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Commentary

New Hope That U.S. E-Health Record Effort Is Real

President Bush hasn't asked for my opinion lately, and I know he and I wouldn't see eye to eye on many important issues--like stem-cell research--even if he were the tiniest bit interested in what I had to say. However, I must admit that there is at least one subject where he and I are on the same general page--the need for this country's health-care system to rid itself of its addiction to paper.
President Bush hasn't asked for my opinion lately, and I know he and I wouldn't see eye to eye on many important issues--like stem-cell research--even if he were the tiniest bit interested in what I had to say. However, I must admit that there is at least one subject where he and I are on the same general page--the need for this country's health-care system to rid itself of its addiction to paper.I'm not sure if I'm as hopeful as Bush that the U.S. military presence today in Iraq is seeding a future of democracies in other Middle Eastern countries. However, I am considerably more hopeful this week that Bush is on the right track in seeding our own nation's transformation to digitized health records.

My cynicism about government bureaucracies--not to mention many people's innate stubbornness to change and health-care providers' tight purse strings--tells me that it will probably take longer than 2014 for "most" Americans to have electronic health records--which is Bush's goal.

However, last week a seemingly small but very significant spark was ignited. The office of national coordinator of health information technology--which was created last year by Bush and is led by the nation's health IT czar, Dr. David Brailer--announced four small contracts, which totaled only $18.6 million but involve dozens of companies, hundreds of doctors and other health-care professionals, and thousands of patients.

These four pilot projects for the national health IT network together will be prototypes for how the nation might actually build a standardized, secure highway that will allow millions of patients' medical records to be shared electronically with those who are authorized to see them. If all goes according to plan, doctors involved with these pilots won't need to wait for the fax or the mail or the courier service to deliver copies of sick patients' records before making important treatment decisions. Fewer doctors will have to wing decisions--which, unfortunately, are often deadly--without a patient's full and most recent information, like chronic conditions, lab results, and drug allergies.

While a number of these sorts of electronic health record pilots have been under way for some time in places like Massachusetts and California, the contracts awarded by Brailer's office last week help give that government seal of approval and legitimacy that many health-care providers are likely waiting for before launching their own efforts.

I don't know if mankind will ever visit Mars, but today I am a bit more hopeful that my doctor--and your doctor, and your neighbor's doctor--will in our lifetime be able to click a button and have secure access to all the important and personalized medical information they need to make us well and keep us healthy.

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Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
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John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing