[LINK] U.S. health data czar sees role for government hand

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Sat May 2 13:53:30 AEST 2009

U.S. health data czar sees role for government hand
By Susan Heavey
Thursday, April 30, 2009; 10:49 PM
Washington Post

Electronic health records need a nudge from the government if the 
technology is to become widespread, the nation's new health information 
technology czar said on Thursday.

"It is clear that this field has not advanced (enough) ... when left 
exclusively to the private sector so there is a public role," said Dr. 
David Blumenthal, head of the Department of Health and Human Services' 
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Backers of electronic records say they can protect patients by 
preventing medical errors and save money by avoiding duplicated tests 
and better managing chronic conditions that can be costly to treat.

The government did not want to regulate too much or be too intrusive but 
it did need to take steps to improve the public good, Blumenthal told an 
event hosted by the Markle Foundation, a nonprofit technology group.

A former professor at Harvard Medical School, Blumenthal took charge of 
the health IT office last week and must now help direct roughly $19 
billion in federal funds aimed at encouraging doctors and hospitals to 
convert mounds of paper medical records into digital records.

The money was part of the economic stimulus package passed by Congress 
earlier this year.

The potential for billions in spending initially boosted the health IT 
sector, which includes companies such as McKesson Corp and 
Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions Inc as well as larger players such 
as Microsoft Corp, Google Inc, Siemens AG and General Electric Co.

Since then, investors and others have been waiting for guidance from the 
U.S. health IT office.

Blumenthal's office must determine just how practitioners would qualify 
for payments as well as potential standards for medical record software.

Much of the U.S. economy is steeped in electronics, but studies have 
repeatedly shown that many health care providers -- mostly at smaller 
practices -- rely on paper.

Consumer advocates want safeguards on electronic records that ensure 
patient privacy and allow them access to their data.

Blumenthal said his office would work quickly to set policies and direct 
the stimulus funding. "We are going to be very soon... making some 
decisions on how to use some of the funds that are available to us."

Under the previous Bush administration, the health department heavily 
relied on the private sector to drive the electronic records effort.

Marc Overhage, who oversees medical information research at the 
Regenstrief Institute, said that has not worked.

"We can't keep doing what we're doing because what we're doing is 
nothing," he said. "There's not a lot that's changed in the last five 
years that's really meaningful," he said at the foundation event.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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