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10/22/2009
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Web 2.0 Summit: Fed CTO Talks Healthcare IT

Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra says government spending on IT can help cut healthcare costs and improve care quality.

The federal government can use IT to help lower the cost and improve the quality of healthcare in the United States, federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said Wednesday.

Efficiencies and cost savings will come from investments made in health IT product innovation, funding of data infrastructure used to measure treatment effectiveness, and the use of technology to help address low-hanging fruit such as inefficient billing processes, he said.

Chopra, speaking on stage at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco with O'Reilly Media CEO Tim O'Reilly, said that one of the biggest problems with healthcare in the United States is that there's little true sense of effectiveness of treatment. This year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the economic stimulus package -- includes $1.1 billion to help the federal government invest in comparative effectiveness research, with a chunk of that money going to build the necessary data infrastructure.

"If you look at the retail sector, we have almost perfect market intelligence about point-of-sale transactions across Wal-Mart, so they have sophisticated algorithms to say exactly what they should be doing to optimize sales based on customer behavior," he said. By comparison, "only 3% of the nation's cancer patients are enrolled in a clinical trial that allows them to actually have that clinical trial be mined by researchers."

The federal government has not yet released procurement details or information on how the money allotted for data infrastructure for that research will be spent. However, Chopra said, any spending would be done with an "absolute commitment to privacy and voluntary participation."

Meanwhile, the government has allocated as much as $20 billion in stimulus spending to fund healthcare IT. The government plans to release the final standard of "meaningful use," which organizations must meet to acquire funding, in December, Chopra said.

Leading up to that, on October 29, the Department of Health and Human Services' Health IT Standards Committee is hosting a one-day workshop on adopting standards, which will be webcast, and then will set up a two-week online forum to engage the public and healthcare industry with a structured dialog. "We need your ideas to make sure the standards we are engaging on can be adopted more quickly and can enable innovation," Chopra said.

Finally, Chopra said, the government could also have a hand in addressing some of the "low-hanging fruit" of healthcare. For example, he said, $0.17 of every healthcare dollar is spent on inefficient billing processes, and the government could help industry find ways to improve and standardize these processes.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a report on best practices in electronic medical records. Download it here (registration required)

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