New bill aims to jump-start healthcare IT efforts; Jose King Act tabled for now

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A new bill soon to be put forth by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) aims to assist the development of regional health information networks starting at the local and regional level.

The 21st Century Health Information Act would help the financing of health information technology (IT) acquisition and implementation by physicians and hospitals, Michael Zamore, policy advisor for Congressman Kennedy, told Health Imaging News and looks to a day when ultimately these local networks will become regional networks and then national networks, all interconnected throughout the country.

According to Zamore, the thinking behind the proposed legislation is that though there is a lot of interest in health IT issues, it's not as focused as it could be. Few people clearly see how these IT initiatives can be achieved on such a broad scale. The hope is the bill will provoke the focus and energy needed, and be a vehicle by which local healthcare organizations can begin building the interoperability of networks as well as address the issue of dissemination of IT.

The bill would create grants for providers as one of the main mechanisms to jump-start the process. The grants would help fund the process from the community-level up, with the goal of invigorating local healthcare community stakeholders who can address the issues themselves rather than forcing a universal solution on to everyone, Zamore said.
   
Beyond the grants, a good deal of remaining investment for these initiatives will inevitably have to come from the private sector.

The IT provisions in this bill are similar to those initially set forth in the Josie King Act, first introduced by Kennedy in July 2004, which was named after an 18-month old child who died of preventable medical errors caused by a medical order that could not be read.

Essentially, the IT components were taken out in order to provide something that is more realistically achievable this year, Zamore said.

The Josie King Act covers a good deal more than information technology, and would provide a number of structural changes to the way providers practice medicine such as reduce duplication and errors, provide best practices for providers, and pay-for-performance, among a number of other things. Kennedy's plan is to re-introduce the Josie King Act later this year.