President Bush Reiterates Electronic Medical Records Plan in Baltimore
At the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center Tuesday, President Bush reiterated an initiative he promoted Monday in Minnesota, calling for the creation of a nationwide electronic medical records system in the next 10 years, as well as an HHS national health information technology office, USA Today reports (Benedetto, USA Today, 4/28). The national health information technology office, expected to begin operations within three months as part of the HHS Office of the Secretary, will coordinate and evaluate current and future department information technology efforts and establish technical standards to allow physicians and hospitals to share electronic medical records and ensure patient privacy, according to an unnamed senior HHS official. Bush also has said that he plans to increase funds for related IT pilot programs. In addition, the president has proposed to double to $100 million annual grants awarded for such programs (California Healthline, 4/27). The federal government will establish technical standards for the switch to the electronic records network by the end of the year, Bush said Tuesday (Yost, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/27). After his appearance Tuesday, Bush issued an executive order to create the health technology office (Davis, Baltimore Sun, 4/28). Also on Tuesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) announced plans to bring to the Senate floor a bipartisan bill to carry out Bush's plan. Gregg said that increased use of IT is the "best way to improve quality and reduce costs in health care." A task force on health care, led by Gregg, is expected to offer recommendations concerning medical IT improvements in the coming weeks (Rovner, CongressDaily, 4/28).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, Maryland VA Medical System Director Dennis Smith and Marlene Miller, quality and safety initiatives director at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, appeared with Bush Tuesday in front of an audience of doctors, veterans and Maryland state politicians. While Bush praised the "research side" of U.S. medical care as "the best," he added that the "providers' side" remains in "the buggy era" (Baltimore Sun, 4/28). "The federal government can lead because we're spending a lot of money in health care," Bush said, adding that IT improvements could be an "industry-changer for the good" and could allow for "a better cost structure and better quality care" (Sammon, Washington Times, 4/28). He said, "Health care will be better, the costs will go down, the quality will go up, and there's no telling what other benefits will inure to our society" (Baltimore Sun, 4/28). Bush also said that HHS must "make sure the privacy rules are strong" for the electronic medical network (Washington Times, 4/28).
According to the Baltimore Sun, Bush's recent emphasis on medical IT proposals shows he is "seizing a chance to promote a popular idea at a time when the presidential race is entering a particularly nasty phase." However, former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) said the failure of a $472 million computer system at Bay Pines veterans medical center in St. Petersburg, Fla. -- which delayed surgeries and "compromis[ed] care" -- is "evidence of the administration's poor record of using technology to improve health care," the Sun reports. Cleland also criticized the president for proposing cuts to VA services, according to the Sun. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the proposed $100 million for information technology in Bush's fiscal year 2005 budget is not enough for an electronic records system. He added, "President Bush's comments today are just another empty campaign pledge and do not represent a serious commitment to improving health care and reigning in costs in Maryland and across the country" (Baltimore Sun, 4/28).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.