White House to request $125 million for healthcare IT

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM

The Bush administration will request $125 million in its fiscal year 2006 budget for healthcare information technology-related projects, President Bush announced Thursday during a trip to the Cleveland Clinic, where he again called for the use of IT to improve efficiency in healthcare.

National Health Information Technology Coordinator David J. Brailer, MD, said Bush is requesting that $50 million in the 2005 budget be reprogrammed to fund Brailer's office, which Congress failed to fund in its 2005 appropriations bill. If Congress approves the reprogramming, that money would be spent on, among other things, further development of regional health information networks, which form the building blocks of a larger national strategy to interconnect hospitals, physicians and patients.

Bush, who was flanked by several physicians, Brailer and incoming HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, restated his vision for providing Americans with electronic medical records within the next 10 years. Describing a scenario in which a patient got into a car accident in another state, Bush said EMRs could help emergency department physicians quickly access the patient's information. "I mean, you can imagine – a speedy response to an emergency saves lives," he said.

Brailer said he believed it is possible for EMRs to be more widely available within the next seven years and called for further development of regional health information organizations. These organizations would form the basis of a larger "medical Internet" where physicians would, with patient consent, securely share information. Brailer also called for more interoperability among IT systems and said healthcare needs a modernized approach to collecting public health information.

Brailer said the goals outlined Thursday did not reflect a change in strategy, but rather a continuation of the government's roadmap, released in July, for getting the healthcare system wired. This is not the first time Bush has made a high-profile visit to a hospital to talk about healthcare IT. But observers say it signals the White House's commitment to these issues and could provide a window into Bush's upcoming State of the Union address.

"I think it's really clear what the president is trying to lay out," said H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. "It reinforces that it (healthcare IT) is a priority for this administration."

Lieber said he would be surprised if Bush did not mention the need for a more wired healthcare system during his upcoming State of the Union address. Bush first outlined his plan for patients to have EMRs within the decade during last year's address.

Janet M. Marchibroda, CEO of the eHealth Initiative, also called the president's trip to the Cleveland Clinic and his call for $125 million in healthcare IT spending "very positive signs."

Before the president's plan can become a reality, a number of challenges remain. Some of those challenges involve getting physicians in small practices, who often can't afford to make IT investments, to adopt EMRs, said C. Martin Harris, MD, and CIO of the Cleveland Clinic. In addition, interoperability among IT systems is a problem, even for wired providers such as the Cleveland Clinic, which uses an EMR and provides services such as online second opinions for patients.

Peter Kaufman, MD, a chief medical officer for e-prescribing and e-messaging vendor DrFirst, applauded the administration for its direction on healthcare IT issues. But he also said there should be action behind the speeches.

"They talk about incentives, but until they do something, it's just talk," he said. "Now they need to back the policies with funding."