Government // Leadership
Commentary
8/3/2009
04:50 PM
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Obama's Healthcare Reform Vision And Where IT Fits In

Although President Obama won't get his wish of signing a comprehensive healthcare reform bill before Congress begins its August break later this week, an important part of Obama's reform plan--digitizing patient records--is already in motion.

Although President Obama won't get his wish of signing a comprehensive healthcare reform bill before Congress begins its August break later this week, an important part of Obama's reform plan--digitizing patient records--is already in motion.Certainly, there are many more laggards than leaders when it comes to the number of hospitals and doctors that have traded in their paper files for electronic ones. But the $20 billion HITECH stimulus bill passed in February as part of the nearly $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is surely pushing some of those laggards to adopt e-medical records sooner rather than later.

The digitization of patient records is a big part of Obama's wider healthcare reform vision. Here's what the White House's site has to say about that in its healthcare reform section:

• Computerizing America's Health Records in Five Years. The current, paper-based medical records system that relies on patients' memory and reporting of their medical history is prone to error, time-consuming, costly, and wasteful. With rigorous privacy standards in place to protect sensitive medical record, we will embark on an effort to computerize all Americans' health records in five years. This effort will help prevent medical errors, and improve health care quality, and is a necessary step in starting to modernize the American health care system and reduce health care costs.

HITECH's promise of federal financial rewards starting in 2011--and penalties for health IT hold-outs beginning in 2015--is undoubtedly already greasing the wheels of e-medical record rollouts at many hospitals and doctor offices that would've otherwise stayed-put on paper charts indefinitely.

Obama's healthcare reform vision includes a number of important but very expensive proposals, including coverage options for the more than 40 million Americans who don't have health insurance.

But weeding out costs is also part of Obama's reform's goals. Health IT can help do that--estimates from the Congressional Budget Office say that mass adoption of e-health record systems could save the U.S $12 billion over 10 years.

The White House site also says that the U.S. currently spends $2.2 trillion on healthcare each year, at nearly $8,000 per person. If those estimates are correct, that $12 billion in cost-savings over a decade through health IT are only drops in a bucket, but at least they're steps in the right direction.

What do you think?

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