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Health Information Technology: Paving the Way to Improved Patient Care

By:  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Huffington Post

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower started an interstate highway system to link our country, from Rhode Island to California. To this day, the interstate system remains the heart of our country's road infrastructure, supporting travel, commerce and transportation. This public investment paid off in long-term social and economic benefits for all Americans.

Health care offers a new opportunity to build a lasting national infrastructure that will -- like our interstate highway system -- connect individuals, create new economic opportunities and improve the quality and efficiency of our current system. That infrastructure is health information technology (IT).

Despite heated political debates on the future of our health care system, there is bipartisan agreement that health IT can be a powerful tool to transform and modernize the delivery of health care in our country. Health IT is about helping patients and their loved ones. Any patient who has a serious illness requiring multiple doctors understands the frustration of lost medical charts, repeated procedures, or having to share the same information over and over with different doctors and nurses. Health IT helps save lives now lost due to preventable medical errors, from incorrect diagnoses and needless infections to drug mix-ups and surgical mishaps. As important, health IT will support the use of the most successful treatments, so that we use best practices to narrow the wide discrepancies in the quality of care Americans receive.

These core principles -- helping patients, preventing medical errors, promoting best practices and improving quality -- are the reasons that health IT is featured in both the 2012 Republican platform and 2012 Democratic platform. Both parties recognize the long-term benefits from investments in health IT for our economy and for the health of the Americans we serve.

The U.S. is already moving ahead with the deployment of a strong health IT network. This movement was spurred by the federal investment included in the 2009 Recovery Act. It is supported by the smart delivery system reforms of the Affordable Care Act, such as paying for quality of care, not just quantity, and better coordination of care for patients with multiple illnesses. Thousands of practitioners and hospitals across the country are leaving cumbersome paper records behind and making electronic health records the new norm. In my home state, the nonprofit Rhode Island Quality Institute has emerged as a national leader helping doctors put information technology to work for their patients.

So what does this mean for you, as a patient? As I noted in a report earlier this year, health IT is at the heart of a growing movement to help improve the sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and private coverage by improving the quality of care you receive while reducing the costs. In the long term, a robust health IT network will support personalized treatment that adheres to proven best practices, and adapts to your personal health circumstances. The time will come when, whatever illness you may have, for your body type and health history, there will "be an app for that" to keep you on your best path to wellness.

For all these reasons, I look forward to taking part in the seventh annual National Health IT Week, which began on Monday, September 10. This series of events highlights health IT developments, success stories and innovators. The breadth of the policy discussion and excitement among participants makes it clear that the national health IT movement is picking up steam and driving positive change in our health care system. Please join me in recognizing National Health IT Week as we work to build the technology infrastructure that will carry the American health care system into the future.