President Bush continues EHR push, sets national goals

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush continued to demonstrate his commitment to improving the nation's healthcare information technology today, calling for widespread adoption of electronic health records in 10 years, doubling funding to $100 million for demonstration projects on healthcare IT, and creating a new sub-Cabinet position of National Health Information Coordinator.

Bush delivered his remarks to about 2,000 community college, business and other leaders attending the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention in Minneapolis

According to a White House document released Monday, the president "believes that innovations in electronic health records and the secure exchange of medical information will help transform healthcare in America." The briefing memo says Bush envisions "a dramatically changed system" in which patients carry their healthcare information on a keychain and can authorize any physician or clinician to access their full records electronically. Finally the system would serve as a sentinel to alert public health authorities of a possible disease outbreak or bioterror attack.

The new political appointee will head the office of the National Health Information Infrastructure under the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Tommy Thompson. He or she will guide ongoing work on healthcare information standards and champion efforts to support adoption of healthcare information technology in the private sector.

The appointee will also be charged with coordinating partnerships between government agencies and private sector stakeholders to speed the adoption of such technology.

Bush and Thompson are expected to name an appointee to the position on Tuesday. The appointee requires Congressional approval.

Officials with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society deemed Bush's latest announcements substantive.

"HIMSS has been calling for the formation of this office for 18 months," said Thomas M. Leary, director of federal affairs for HIMSS.

"We've supported Rep. Nancy Johnson's call for the office (HR 2915) and it is one of our top three advocacy priorities."

According to the HHS, the president is calling for the completion and adoption of standards that "will allow medical information to be stored and shared electronically while assuring privacy and security." In an apparent reference to last week's HL7 EHR vote, HHS asserts that much of the "necessary work is already well under way and much of it has already been completed."

The Bush administration specifically referred to standards for electronically transmitting X-rays, lab results and electronic prescriptions.

As for funding, Bush's plan would double the $50 million set aside in the FY 2004 budget for local and regional grants to organizations creating systems to share healthcare information. The $100 million in the proposed 2005 budget would be aimed at demonstration projects to "test the effectiveness of health information technology and establish best practices for more widespread adoption in the health care industry."

The 10-year plan also calls on federal programs, as some of the largest payers in the country, to create incentives and opportunities for healthcare providers to use electronic medical records. According to the memo, "The President will direct these agencies to review their policies and programs and propose modifications and new actions, and to forward the recommendations to him within 90 days."