Lawmakers speak up for healthcare IT

By Diana Manos
10:46 AM

Push for legislation despite ‘tough year’ in Congress

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress were absorbed this year in federal budget issues and the economy, but not all of them have forgotten the cause of healthcare IT advancement.

“When I came to Congress in 2003, I was not the biggest proponent of health IT,” Rep. Michael Burgess (D-Tex.) told Healthcare IT News in an interview, in advance of his keynote at the HIMSS Policy Summit (in conjunction with National Health IT Week) in Washington in September.

But events after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 changed his mind “in a big way,” he said.

At a field hearing post-Katrina in New Orleans, Burgess said he saw “row after row” of paper records at Charity Hospital turned black from mold. Hazmat protection was required to touch the destroyed documents.

A few days after the hurricane, Burgess assisted other doctors in the Dallas Arena in treating victims of the hurricane. Many were in no condition to remember any of their medical history or the medications they were taking, he said. Walgreens was there with computers loaded on a truck, assisting victims who had used them as a pharmacy. They were able to look up prescription records electronically to get some of a patient’s medical history. “These were powerful images,” Burgess said.

Since then, Burgess has carried the torch for electronic health records. He has co-sponsored a bill to extend HITECH incentives to multi-campus hospitals. It has been “a tough year,” he said, for getting Congress to spend time on healthcare IT, “but it’s coming along.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Phil Gingrey, MD, (R-Ga.) are also congressional spokesmen for healthcare IT. “The adoption of electronic medical records and cutting-edge information technology by the healthcare industry is a win for patients, providers and the American economy at large,” Deutch said. “Health IT is already paying off in Florida, from the adoption of electronic health records in South Florida’s hospitals to the Florida Department of Health’s innovative use of technology to better track pandemics and other threats to public health,” he said.

Gingrey sees HIT as a way to increase the quality of care. “We must focus on reducing waste and medical errors, while maximizing every healthcare dollar spent,” he said.

Both are scheduled to speak at a press briefing during National Health IT Week.