Blumenthal: Health Information Technology "The Right Thing to Do"

"I saved the patient the inconvenience and X-Ray exposure, and saved the health care system the money for that duplicate test."

by / August 7, 2009

Dr. David Blumenthal (pictured), national coordinator for health information technology, today discussed some of the advantages of integrated health care records, but admitted changing to an electronic system has its challenges. Blumenthal spoke during a live webcast hosted by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Blumenthal, for example, said that he was ordering a CAT scan on a patient when the computer told him that a similar test had been conducted recently. "Sure enough," he said, "the test had been ordered by another doctor, and as I looked at the results, I didn't need to order that test. I saved the patient the inconvenience and X-Ray exposure, and saved the health care system the money for that duplicate test."

Blumenthal said that is especially important with older patients, who have to manage a number of health issues, who see specialists and may be on a lot of medications. The doctors involved should know what each other are doing so that, for example, they don't give medicines that interact improperly.

"The electronic record," said Blumenthal, "by making all this information available in one place at one time, and easily accessible to the doctor, really can advance the patient's health, make the system more efficient, and reduce premiums over time as a result."

Blumenthal said that in addition to preventing duplicate tests, health IT can reduce costs by reminding doctors about preventive services. "So they don't miss when the mammogram is due, or that influenza immunization. We know that prevention is a very important way of avoiding health care costs." Finally," he said "by making sure that the administration of bills or of claims is more efficient, it can greatly reduce t he waste we all know is part of the administration of our very very complicated health insurance system."

In response to a viewer's concern about the security of electronic medical records, Blumenthal said there were three things being done in that regard. First, he said, everyone should have a choice about whether their information is kept in electronic form or not. Second, he said that the best technology and encryption will be used to ensure privacy and security. And third, he said that medical information should be "de-identified" so that it could be shared for research purposes without compromising personal privacy.

Sebelius also raised the issue of telemedicine during the webcast, saying it is a way to enjoy the benefits of rural living, without giving up access to medical expertise.

Blumenthal said he personally made the switch from paper to electronic records, and says it's not always easy -- that old habits are sometimes difficult to change. However, he said there are stimulus funds to help physicians and hospitals make the transition. Plus, he said, physicians have a commitment to improving patient care, so while it won't be easy, he said he is confident that it will happen, because "it's the right thing to do."

Wayne Hanson Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government