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How Will Our Next President View Health IT?

Since everyone is making forecasts for 2012, here's my take on how health IT will fare in the next administration.
Here's a no-brainer: Next year's presidential campaigns are going to be nasty. But based on the history of our leading candidates, one thing seems certain. Whoever wins the White House will likely be an ally of health IT.

If President Obama gets reelected, we're guaranteed continued support for the 2009 HITECH Act and for all the subsequent programs spearheaded by the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT. On the Republican side--unless gaffes or scandals torpedo their campaigns--it looks like either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrinch will be the presidential nominee. Both have expressed strong support for health IT in the past.

In 2005, while Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he was among the high-profile leaders backing a $50 million experiment to roll out connected e-health record systems to hospitals and doctor practices in three Massachusetts communities.

The press conference at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton, Mass., unveiling that effort was attended by an A-list of local and national government and healthcare leaders, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Dr. David Brailer--the nation's first National Coordinator for health IT—and then-governor Romney, who said of the project's launching, "this will go down as a great day in Massachusetts."

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At the time, the pilot project's goal was to examine the effectiveness and practicality of widely implementing EHRs in community-practice settings and "to serve as the model for statewide, or perhaps even nationwide, adoption of digitized medical records." That turned out to be pretty prophetic considering the e-health progress that's being made across the country now.

Ironically, the same week in 2005 that Massachusetts flipped the switch on its $50 million health IT pilot, two political archenemies were on hand in Washington to support the introduction of a bi-partisan bill--the 21st Century Health Information Act of 2005 (H.R. 2234)--to create federal grants to finance regional efforts to adopt health IT.

Who were the two rivals that found common ground in promoting the bill? Former New York senator Hillary Clinton and none other than former House speaker and current Republican presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich. At the time the bill was introduced, Gingrich was no longer serving in Congress. However, he had already founded the Center for Health Transformation, "a collaboration of leaders" dedicated to improving the U.S. health system through widespread adoption of technology.

Although that House bill didn't go far on its own, some of its proposals--including federal funding for health IT and certification of healthcare information systems--later became fodder for the eventual HITECH Act programs.

So as we gear up for 2012 and watch all the political mudslinging, including condemnation of the larger healthcare reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama, I'm pretty confident that whoever wins the White House will understand and support health IT. You can bet on that.

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