01.24.08

Riverside Man Who Struggled with Broken Health Care System to Join Whitehouse at State of the Union Address

Washington, D.C. - A Riverside man whose struggles with the health care system demonstrate the need for improved health care quality and information technology will attend President Bush's State of the Union Address next week as the guest of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Mike Tracy, a cancer survivor, will fly to Washington Monday afternoon and watch the President's speech from the visitors' gallery of the House of Representatives.

"The victims of medical errors and poor health information technology aren't just statistics - they're people like Mike, and hundreds of thousands of others," Whitehouse said. "If he'd had the benefit of better procedures and an integrated health information technology system, Mike's life could be very different today. I've asked President Bush to significantly increase federal funding for health IT, and I hope he will commit to that on Monday."

Mike Tracy suffered from a misdiagnosed case of squamous cell carcinoma on his foot. His cancer therefore went untreated for several years, and he was told his leg would have to be amputated to prevent the cancer from spreading. After he sought a second opinion at a Boston hospital, his final diagnosis had to be delayed by several weeks in order for his complete records to be transferred from Providence. His amputation surgery was eventually successful and Mike now uses a prosthetic limb. Fortunately, he has been cancer-free since his surgery, but struggled financially for several years with health care premiums so high they exceeded his monthly mortgage payments.

"A mistaken diagnosis changed my life forever. Paper medical records meant I had to wait in limbo - knowing my life was in danger - while my chart was transferred from one hospital to another. Nobody should have to go through an experience like this," said Tracy. "We need to fix the health care system."

A fully-interoperable, nationwide health information infrastructure could drastically improve patient care, by giving doctors on-the-spot information and data to support diagnoses and other decisions; preventing avoidable medical errors; connecting doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals to allow medical records to be transferred electronically; and allowing health care facilities to track inpatients' recovery progress. Conservative estimates of possible savings from a national health information technology system reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

Despite the potential benefits, a lack of investment has slowed progress towards a nationwide, interoperable health IT system. For fiscal year 2008, the Bush administration requested only $118 million - a fraction of the potential savings - in funding for the Office of the National Coordinator, the agency within the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) that coordinates the federal government's health information technology efforts. A sizable increase of this funding could help speed the development of a national health IT system.

Earlier this month, Whitehouse wrote to President Bush asking that he increase federal funding for health information technology in next year's budget. The founder of the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a leader in the state's efforts to improve health care quality and health information technology utilization, Whitehouse has also introduced Senate legislation to establish a private, non-profit corporation tasked with developing a national, interoperable, secure health IT system (S. 1455).

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