Current and former lawmakers last week set out to do some old-fashioned arm-twisting in order to persuade Congress to consider, draft and then pass a comprehensive health information technology bill.
The House last week approved legislation that would help fund college and masters level education in healthcare informatics, a move many say will rally the use of electronic health records and bring greater transparency and quality to the industry.
Separately, former Rep. Nancy Johnson and former Sen. John Breaux announced just a day earlier that they plan to lead a nationwide effort to get EHRs, e-prescribing tools and a raft of other health IT components hard-wired into doctors offices, hospitals and in front of patientsand do so in short order.
Johnson, a former Republican representative from Connecticut, and Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisianathrough their newly created Health IT Now coalitionaim for a broad, comprehensive piece of legislation more in line with what lawmakers failed to send to the president two years ago. Meanwhile, Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) quietly secured passage of a bill that instead calls for readying the workforce to deal with those new advances in healthcare technology.
While everyone is talking about adopting these systems, no one is addressing the workforce concerns, Wu said in a written statement. We need curriculum to support an emerging specialty in healthcare informatics and programs to train current doctors and nurses.
Provisions in the bill would allow the National Science Foundation to award grants to colleges for health informatics research, and would establish health and medical informatics research centers. The bill would also allow the NSF to reward schools that boost their health IT programs.
In 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 136,000 Americans were employed as health information management professionals, adding that another 49% would be needed by 2010.
The Health IT Now coalition says it wants to sway lawmakers this year to agree on a bill that sets in stone the governments commitment to health IT; offers federal grants and loans to help providers get started; resolves privacy and professional licensure issues between state and federal laws; and focuses on consumer empowerment through patient education.
Its a broader approach than what Wus bill sets out to do, and likely will take a more serpentine path. In 2005, Johnson steered a comprehensive health IT bill thateven though it passed the Houselater got bogged down in backroom negotiations.
On Capitol Hill last week, Breaux, a one-time member of the Senate Finance Committee, compared the promise of health IT with a wonder drug that could instantly save hundreds of thousands of lives. If it were a pill, he said, people would say, Dont delay, give it to us immediately. Bring this to market just as soon as you can.