Blumenthal open letter seeks support for ONC's health IT plans

By Healthcare IT News
09:59 AM

Healthcare IT chief David Blumenthal has joined the White House e-mail campaign for healthcare reform with a public letter sent via e-mail expounding the virtues of electronic health record systems as a critical piece of transformation.

Blumenthal’s e-mail Wednesday follows one sent last week by senior White House adviser David Axelrod aimed at countering what he called “the viral e-mails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies and distortions.”

This initiative will lower costs, improve the practice of medicine and result in more reliable, efficient care, the letter says. It will also be "daunting" and "hard for some clinicians and hospitals," Blumenthal concedes.

"The goal of assuring an electronic health record for every American is daunting," he says. "We at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) do not pretend otherwise. We know this will be hard for some clinicians and hospitals, and we stand ready to help with resources provided by the Congress and the Administration."

The positive benefits of a transition to a "modernized, interconnected, and vastly improved system of care delivery" are worth the struggle, he says.

"As a primary care physician for over 30 years, I spent the first twenty shuffling papers in search of missing studies and frequently hoping, during middle-of-the-night emergencies, that I knew enough about patients’ medical histories to make good decisions," says Blumenthal. "All that changed when I began to have access to patients’ electronic medical records."

Blumenthal urges readers to support ONC's upcoming work under the HITECH Act, and pledges to keep Americans updates and "fully engaged" in the process.

The full text of the letter appears below.

Electronic Health Records and the 21st Century Health Care System

A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

In my role as National Coordinator for Health IT, I have the privilege to be part of a transformative change in health care that will help to extend the benefits of health information technology (HIT) to all Americans.  With the passage earlier this year of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, we have the tools to begin a major transformation in American health care made possible through the creation of a secure, interoperable nationwide health information network. 

Of course, this system is not an end in itself.  Rather, it will enable countless other improvements in the quality and efficiency of health care that will make Americans healthier and their economy stronger.

My personal belief in this transformation is not based on theory or conjecture. As a primary care physician for over 30 years, I spent the first twenty shuffling papers in search of missing studies and frequently hoping, during middle-of-the-night emergencies, that I knew enough about patients’ medical histories to make good decisions.  All that changed when I began to have access to patients’ electronic medical records.  It made me a much better doctor.  I would never go back, and neither would the vast majority of American physicians who have made the leap into the electronic age.

In fact, it would be hard for any health professional today to escape the conclusion that the antiquated, paper-dominated system we now have in place isn’t working well for patients, creates added costs and inefficiencies, and isn’t sustainable.  As we look at our nation’s annual health care expenditures of approximately $2.5 trillion, there are many ways our current system fails both patients and providers.  It is clear that change is necessary.  

But how and why is nationwide electronic health information exchange so critical to achieving such change?  Most importantly, because it provides the best opportunity for each patient to receive optimal care.  The technology will make patients’ complete medical information securely and reliably available to health care providers where and when it is needed – when clinician and patient are together facing medical decisions that can make a lasting difference. 

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