Obama gives HIT the nod in State of the Union speech

By Diana Manos
11:38 PM

In a broad State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama hailed the information age in America and the need for the federal government to support IT innovation.

"In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives, it’s how we make a living," he said. "Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS."

In 2009, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, supporting healthcare IT innovators for developing and healthcare providers for adopting healthcare IT. Many observers have said without this support, the healthcare industry would not make it over the tipping point to health information exchange.

[Read more about ARRA funding for healthcare IT.]

The Obama Administration has faced a steep uphill battle with Republicans over the federal deficit, and he took the issue head on in his speech, siding with Republicans in the need for fiscal responsibility. As in the past, he nodded toward keeping programs that could help to lower costs in the future. For healthcare, this means the advancement of healthcare IT to lower costs and increase quality of care. It also means retaining grant programs such as the Beacon Communities, state HIE exchanges and accountable care organization pilots – all funded as part of the Accountable Care Act.

"I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without," he said. "But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.

Obama called for the expansion of America's infrastructure, including high-speed wireless connection in rural areas. "Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans," he said. "This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. More broadband access means patients will be able to have face-to-face video chats with their doctors."

[See more ways the digital age has improved patient care.]

Obama said America has made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. "Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse," he added.

Justin Barnes, chairman emeritus of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's EHR Association and vice president of government affairs at Greenway Medical, has been closely tied with advising the White House and Congress on healthcare IT since 2003.

"This is the eighth year in a row that healthcare IT has been a part or prominent part of the president’s State of the Union Address," Barnes noted following the speech. "While the debate will certainly continue on exactly how we go about creating and implementing policy, it was very encouraging to hear the increased vigor supporting additional investments in innovation around biomedical research and information technology."

Despite a rousing speech, the proof will be in the policies, Barnes said. "That is certainly what keeps many of us engaged to collaborate and help educate while watching out for how these policies can effect care providers, patients, hospitals and all of us as taxpayers. I believe we all have the common goal though to create a smarter, more sustainable healthcare system in America."

Follow Diana Manos on Twitter @DManos_IT_News.

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