Members of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society kicked off their national lobbying charge in Washington, D.C., today with meetings on Capitol Hill to promote the universal implementation of electronic health records.
The creation of an HHS-backed national health information infrastructure in which such a record could operate is the society's primary policy drive.
"Our advocacy effort focuses on one basic objective: to promote the best use of information technology to improve patient safety," said Randy Thomas, HIMSS advocacy committee chair and executive vice president of Eclipsys Corp. in Boca Raton, Fla.
Before the IT advocates marched off to deliver their message to Congressional representatives, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich provided some experienced coaching about how the context of the current war could advance their vision. Gingrich encouraged the HIMSS lobbyists to start all their discussions on the Hill with homeland security.
"The number one argument for the relevance of IT in healthcare is the reality of biological weapons," Gingrich said.
Total connectivity is one step needed to prevent a biological attack or reduce its effectiveness, he said.
Gingrich emphasized that "lives really matter" to politicians. He said important reminders for lawmakers are the 1999 Institute of Medicine report that said medical errors kill 98,000 people annually and that proven life-saving solutions exist through technology, such as computerized prescription ordering.
"It is intolerable that we have paper written prescriptions that we know kill people," Gingrich said.
In addition to the moral argument for automated prescribing, Gingrich suggested that physicians could be offered better incentives to switch to electronic systems or that computerized prescribing could be tied in to malpractice insurance. If a voluntary system doesn't succeed, he advocated making CPOE a federal requirement for the practice of medicine.
"People shouldn't die because of a refusal to do the modern thing," he said.
William Yasnoff, M.D., senior advisor at HHS for the national health information infrastructure HIMSS seeks, explained the work of the federal government on that front. Though Yasnoff said he now works with a budget of zero, he said HHS has earmarked $4 million for a demonstration project by the eHealth Initiative Foundation for fiscal 2003.
President Bush's budget proposal for 2004 includes $3 million to develop a voluntary infrastructure and $50 million for more demonstration projects through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
"Obviously, the impact of war will have a real impact on what's available for health and health information technology spending," says Doug Peddicord, a healthcare information expert with HIMSS' lobbying firm, Washington Health Advocates.
But he said there is strong support and a commitment to healthcare IT in the administration.
"Secretary (Tommy) Thompson gets it," he said.