Wednesday, September 28, 2005

the value of health IT

Floodwaters destroyed the medical records of thousands of evacuees from New Orleans, washing away orders for cancer and diabetes treatment and medication information stored in physician offices and clinics.

The Health and Human Services Department is trying to recreate some of the medical data electronically that was destroyed by floodwaters, in what is proving to be a test case for the government’s efforts to develop health IT systems.

Most doctors have no idea how to implement an electronic health records system and have little trust that the federal government does either.

One California doctor, for example, met with 200 vendors over five years trying to figure out exactly what hardware and software his office needed, to no avail.

The problems most physicians face is that implementing health IT is both expensive—some estimate the cost between $15,000 to $30,000 per doctor—and intimidating because of the changes technology brings, said Chuck Parker, DOQ-IT team leader and the director of health care IT for MassPro, a doctors’ office quality program.

Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt has taken rapid steps to bring the public and private sectors together to address the technical challenges. Efforts are being launched to agree on needed common standards, develop the capacity for certification, and examine legal and business practice barriers. This effort also will support prototype projects. A new advisory group, the American Health Information Community, is intended to bring together the many stakeholders who need to share in steering this effort. And when standards are developed, federal health programs will adopt them to provide leadership and a sound foundation.

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