Committee Mulls Health Care IT

IT industry reps pushed for a committment to open standards and federal funding at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Health.

Seeking to encourage the health care industry to better use IT to improve care and reduce costs, lawmakers heard ideas from industry representatives and consumer advocates on March 16.

At a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Health, Ivo Nelson, who leads IBMs health care business consulting services group, said that any legislation Congress considers should include a commitment to open standards, federal funding and incentives for the Medicaid and Medicare systems to reward quality care.

The government must first adopt open standards for health care diagnoses and treatment before such innovations are widely adopted in industry, Nelson said, adding that federal market power is needed to motivate a consensus on standards within the health care sector.

Government funding will also be important in the early stages of digitally networked health care, Nelson told lawmakers.

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"Initial funding is the seed that allows health care system participants to develop prototypes that translate concepts into implementations," he said in his testimony.

"As lessons are learned from prototypes and policy development, new business models emerge over time that can carry innovation forward."

The Healthcare Leadership Council, which is made up of chief executives of the countrys largest health care organizations, is pressing for new rules to allow medical groups to share their expertise and investment in electronic records with doctors offices, said Mark Neaman, president and CEO of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare.

The legislation should also accelerate the adoption of interoperable electronic health records by ensuring uniform standards, Neaman said.

Many health care organizations support the Health Information Technology Promotion Act, introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., last October.

Several of the provisions, including an anti-kickback safe harbor and the pre-emption of some state privacy laws, are particularly important, said Alan Mertz, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association.

"Health IT will make health care better by improving outcomes faster by facilitating not only the delivery of information but the coordination of care, and cheaper by reducing the costs of doing business," Mertz told lawmakers.

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Consumer advocates caution that improved privacy protections should be in place to protect sensitive medical information as it becomes increasingly digitized.

Current penalties for privacy violations are not adequate, said Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst at the Consumers Union. Additionally, Vaughan said, states should have the right to enact privacy laws above and beyond the minimal provisions in federal law.

The Consumers Unions concerns are shared by some lawmakers as well. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said that while health IT offers huge potential for improving patient care and collecting research data, there are also potential pitfalls, including privacy violations and the creation of a system of health care IT haves and have-nots.

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