How bipartisan is health IT?

President Obama’s stimulus legislation included the HITECH Act and led to meaningful use.

Earlier this year, a Washington think tank whose healthcare wing is led by two former Senate Majority Leaders, put its weight behind more widespread use of IT in healthcare organizations nationwide.

"To deliver high-quality, cost-effective care, a physician or hospital needs good information," said former Republican senator Bill Frist, MD, upon the release of a report, on Jan. 27, from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Delivery System Reform and Health IT. "There is strong bipartisan support for health IT," added Frist's old senate colleague, Democrat Tom Daschle.

Healthcare reform is arguably the hot-button political issue of our time. And with the Supreme Court set to decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act this summer, it's a safe bet that controversial legislation will have a big impact on the 2012 election and beyond.

But what about health IT? If "Obamacare" has been a lightning rod, Washington's efforts to spur healthcare information technology might seem to enjoy much broader support, on both sides of the aisle.

But is that support really as bipartisan as so many in the industry say it is nowadays? Especially when adoption of EHRs and establishment of HIEs are being spurred in large part by money from the very federal stimulus program against which the Tea Party rose up to protest?

"When we're up on Capitol Hill, one of the big frustrations is this lack of bipartisanship in general," said Dave Roberts, vice president for government relations at HIMSS. "How do you create bipartisan conversations? Unfortunately, the system has broken down so much that they're not finding a lot of things they can talk about."

Strikingly, however, health information technology is "one of the extremely few areas where there still does appear to be consensus," he said. "I personally think one of the reasons is that you have people on both sides of the aisle who see its value."

Healthcare got just cursory mentions in President Obama's State of the Union address earlier this month. But in years past, both health reform and health IT, have taken much more central roles. In 2011, for example he touted a new era where "patients will be able to have face-to-face video chats with their doctors," and "Veterans can download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse."

But Obama's predecessor has also given the rhetorical nod to health IT – in no fewer than three separate State of the Union addresses. "We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors," exhorted George W. Bush in his 2006 speech. And these were more than just words: He had established the office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology by executive order in 2004.

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