The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology today held a hearing to examine progress toward the broad implementation of information technology (IT) in healthcare, and the investments in technology and standards development that are needed to create a national system of secure, interoperable healthcare information technology.

"The broad use of IT in the healthcare sector could have far reaching benefits, including cost savings, improved quality of care, and a reduction in the number of medical errors. Today's lack of an integrated system of health IT is costing us billions of dollars, countless hours in lost time for both providers and patients, and -- most tragically of all -- patients' lives," said Chairman Bart Gordon.

To this end, the committee also addressed the need for legislation aimed at the adoption of such standards -- H.R. 2406, a bill authored by Gordon.

Unlike most other sectors of the economy, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt IT systems. This has led to inconvenient and even life-threatening situations for patients, who today must maintain all of their own health care records, including their medical history and medications. Constantly filling out forms and repeating healthcare histories wastes time and effort for patients and doctors, and is risky because patients often can't or don't keep good records, especially in emergencies.

"According to most estimates, a fully interoperable healthcare IT system could save U.S. healthcare tens of billions of dollars a year, and help prevent some of the mistakes that lead to the deaths of over 98,000 patients annually," added Gordon.

The entry of IT into the healthcare arena to this point has been slow and disjointed. Only 12 percent of practices with five or fewer physicians, where most Americans receive their primary healthcare, have adopted Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs). The healthcare industry spends only two percent of revenues on information technology, much lower than the 10 percent average spending by other information-intensive industries.

Information technology offers enormous potential benefits to U.S. healthcare. A study by the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society found that as much as 49 percent of clinical diagnostic testing is performed because previous test results are unavailable when needed. Applications of IT to healthcare such as EHRs, computerized ordering of prescriptions and tests, and updated medical information for clinical decision support could potentially save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by reducing medical errors and miscommunication.

H.R. 2406 is based on the recommendations from a President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) report and a report by the National Academies.

"The goal of this legislation is to build upon and strengthen existing EHR efforts," concluded Gordon. "Secure interoperable health IT systems are crucial for saving caregivers and patients time and money ... This legislation does not address all aspects of the complicated healthcare IT issue. However, it does address one critical element -- the technical standards that would allow a comprehensive EHR system to be developed and used by the healthcare community."