Health IT Gets New Government Focus

A new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with other recent initiatives, shows that the federal government may be ready to act on electronic health records.

A bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday to help better integrate information technology into health care. The bill, introduced by Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., is titled the "Josie King Act" in honor of an 18-month-old infant who died as a result of preventable medical errors.

A series of steps are specified in the bill intended to lead to a fully operational electronic health record system by 2015. The earliest phase, over the next four years, calls for the creation and implementation of electronic health record exchanges in 20 regions supported by federal grants and increased Medicare reimbursements.

In the next phase, for years five through 10, it proposes grants to states to further expand and support existing networks. Finally, the bill calls for punitive measures in the last phase, in years 11 and on, in which states with fewer than 75 percent of health care providers participating will be penalized by being denied federal grants to maintain their electronic medical record infrastructure.

The legislation also recommends a public-private task force to propose and adopt data standards and increased authority to use electronic health records for tracking public health issues. And it also proposes that eventually Medicare would pay at increased rates for improved quality of care.

Kennedys bill is strikingly similar to recent proposals coming from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a bill introduced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., late last year.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read the full story on the Department of Health and Human Services health IT plan, click here.

According to information from Kennedys office, there are severe costs associated with the lack of adequate IT in health care. As many as 98,000 deaths in hospitals are due to preventable medical errors. And 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes to waste, errors and duplication, accounting for $515 billion annually.

The figures associated with the lack of IT sophistication in health care are correspondingly dismal. Less than 5 percent of doctors currently use electronic health records. IT spending in health care is less than one-third of that in the banking sector.

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