Congressman promotes western NY tech economy

By Anthony Brino
12:47 PM

While most of Washington D.C. is engulfed in fiscal cliff negotiations, Congressman Brian Higgins, a Democrat from western New York, is urging lawmakers to support wider use of electronic health records and is also touting his home region’s somewhat bustling health IT economy.

Citing the benefits of EHRs and health information exchange during disasters like Hurricane Sandy, Higgins said lawmakers should “encourage the widespread adoption of health information technology and to assist in its expansion across the country.”

Higgins’ remarks come after some controversy earlier this year over the federal government’s health IT incentive programs, with several Republican lawmakers calling for an end to meaningful use EHR payments, amid overbilling concerns.

It’s unclear whether federal health IT spending will be affected by whatever “grand bargain” the President and Congress devise, and it’s also not clear whether there’s any political appetite for expanding the meaningful use program, or whether any expansion of its scope or payments will be needed to get the majority of American providers wired with EHR systems by the end of the decade.

[See also: GAO follows EHR incentive money trail]

But Higgins health IT clarion call does hint at how the federal health IT stimulus has steered providers towards EHRs, and how some of the spending has benefited the economies of areas like Buffalo. A city that struggled amid industrial decline, Buffalo is now seeing a revitalization, with growth in several technology sectors, as Higgins noted.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a multi-institution research and clinical center, opened the $300 million Gates Vascular Institute in 2009, operated by Kaleida Health, with EHR systems integrated into all of its sub-practices.

The multinational firm Dell also has a $15 million partnership with the University of Buffalo to expand the Medical Campus’ supercomputer center and build out its health IT analytic capabilities.

The Buffalo-based IT firm Computer Task Group has been working for health systems across the country on a variety of contracts for EHR implementation and updating, health plan business processing and health information exchange.

And western New York is home to one of 11 sites selected by the Department of Veterans Affairs to participate in the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record program, which links veterans with both VA and private physicians via the HEALTHeLINK HIE.