Finally, a form of health care reform that will save us money and lives. No, I'm not talking about the massive, complex, and costly bill that passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee at the end of July.  I'm talking about efforts by the Obama administration — and a multitude of supporters, including NEMA — to jump-start the transition to health information technology (HIT).  Yesterday, Vice President Biden announced an infusion of $1.2 billion in federal grants to help medical providers purchase and use new technologies for this purpose.

How will HIT reduce our costs and improve our health?  As David Blumenthal, HHS' National Coordinator for Health IT, puts it:

Broad use of HIT has the potential to improve health care quality, prevent medical errors, increase the efficiency of care provision and reduce unnecessary health care costs, increase administrative efficiencies, decrease paperwork, expand access to affordable care, and improve population health.

For an example of how this works, take medical records. Why, in the year 2009, do so many physicians and hospitals still rely on putting notes on paper and storing them in metal filing cabinets — where they are inaccessible to hospitals, other physicians, and patients? My bank certainly doesn't do business that way anymore.  Let's digitize our electronic records the way we've digitized every other critical piece of data, and give our medical providers the ability to prevent redundant tests and to share information with others on a worldwide basis.

You might ask, "What does NEMA know about HIT?"  Well, our medical imaging members — the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance — will play a significant role in this evolution. They own the global standard — DICOM — that for years has allowed doctors and hospitals to transfer medical images (from X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and the like) from coast to coast and beyond.  That's the kind of uniform communications protocol that will be invaluable when it comes to shipping other health information as well.

In the past decade information technology has helped every other industry in our society become more efficient and effective . It's time for IT to make medicine more efficient and effective as well.


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