Health policy analysts told federal lawmakers yesterday that while there are many different options for a universal healthcare system, one must-have component would be the widespread use of information technology in hospitals, physician offices and even the home.
Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told members of the Senate Budget Committee that increased use of electronic health records, e-prescribing and other high-tech tools "is a means, not an end," and then chided Congress for not providing nearly enough funding for the effort.
"The end is replacement of the traditional view of physicians as solo, all-knowing managers of each patient's care with a new model of healthcare as a team activity involving many specialist providers who work together," he said.
That sentiment was shared by other policy shapers who were part of a congressional discussion on universal health coverage. Sherry Glied, chairwoman of the department of health policy and management at Columbia University, called health IT a bipartisan idea. "We should waste no time in getting that done," she said.
Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said that moving toward a universal healthcare system would make patient-care coordination easier, smooth the way for widespread health IT adoption and encourage providers to use identified best practices. All of which, he added, would help lower healthcare costs. "The sooner we act, the better," Conrad said.
In an opening statement, Conrad outlined three basic options for universal coverage: a government-run, single-payer system; or separate mandates that would require employers to offer coverage; or instead require individuals to purchase their own insurance.
And though there was debate on how such a system would work in the U.S., nearly everyone agreed that no matter what, IT would be critical to system redesign. "We have to get serious about health information technology," Aaron added.