In a Hospital Connect editorial, Delaware senator Tom Carper has endorsed the Veterans Affairs VistA software as a reference model for a national standard EHR: “…Efforts are underway within the federal government to ensure that all health care providers will be able to use IT in a uniform and secure way. Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently announced the creation of a new commission charged with devising a set of national health IT standards…We don�t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with standards that will work…For the past 10 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation�s largest central health care system with more than a thousand medical centers, nursing homes and outpatient clinic across the country, has been using an EHR with amazing results.” Read more for the full text of the article.
EHR�s Value Proven at VA
By Sen. Tom Carper
With the Wired for Health Care Quality Act, providers struggling with the EHR decision have a new source of guidance and funding.
This year, Americans will spend almost $2 trillion on health care, easily more than any other country. Last year, America ranked 27th in the world in preventing infant mortality, and almost 100,000 people died because of routine medical mistakes. Given the premium we put on quality in this country and the money we�re spending on health care, we�re clearly not getting the most bang for our buck.
But health care can recover. The adoption of information technology, such as the widespread use of electronic health records, could save billions of dollars a year in health care costs and cut down the number of mistakes made every day in doctors� offices and hospitals across the country.
Guidance Needed Today
It�s easy to see how EHRs can help clinicians do their jobs better and improve patient care. Instead of flipping through incomplete paper records, physicians can use computers to view a patient�s complete medical history, order prescriptions or additional health tests, and monitor the results and patient behavior. Once EHRs are linked through a common network, patients who see multiple caregivers will experience greater continuity of care and enjoy the benefits of clinician collaboration.
Although health IT stands to dramatically improve patient care, providers have been slow to acquire it. Only about 30 percent of hospitals and 15 percent of physician offices currently use electronic health records.
Cost and uncertainty form the chief barriers. Doctors can spend up to $30,000 (and hospitals almost five times that amount) switching to EHRs and establishing the proper information-sharing system. But there�s no guarantee that the new computer system will be compatible with one used by a health facility on the other side of town, much less in another part of the state or the country.
Efforts are underway within the federal government to ensure that all health care providers will be able to use IT in a uniform and secure way. Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently announced the creation of a new commission charged with devising a set of national health IT standards.
But commissions take time. There are already 100 various types of health information exchanges being developed in the country, including one in my home state of Delaware. Providers need guidance now.
EHR Powers VA Turnaround
We don�t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with standards that will work. There�s already a large-scale health information exchange that�s been tried and tested, and it should be used to guide us in our efforts to develop an infrastructure for health information systems.
For the past 10 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation�s largest central health care system with more than a thousand medical centers, nursing homes and outpatient clinic across the country, has been using an EHR with amazing results.
Once among the lowest-rated hospitals in the country, veterans� facilities now routinely outrank non-VA health care centers when it comes to patient care and satisfaction. They�ve cut down on medical errors, they�re saving costs and patients are coming back in droves. This same type of revolution could happen nationwide if we act quickly and decisively to give hospitals and other health care facilities the tools they need to adopt health IT.
In late November, the Senate passed the Wired for Health Care Quality Act, which would require the government to use the VA�s technology standards as a basis for national standards that will allow all health care providers to communicate with each other as part of a nationwide health information exchange. The legislation would also authorize $280 million in grants, which would help persuade reluctant providers to invest in the new technology.
Technology is developing too quickly–and the benefits of health IT are too promising–for us to wait any longer. The House needs to take up and pass the Wired for Health Care Quality Act early in 2006 so that we can move forward on what just might become the first health care revolution of the 21st century.
Tom Carper represents Delaware in the U.S. Senate.
Disclosure: the poster, Ignacio Valdes has a financial interest in Sequence Managers Software, LLC a VistA software company.