Bubbling to the Top

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Healthcare IT is in the news again this month with the introduction of the 21st Century Health Information Act - the first bipartisan bill to address the major elements and try to spur adoption of electronic health records (and the "systemic obstacles and misaligned incentives that have hindered health information technology adoption," in the words of the official release).

Sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the House bill proposes to charge regional health information organizations with convening healthcare stakeholders to develop health information networks, mechanisms for financing physician IT adoption, and plans to use the network to thus improve patient safety, privacy and overall efficiency. It would set up and support 20 competitive, three-year grants to craft plans to meet these goals. It also would increase Medicare reimbursements for some physicians participating in regional networks and require that federal funds only be used to purchase IT products certified as meeting interoperability standards. It was expected the proposed funds would be in the area of $125 million, the figure President Bush proposed for his FY06 budget.

Murphy and Kennedy co-chair the 21st Century Health Care Caucus, a bi-partisan group of about two dozen House members working to expand IT to improve healthcare. The two were among 29 members of Congress to send a letter this spring to leaders of the House Budget Committee asking for adequate funding for an interoperable healthcare information system in the fiscal 2006 budget.

So are you feeling political? Bill supporters are urging letters of support be sent from patients, physicians, hospitals, other providers, health plans, employers, vendors (read as: anyone!) to michael.zamore@mail.house.gov (Kennedy) and michael.baxter@mail.house.gov (Murphy). And call or email your Congressman to urge they sign on as a co-sponsor. Or write a letter to the editor or an op-ed for your local newspaper.

Talk on the bill, and especially its interoperability demands, will likely be heard around the hallways, exhibit floor and educational sessions at the Society of Computer Applications in Radiology meeting in Orlando in early June, too. SCAR expects to bring together about 2,500 attendees - building mindshare and working to conquer the essential details of the image-enabled EHR, such as image overload and quality, large datasets and new fused modalities. For more information on the meeting, visit www.scarnet.org. Hope to see you there!