Healthcare IT poised to gain ground

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“We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise healthcare’s quality and lower its cost.”
—Barack Obama, 2009 presidential inaugural address

Against the backdrop of a severe global economic downturn, President Obama issued a clarion call on Tuesday for healthcare IT to take center stage in addressing the ever-growing costs of healthcare delivery.

Stakeholders in healthcare IT were quick to seize on Obama’s remarks and urge the administration and Congress to back their words with action.

Mark Leavitt, MD, PhD, chair of the Certification Commission for Health IT (CCHIT), said that a $20 billion investment in healthcare IT would be the "best $20 billion you'll ever spend,” and offered a few spending suggestions, in an open letter to the President and Congress.

“Healthcare payment reform and healthcare IT—twins separated at birth—must grow up and mature together to achieve their full potential,” Leavitt wrote.

According to survey results issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health earlier this month, healthcare provisions of a proposed economic stimulus package ranked ahead of repairing the country’s infrastructure, cutting taxes for the middle class, helping people pay their mortgages and helping large businesses hurt by the recession.

In a letter to Obama dated Dec. 18, 2008, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., proposed that federal funding be distributed to states for healthcare IT initiatives.

“Long-term cost cutting measures, such as the use of electronic medical records, can help stimulate the healthcare economy while providing important groundwork for a larger healthcare proposal in the near future,” Leahy wrote. “Federal funding to help states implement health information technology improvements will encourage needed modernization to health[care] records and provide states the means to promote innovations in this area.”

However, unless the government acts to aggressively fund healthcare IT initiatives, weakening economies are set to push spending on information technology products and services down 3 percent, on a global basis, after seven years of continuous growth, according to a report by Forrester Research, issued last week.

Forrester projected a basic 3 percent growth but said that after allowing for currency fluctuations, the global market for IT products and services would fall 3 percent to $1.66 trillion. Regionally, U.S. purchases of IT goods and services are projected to grow 1.6 percent (without an economic stimulus) in 2009, the company said. The market grew by 8 percent in 2008.

What is the healthcare IT agenda for your practice or institution in 2009? Do you see purchases of new software or hardware in the coming year, or has the economic downturn frozen IT initiatives? Please contact me at the address below with your thoughts and observations; I look forward to hearing from you.

Jonathan Batchelor, Web Editor