Legislation Introduced to Integrate U.S. Healthcare/Patient Information Technologies

"Healthcare is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, but it's also the only major sector that hasn't fully integrated information technology."

by / May 23, 2007

U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon has introduced legislation authorizing the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish guidelines and mechanisms to promote the integration of the healthcare information enterprise in the United States.

"The U.S. boasts the finest healthcare system in the world, yet doctors and patients still don't have access to comprehensive health information. Healthcare is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, but it's also the only major sector that hasn't fully integrated information technology," said Gordon.

Gordon's bill -- H.R. 2406 -- is based upon comments gathered from industry stake-holders, patient advocates and widely-acknowledged recommendations made by both the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in their report, Revolutionizing Healthcare through Information Technology as well as the National Academies report, Building a Better Delivery System: A New Engineering/Health Care Partnership.

The adoption of electronic healthcare records and other health-related IT has been slow. In general the health care industry invests only about 2 percent of its revenues in IT. Other information intensive industries, such as financial services, invest approximately 10 percent of revenues.

"Current federal efforts have made slow progress in this arena and in this age of rapid technological advancement, that's unacceptable. This bill, and the development of interoperability specifications, is the logical first step in deploying and utilizing IT in our health system," said Gordon.

Interoperability allows different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use that information. Likewise, interoperable healthcare IT systems enable the access and real-time sharing of patient records. To accomplish this, IT systems involved must use common standards for data transmission, medical terminology, security and other features.

Studies suggest that eliminating errors related to paperwork and enabling better communication between health care providers could improve treatment and lower costs in the health care industry. According to a study in the Annals of Family Medicine (July/August 2004), miscommunication is a major cause of 80 percent of medical errors. Among other advantages, providing doctors with access to electronic health records could reduce duplicate medical tests and adverse drug interactions, and provide health care workers with instant access to a patient's medical history in emergency situations.

In addition to a assuring the continuity of medical data and information, a January 2005 study in Health Affairs found that a fully interoperable national health IT network could yield $77 billion per year in savings -- or 5 percent of America's annual health care spending.

"We need bold and aggressive efforts to develop a system that works for all stakeholders involved. If we can establish standards and use technology, we can improve quality of treatment and begin to bring healthcare costs down for hardworking Americans," added Gordon.

H.R. 2406 contains a Healthcare Information Enterprise Integration Initiative that builds upon the work already underway at NIST on electronic healthcare records, providing NIST with greater authority to work with both the user community and the technology community to support the development of standards and tests required to ensure that a fully interoperable electronic healthcare record system is developed -- making certain that standards, interoperability, privacy and security measures are in place.

The bill also establishes a federal healthcare information technology systems infrastructure. Currently the largest electronic healthcare records systems are operated by the federal government at the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However, these systems are not widely interoperable.

"The federal government should serve as a model of how health IT interoperability can work," said Gordon. "We can't expect the private sector to progress in this arena if the federal government can't get a handle on it in our own backyard. The federal government has the largest system of healthcare records in use, yet there's been little, if any, progress in the last few years in developing an interoperable system between federal agencies and their transaction partners."

"Likewise, no coordinated research is being done in anticipation of the next generation of medical technologies," concluded Gordon, referring to the final section of the bill which addresses research and development programs. Just as a cohesive electronic health records system is developed based upon existing technologies, the bill recognizes the fact that a research program must also be established to anticipate the next generation of healthcare technologies.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Science and Technology.