT, Warner said.

The fiscal 2006 budget for health IT is $111 million, while Bush has asked for $169 million in the fiscal 2007 budget.

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