Health IT discussion overtaken by policy

How the HITECH act is implemented will say more about the pace of reform than whether government or private insurers are paying the bills but, for now, few are willing to listen to that discussion.

NCHIT David Blumenthal (right) went across the country to get a discussion going on health IT this week, but it was quickly overtaken by health reform policy disputes.

What he wanted to talk about at the Southern California Health Summit in Ontario, Calif. was the nearly $20 billion allocated for health IT in the HITECH Act passed as part of the stimulus, and the $700 million already allocated to create a network of "local healthcare geek squads" across the country, to help doctors and hospitals with automation.

Instead, reporters were quick to identify him with his past policy work for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, his political work for 1988 candidate Mike Dukakis, and his role as a policy advisor to the Obama campaign.

Reporters also swarmed around any speaker who preferred to talk about policy, and the reform bill now before Congress. Whether it was the cost of emergency rooms, or the unfairness of some bill drafts to California, the real meaning of the meeting was lost.

That meaning bears repeating. The automation of health records is going to happen. The money has been authorized, and is now being allocated.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are going to transform medicine, making it easier to conduct longitudinal studies, allowing the re-use of common tests, and reducing the paperwork burden on both patients and medical offices.

How that act is implemented will say more about the pace of reform than whether government or private insurers are paying the bills but, for now, few are willing to listen to that discussion.

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