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Committee Addresses Need for Interoperability, Security in Emerging Healthcare Information Technologies

Sep 26, 2007
Press Release

(Washington, DC) The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology today held a hearing to examine progress toward the broad implementation of information technology (IT) in healthcare, and the investments in technology and standards development that are needed to create a national system of secure, interoperable healthcare information technology.

"The broad use of IT in the healthcare sector could have far reaching benefits, including cost savings, improved quality of care, and a reduction in the number of medical errors. Today’s lack of an integrated system of health IT is costing us billions of dollars, countless hours in lost time for both providers and patients, and—most tragically of all—patients’ lives,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

To this end, the Committee also addressed the need for legislation aimed at the adoption of such standards - H.R. 2406, a bill authored by Chairman Gordon.

Unlike most other sectors of the economy, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt IT systems. This has led to inconvenient and even life-threatening situations for patients, who today must maintain all of their own health care records, including their medical history and medications. Constantly filling out forms and repeating healthcare histories wastes time and effort for patients and doctors, and is risky because patients often can’t or don’t keep good records, especially in emergencies.

“According to most estimates, a fully interoperable healthcare IT system could save U.S. healthcare tens of billions of dollars a year, and help prevent some of the mistakes that lead to the deaths of over 98,000 patients annually,” added Gordon.

The entry of IT into the healthcare arena to this point has been slow and disjointed. Only 12 percent of practices with five or fewer physicians, where most Americans receive their primary healthcare, have adopted Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs). The healthcare industry spends only two percent of revenues on information technology, much lower than the 10 percent average spending by other information-intensive industries.

Information technology offers enormous potential benefits to U.S. healthcare. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), as many as 98,000 people die in hospitals each year from medical errors such as incorrect medications and improper diagnoses, many of which are preventable. A study by the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society found that as much as 49 percent of clinical diagnostic testing is performed because previous test results are unavailable when needed. Applications of IT to healthcare such as EHRs, computerized ordering of prescriptions and tests, and updated medical information for clinical decision support could potentially save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by reducing medical errors and miscommunication.

H.R. 2406, the Committee’s effort to assure the interoperability of health IT, is based on the recommendations from a President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) report and a report by the National Academies.

The bill:

(1) Directs the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish an initiative for advancing HIT integration and allows it to assist healthcare representatives and organizations and federal agencies in developing technical roadmaps for HIT standards;

(2) Requires NIST to develop or adopt existing technology-neutral guidelines and standards to enable federal agencies to effectively select and use HIT systems that are secure, interoperable, and ensure patient privacy;

(3) Requires the Department of Commerce to establish a Senior Interagency Council on Federal Healthcare Information Technology Infrastructure to coordinate the development and deployment of federal HIT systems, the associated technology transfer, and federal work with private HIT standards development organizations;

(4) Requires NIST to establish a university grant program for multidisciplinary research in HIT-related fields; and

(5) Directs the National High-Performance Computing Program to coordinate federal HIT R&D programs.

Dr. David E. Silverstone, testifying on behalf of the Alliance of Specialty Medicine stated, “We concur that NIST, with its expertise in electronic commerce, information technology, security and privacy, coupled with the healthcare component of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program and its expertise in working with the information technology and healthcare industries, is well equipped to address the technical challenges posed by healthcare information enterprise integration.”

“The goal of this legislation is to build upon and strengthen existing EHR efforts,” concluded Gordon. “Secure interoperable health IT systems are crucial for saving caregivers and patients time and money. Every month and year that goes by without a workable EHR system compromises patient care and increases healthcare costs – and that fact was reaffirmed by our witnesses here today. This legislation does not address all aspects of the complicated healthcare IT issue. However, it does address one critical element – the technical standards that would allow a comprehensive EHR system to be developed and used by the healthcare community.”

For further information on this hearing, including a full list of witnesses and their testimony, please visit the Committee’s webpage by clicking here.

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110.149

110th Congress