Members of a Democratic voting bloc that has championed a number of health information technology initiatives said on Tuesday that they are frustrated by the government's slow pace in adopting IT standards, and called on HHS to move more quickly in order to keep pace with industry expectations.
"The government needs to move faster, especially on interoperability," Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), co-chairwoman of the 58-member New Democrat Coalition, said at a news conference that also featured New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Schwartz said that physicians and hospitals need assurances from the government that the systems they purchase won't be rendered useless a year or so down the road because of differing system requirements. "The federal government is supposed to do this," she said. "We need to move forward."
Schwartz, a former healthcare administrator, was hardly alone in her sentiment. Asked whether HHS is moving at a fast enough pace, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the coalition, simply said "no."
The comments come at a pivotal time in Washington, where a heated race for the White House, coupled with an outgoing administration, typically does not favor broad legislative initiatives. Still, lawmakers from both the House and Senate have cleared a path for passage of at least one component of a health IT billelectronic prescribing.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said that he would consider such a provision in a broader Medicare bill, which is expected to be negotiated in the coming weeks. And Schwartz has co-sponsored legislation that would give physicians financial incentives to adopt the technology as well.
Bloomberg, in Washington to testify in front of Congress as co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, met with Democratic coalition members to talk about a $30 million New York initiative that would bring electronic health records to community health centers and doctors' offices across the city. All told, more than 1 million patients in some of New York's lowest-income areas could have an EHR under the program, Bloomberg said.
"Right now we are paying heavily for a system that is geared towards caring for us once we're sick," Bloomberg said. "We'd be better served by a system that is designed to keep us healthy in the first place. We can have that, and electronic health records really are the key."
While a variety of city and state health IT efforts across the country are primed to move, federal efforts have been hindered by a growing concern over privacy and security issues. Those concerns could again stymie legislation this year, a number of lawmakers have said. But Bloomberg and coalition members moved to allay those fears.
"Done correctly, electronic health records can be more secure than a paper record," Bloomberg said. "You can document who looked at it, when (they looked at it) and what they've done. "There's an audit trail through all the steps."
Bloomberg, a pioneer of IT for the financial industry, said that the healthcare industry would do well to mimic the technological advances made in that sector.
"We worry about privacy," he said, adding that a proliferation of street cameras used by law enforcement and other agencies has put a dent in the overall privacy that people have in their everyday lives. "Today, people are more willing to do things by giving out data. After all, all of our transactions these days are done by credit cards."
What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.