Obama announced the plans and the deadline during a speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Thursday.
"This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests," he said, adding that the switch also would save lives by reducing the number of errors in medicine.
Since President George W. Bush called for health records to be stored electronically by 2014, Obama's announcement confirms his administration's plans to continue pushing for that deadline.
However, Obama's speech indicated he wants all Americans' health records to be stored electronically, while Bush specified that "most" Americans' health information should be stored electronically. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology assumed President Bush's statement meant he wanted more than half of American health records to be stored electronically.
Obama mentioned electronic health records as part of his plan to overhaul the economy. He did not give details about the amount of funding he thinks the federal government should spend or how it should be disbursed. It's also unclear exactly what health information he wants stored electronically. For example, some software allows doctors' notes and prescriptions to be entered and stored in electronic form. Other programs offer pull-down menus for tests and diagnosis but lack features for storing doctors' observations and notes on smaller details, such as health care providers' conversations with patients.
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, Obama's choice for Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, also indicated strong support for health information technology during his Senate confirmation hearings last week. He said it was an "embarrassment" that the United States lacks an interoperable system for electronic health records.
A similar, multibillion dollar effort in the U.K. has shown mixed results to date.