Healthcare officials applauded President Bush's call last week for everyone in the country to have a personal, electronic medical record by 2014, giving fresh momentum to a goal that has eluded an industry long resistant to information technology.
"One of the things that hasn't changed very much is the way doctors and hospitals do business," Bush said last week in a speech he delivered to the American Association of Community Colleges in Minneapolis. "The 21st century healthcare system is using a 19th century paperwork system."
To change that, Bush said, every individual should have a portable, electronic file that consolidates patients' medical history, including every doctor they've seen and each test that has been administered.
In setting a goal of 10 years to achieve this, Bush said the federal government should create incentives to help healthcare providers adopt the technology and bring uniformity to medical information exchange. He did not elaborate on what those incentives would be but did establish a new HHS office to coordinate health information activities, promulgate standards and set up partnerships between the government and private sector.
Bush's call to action brings important new momentum to standardization of the industry so providers can easily share clinical information electronically, said Dennis Smith, director of two-hospital Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System in Baltimore, where Bush spoke last week after his address in Minnesota.
"Can a computerized medical record be done in 10 years? Yes, I think it can if we put our minds to it," said Smith, who sat on a panel with the president at the 762-bed Baltimore VA Medical Center. The VA Maryland Health Care System, Smith said, has been running an electronic medical record at its hospitals since 1997.
"Hospitals have to come to understand that (the electronic record) is the future and they have to embrace it," HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said, adding that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson "passionately believes we've got to move this as fast as possible." If Congress approves Bush's 2005 budget proposal, $100 million would be spent next year on seed money to help hospitals and clinics set up the infrastructure they need for electronic medical records, Pierce said.
Some providers agreed. "If you have EMRs, utilization will be lower, clinical outcomes will be better and safety will be protected. Isn't that worth paying for?" said Louise Liang, a physician and senior vice president of quality and clinical systems support for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif.
As hospitals continue to worry about whether they will reap returns on the investments they make in electronic medical records, the momentum to adopt them is building around patient safety and the elimination of errors, said Neal Patterson, chief executive officer of Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based healthcare software vendor.
On Capitol Hill, many lawmakers have cited safety as one of several reasons to support the president's initiative. "We need to enhance federal leadership, implement necessary information standards, clear away barriers to adoption of technology and provide needed incentives to healthcare providers," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said last week in a news release after Bush's announcement. Gregg said that in the next month he plans to introduce legislation that would promote standards development and help providers invest in needed technology. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a similar bill last year.