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The Time for Electronic Health Records is Now



Wide use of electronic records could vastly improve patient health care and medical outcomes, streamline the health care system, make it more efficient and save billions of dollars in unnecessary costs. In many respects, it is a lynchpin to health care reform that will be high on the agenda of the new president and Congress. Yet only 17 percent of American doctors are now using electronic health information systems, and public acceptance is lacking.

Healthcare providers who frequently fly blind when it comes to patient medical histories could greatly benefit from instant electronic access to complete patient health records to make proper diagnoses and prescribe proper treatments. Comprehensive electronic digital health record (C-DHR) systems could help healthcare providers track crucial medical information, insurance data, family history, medications, and special conditions. Consumer empowerment will come about as quality information is more transparently provided to consumers.

Yet many doctors and health care systems are not yet convinced of its value, and do not want to incur the expense. Few incentives exist to encourage them to embrace it. There is also public ambivalence stemming from fear that the health records could be used to invade their privacy.

Getting on the fast track and making electronic medical records the norm rather than the exception will require strong leadership in Washington as well as decisive action across multiple levels of government and the health care community.

The Obama administration must make funding for C-DHR a priority, and provide tax incentives to encourage wider use. The new administration also has an opportunity to leverage the size and scale of the federal government as the largest user of health information to become the "market maker" by setting standards for C-DHR and enforcing compliance within the federal interagency health care community.

Establishing Federal standards as the market standard for C-DHR throughout the broader public-private health care environment would drive and enable enormous across-the-board improvement. A C-DHR-enabled Health IT infrastructure is a precondition to making the pending health care reform proposals now being discussed a reality.

This paper outlines the issues at hand, the importance of healthcare IT, and strategies for change. Our recommendations include congressional approval of financial incentives to promote provider C-DHR adoption; the setting of federal standards for C-DHR and the enforcement of compliance within the federal interagency health care community; the implementation of safeguards to establish public trust in the C-DHR privacy and security environment; and improved public education on C-DHR benefits to national health and economy. These steps can and must be taken for the United States to have a more cost effective, efficient 21st century health care system.

This paper was prepared as part of the 2008 ACT-IAC Presidential Transition Project.

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ACT-IAC Report
Health IT