A full lineup of top federal officials, from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on down, paraded their commitment to advancement of health information technology to a standing-room gathering assembled to hear how HHS and other government agencies plan to accelerate adoption of electronic health records and find the means to pay for them.
The much-anticipated address by David Brailer, M.D., national healthcare IT coordinator with HHS, outlined the government's role in convening a series of expert panels and industrywide collaborative efforts to determine in the next several months how to gain quick consensus on financial incentives, technical standards and the most urgent needs to tackle first.
Thompson called on the more than 1,000 attendees to follow the government's lead.
"Virtually every other sector of the economy is charging into the 21st Century. It's time for the healthcare industry to catch up," he said. "The technology is there. The will is there. Now we've just got to put together the mechanics to implement it."
Among the catalytic efforts launched at the meeting were:
Also at the meeting, CMS Director Mark McClellan, M.D., announced a pilot project beginning this year in Indiana to make Medicare claims information available to individual beneficiaries on a Web site. McClellan said the pilot will gather insight on how to replace the current explanation-of-benefits form with personalized information accessible by secure means not just on claims but on dates of service, procedures and available preventive care through Medicare.
Sounding at times like a revival meeting instead of a Washington policy conference, the first day of the three-day gathering was notable for the "unprecedented assembly of federal leadership," said Brailer.
Thomson said: "The promise is there. The willingness exists. What was needed was the plan. Now we need the action."
In addition to Thompson and McClellan, the HHS framework for strategic action was seconded by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) and the heads of the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration.