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Group Calls For Federal IT Funds To Update Hospitals

Industry proponents say lives are at risk. Information technology could help improve patient care and safety.

Health-care industry proponents are calling on Washington to establish a revolving-loan program to help hospitals pay for IT projects designed to cut medical errors and improve patient safety. The Health Technology Center, a nonprofit research and education organization, and law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, which represents some of the nation's largest health-care companies, say patients are dying because some hospitals are cash- and IT-strapped.

Technologies such as computerized bar-coded drug systems can help save lives, according to a report issued by the two outfits. They want a loan program in the same mold as those that fund local transportation and environmental initiatives.

Specifically, the Health Technology Center is proposing that the federal government grant money to states that would match it on a 4-to-1 basis, with the states contributing $1 in loan funds for every $4 from Washington. Quasi-private nonprofit boards would be created in each state to disburse the funding, says Dr. Molly Coye, CEO of the center.

The center is working with some health-care advocacy groups, including eHealth Initiative and the National Alliance of Health Information Technology, which will lobby Congress for the federal loan program, Coye says.

In a 1999 report, the Institute of Medicine found that up to 98,000 patients die each year because of medical errors. Other research has estimated that adoption of technologies such as computerized order-entry drug systems could eliminate 2 million adverse drug reactions and 190,000 hospitalizations per year, resulting in savings of $44 billion by eliminating needless hospitalizations, tests, and treatments.

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