HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson Details Plans for National Electronic Medical Record System
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday unveiled two steps that will facilitate plans to build a national electronic system that will give insurance companies, hospitals and physicians access to patients' medical files, the Wall Street Journal reports (Bayne Anderson, Wall Street Journal, 7/2). First, Thompson announced that the agency has signed a five-year, $32.4 million contract with the College of American Pathologists to license its standardized medical vocabulary system, SNOMED Clinical Terms, which contains terms for more than 340,000 medical concepts and is the most comprehensive database available (HHS release, 7/1). The database, which is already used in 40 countries, will standardize terms in patients' medical files to facilitate the transmission and interpretation of information from one medical or insurance facility to another. It will be available to health care professionals free of charge (Wall Street Journal, 7/2). "This system will prove invaluable in facilitating the automated exchange of clinical information needed to protect patient safety, detect emerging public health threats, better coordinate patient care and compile research data for patients participating in clinical trials," Thompson said. He also announced that the Institute of Medicine is developing a standardized medical record; a model of the record is expected by 2004. He said, "Banks and other financial institutions all across the country can talk to each other electronically, which has streamlined customer transactions and reduced errors. We want to do the same thing for the American health system" (HHS release, 7/1). HHS estimates that the new system could reduce health care costs by about $100 billion annually and reduce medical errors, which are responsible for 98,000 deaths per year, according to the Institute of Medicine. According to estimates from the research group the Markle Foundation, the health care sector spends about $125 billion each year on "unnecessary paperwork," the Journal reports. Implementation of the electronic system could begin next year (Wall Street Journal, 7/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.