01.08.08

Whitehouse Tours Kent Hospital Electronic Health System, Urges President Bush to Increase Health IT Funding

National Health IT Infrastructure Could Cut Costs, Save Lives

Warwick, R.I. - At a briefing today on a new electronic health records system at Kent Hospital, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called on President George W. Bush to increase federal funding for health information technology in next year's budget.

"An electronic health records system holds the potential for improved care coordination, fewer medical errors, and massive cost reductions. These changes will improve, and often save, lives," Whitehouse wrote to Bush today. "I strongly urge you to vastly increase the funding level [for health IT] and make health information technology a top priority in your FY 2009 budget."

Technology can significantly improve the quality, efficiency, and cost of health care - from electronic prescribing systems linking doctors and pharmacies, to individual electronic health records that give patients better access to, and control over, their personal medical information. 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 for Health Information Technology, the agency within the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) that coordinates the federal government's health information technology efforts. Increasing this funding could help speed the development of a national health IT system.

In states like Rhode Island, many local organizations that understand the enormous potential benefits of health IT have begun working to implement their own systems. Kent Hospital, which Whitehouse visited today, is part of a collaborative project of Rhode Island's Care New England hospitals to implement CNErgy, a comprehensive, integrated electronic health records system aimed at improving patient care and eliminating many of the problems associated with paper-based recordkeeping. Whitehouse visited Kent Hospital's intensive care unit, where CNErgy technology is being used to track patients' recovery progress and prevent avoidable medical errors linked to prescription drugs, such as mistaken dosages and harmful drug interactions. Lifespan has also developed computerized physician order entry (CPOE) and is a recognized leader in health information technology.

As Rhode Island's Attorney General, Whitehouse founded the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a leader in the state's efforts to improve health care quality and health information technology utilization. Last year, he 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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