Health IT — for everyone

Acomprehensive and bipartisan bill introduced this week by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) joins a growing number of critically important bills introduced this Congress to fundamentally improve healthcare.

If someone developed a blockbuster drug or a new surgical procedure that could save 100,000 lives each year, Americans would clamor for the government and insurers to make the new intervention available to all who need it.

There is technology available today that could do exactly that: save nearly 100,000 lives annually while dramatically reducing healthcare costs and improving medical care.

The solution is health information technology (IT): the use of computers, networking and software to provide doctors with access to up-to-date patient information and best-practice medical data anywhere, anytime.

All industries have benefited from the widespread adoption of information technology. The many bills introduced this year, including this new legislation in the Senate, means the promise of health IT may now finally be realized.

Some hospitals have adopted computerized order entry systems, reducing adverse events 75 percent and more. Others saved millions by replacing paper charts with electronic medical records, reducing errors while improving quality of care in many unanticipated ways. Yet studies demonstrate that 30 percent of all healthcare spending, or about $300 billion annually, is still going toward duplicative paperwork, redundant tests of all kinds, over-medication, inappropriate care or avoidable hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

So today there is a broad consensus that we need to develop a nationwide, interoperable, secure and confidential electronic health information system.

The benefits are simply too great. Instant access to your complete medical record by your physicians means the end of having to remember and re-tell your allergies, treatments, vaccinations and illnesses to every new doctor you see.
Interactive technology can support the elderly and those with chronic conditions so they can better follow their doctor’s orders and monitor their own progress. Adults who live far from their aging parents will be able to more easily participate in monitoring and decision-making. Superior electronic recordkeeping and interoperability will eliminate duplicate and unnecessary tests. Best practice information delivered to physicians and other providers at the time of decision-making will provide superior support for the diagnostic process and emergency medical decisions.

As co-chairpersons of a new organization called Health IT Now! we represent a coalition of patients, practitioners and employers working to bring the benefits of health IT to all Americans. We believe Congress has an opportunity to save lives and control healthcare costs through the use of health IT, but only if Congress acts this year on key consensus items:

• Permanence in statute for a federal responsibility to lead a public-private process to establish standards for system interoperability, product certification, and quality measures, and an accelerated process for standards improvement.

• Federal financial incentives to practitioners of care to facilitate the adoption of health IT, and for communities, states, and other entities to plan health IT components and develop health information exchanges.

• Patient education that encourage the use of electronic health records and provider quality information.

• Federal leadership of a federal-state process to resolve policy issues central to a secure and safe care system, like privacy and professional licensure.


Former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) was chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) served on the Senate Finance Committee. They co-chair Health IT Now!, a coalition of patients, providers and employers promoting the widespread adoption of health IT.