Did Congressional Budget Office call health IT savings bunk?

While the Wall Street Journal highlighted the Orszag note, and the report, as a big stop sign for medical automation, it was in fact nothing of the kind.

Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, from SIEPRThe headline is the Congressional Budget Office says a claim by RAND Corp. the nation will save $77 billion through heavy use of IT in health care is bunk.

But that's not the whole story.

The CBO, a bipartisan body which helps Congress formulate policy, offers a 48-page paper on the impact of technology and a blog entry from director Peter Orszag calling the RAND study flawed.

Mr. Orszag was an economic advisor under President Clinton.(The picture is from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where Orszag spoke in 2007.)

In his blog post, Orszag notes that the RAND figure only compared claims of complete automation with a 2004 baseline, and did not allow for natural uptake of technology.

But in some ways, the report notes, the impacts may be underestimated:

By making clinical data easier to collect and analyze, health IT systems could support rigorous studies to compare the effectiveness and cost of different treatments for a given disease or condition.

While the Wall Street Journal highlighted the Orszag note, and the report, as a big stop sign for medical automation, it was in fact nothing of the kind.

The report notes that the U.S. lags other countries in automation, and that automation can collect savings in areas beyond computing, measuring the performance of outside vendors, for instance.

This is what happens when you over-simplify something to engage in a political hit. You wind up worrying about alligators and forgetting that the idea here is to drain the swamp.

There are serious benefits beyond mere dollars and cents for automation, even though the bottom line is seen by policymakers as the bottom line.