Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), whose work with the Rhode Island Quality Institute has helped shape his health information technology and reform agenda at the federal level, on Tuesday decried the rising costs, poorer quality and growing numbers of uninsured that have become the hallmarks of the nation's "broken" healthcare system.
"This is a system that is crying outscreaming outfor reform," Whitehouse told attendees of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in Washington.
In May, the freshman senator introduced a trio of bills aimed at finding fixes to the system's current woes. Whitehouse has said it would take a three-pronged approach that focuses on the use of grant money to build a national information technology network, link healthcare costs to quality and bolster quality improvement initiatives between providers, payers and the government.
"We are dealing with market failures," Whitehouse said. "Relying on market forces to cure them will not work."
Using a number of references, including the oft-cited RAND Corp. report, Whitehouse said that even the most conservative estimates show that information technology could trim healthcare costs by some $86 billion a year. "That's a lot of savings to be leaving out there," he said.
Meanwhile, it's a message that hasn't been lost on the current crop of presidential hopefuls.
Health policy advisers to three Democratic presidential candidates said that the widespread use of IT is central to any universal healthcare package, adding that the savings expected to come from better quality and more streamlined care would be used to offset implementation costs for electronic medical records, e-prescribing and other high-tech tools.
"We need universal coverage to get the critical mass (needed) to make it to the next phase of health IT," said Barbara Markham Smith, an adviser to Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), to HIMSS members. Smith called EMRs the "centerpiece" to health IT adoption, and added that Dodd sees them as key to coordinating care between hospitals and primary-care physicians. "That's what is really going to bring on the savings."
Smith, along with advisers to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)who have both pledged to expand healthcare coverage to every Americansaid that all three candidates would spend federal dollars to boost health IT use by providers. And all three said that their candidates believe that the widespread IT implementation is needed for overall healthcare reform.
Obama, for instance, has pledged $50 billion over five years to help the government, manufacturers and providersespecially those in rural and underserved populationsto deliver and make use of information technology.
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