January 20, 2009

Inauguration Ushers in Hope for Healthcare Change

By

On an ice-cold day reminiscent of the late John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration where one could see poet Robert Frost's breath as he recited from memory his favorite poem, "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening," America's healthcare system seems poised for its best hope on this day - the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

 

In weeks leading up to today's event, then President-elect Obama had healthcare very much on his mind. In a January 3rd weekend radio address, Mr. Obama promised the creation of new jobs through healthcare IT.

 

Later, at George Mason University in Virginia, Mr. Obama said that spending on healthcare IT would be part of his economic recovery plan with the goal to have medical records computerized within five years. His plan would invest $50 billion over the next five years to create electronic health records (EHRs). Media reports quoted him as saying that EHRs would "improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost."

 

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill last week, Mr. Obama's choice to head up HHS, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, appearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was quoted as saying that it should be, "an embarrassment for this country that we still don't have an interoperable system when it comes to health information technology."

 

Mr. Daschle's remarks are yet another reminder of America's seemingly long and bumpy journey to achieve interoperability and the adoption of EHRs.

 

Looking Back



In his State of the Union message in January 20, 2004, then President Bush said, "By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care."

By Executive Order, in April 2005, Mr. Bush called for widespread deployment of health information technology and appointed David J. Brailer, M.D., Ph.D. as the National Coordinator for Health information Technology in the Department of Health and Human Services HHS.

 

One of the initial steps took place on October 5, 2005 when HHS awarded three contracts totaling $17.5 million to public-private groups to "accelerate the adoption of health information technology (health IT) and the secure portability of health information across the U.S," according to an HHS news release, reporting that "these groups will form strategic partnerships to develop the building blocks necessary for achieving the President's goal of widespread adoption of interoperable electronic health records (EHR) within 10 years."

 

Then, in November 2005, the Senate approved healthcare IT legislation that would promote EHR adoption. It would also call for provider incentives to implement IT and would have HHS adopt quality measures and went on to call for establishing of the American Health Information Collaborative.

 


While the bill also codified Brailer's office it provided no new funding.

 


Congressional funding for healthcare IT continued to be problematic. Congress failed to provide $50 million in funding for Dr. Brailer in FY 2005 and later agreed to restore $32.8 million for the following year.

 

So, we've seen pronouncements on EHRs before. Let's hope for better days ahead.

 

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Chuck Buck

Chuck Buck is the publisher of RACmonitor and is the program host and executive producer of Monitor Monday.

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