Senator presses on behavorial health

'Some people got left out'
By Tom Sullivan
10:49 AM
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

The federal government could do a better job helping to transform the nation's healthcare system, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island,  said at a Capitol Hill press conference Sept. 18. The conference was part of the HIMSS HIT Policy Summit here during National Health IT Week. “We could be doing a better job of supporting those leading states that could make something that goes viral," Whitehouse said.

[See also: Whitehouse says health IT will be 'the backbone' of reform.]

While he praised the HITECH Act for its accomplishments, Whitehouse explained that despite the law’s successes, “some people got left out,” namely patients with providers who focus on behavioral health and, in turn, the patients they treat. The problem is that we as a nation spend $300 billion annually on behavioral health and, worse, people who suffer from behavioral or mental health conditions also often have multiple health issues.

“Today I re-filed the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act,” Sheldon said, adding that patients who don't deal with all their health issues ultimately cost everyone more. 

[See also: Bill to extend MU incentives to behavioral healthcare providers.]

Behavioral health was only one of Whitehouse’s messages, the other being HIE. The Senator said that Americans “simply have to have a robust HIE system in place,” adding that it will pay back “in ways we can’t even imagine.”

Another piece of a successful nationwide HIE will be ubiquitous telehealth. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) was also at the press conference. Honda has been working to establish, via legislation, the Office of Wireless Health within the FDA that focuses on to establish bring clarity to a confusing matter on a national level. “A lot of folks in the field of medicine, sometimes they have a good idea but they don't know where to go,” for information on developing it into a prototype or how to get funding, Honda said.

He added that with telehealth technologies “we’ve made a lot of gains in technology to collapse time and space,” but done little to reduce wait times to see doctors or the days between diagnosis and treatment.

Honda also joked that technology changes our behaviors, our brains. Whereas he used to remember 50 or 60 people’s phone numbers, now cell phones do that for us.

“I left my iPhone at home,” he cracked. “So now I’m deaf, dumb, and stupid.”

While healthcare and the policy around it might seem “wonky, technical and remote” to many Americans, Sen. Whitehouse argued otherwise.

“It’s not,” he said. “We have a healthcare system that [swallows] nearly 18 percent of the GDP.”

Analyst firms such as Rand put the potential for cost-savings at $700 billion annually. “Multiply by that by ten like we do on the budget committee” for long-range planning, Whitehouse added, and “we’re talking real money.”