Medical care would be improved and millions of dollars would be saved if hospitals were fully wired, said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who jointly announced a program to bring American medicine into the Internet age.
On Monday, the political partisans put their differences aside to tout electronic prescriptions, online patient records and an integrated, paperless healthcare system.
Gingrich said 98,000 people die annually in hospitals due to medical errors. He suggested information technology could save billions of dollars now wasted on procedures, such as unnecessary tests and redundant record-keeping.
"We allow people to die in health in a way we would never tolerate in any other part of society," said Gingrich, a Republican who served as speaker from 1995 until the end of 1998, when he gave up his seat after the GOP's poor showing in the November elections.
Kennedy and Gingrich made their remarks at Brown University, where they were taking part in a daylong conference about using technology to improve healthcare.
Kennedy plans to introduce legislation that would implement a paperless healthcare system by 2015. The bill seeks $5 billion in funding to build the infrastructure to get all hospitals and patients online.
The pair said better technology would lower healthcare costs in the long run, "and the system ends up paying for itself," Gingrich said.
Gingrich and Kennedy said the Internet helps patients access records more easily and allows doctors to monitor their patients' care more efficiently.
Gingrich and Kennedy said failures in the healthcare system are due, in large part, to the fragmentation of American healthcare. The system is a patchwork of systems, each having standards, regulations and financial structures that vary widely from state to state and company to company.
Kennedy said having everyone on the same system will make it more transparent and easier to share information. He estimated it would take about three years for individual patient records to get online, if his bill is passed.
"The fact is, paper records kill," said Gingrich. "And the tragic thing is the deaths are avoidable."