The status quo in healthcare practices today are not sustainable, and what we need are bold initiatives to help spread health IT initiatives across the country, first at the local level and then on to the national stage. That was the main message of Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) who spoke this week to a collection of healthcare stakeholders in both opening remarks and a keynote address as part of the 2005 Frontiers of Health Care Conference on Monday.
The conference, which took place at Brown University in Providence, R.I., was jointly presented by the University and Kennedy.
During his keynote, Kennedy laid out his broad vision of how health IT can help the ills of the current system, asking the question "if we pay all of this money, what are we getting for it?" His answer is that we are getting an efficient and potentially dangerous system and used the phrase "paper kills" to knock the point home.
The opposite of the current system are systems with potentially huge benefits such as EMRs (electronic medical records) and other technologies which assist caregivers to give patients the right treatment at the right time, since resulting healthcare mistakes can be deadly.
Additionally, electronic information sharing, which can spread data about the latest treatments to physicians in all parts of the country, will help level the playing field in doctor performances, he said.
The congressman then went on to describe some of the key points behind his the 21st Century Health Information Act (H.R. 2234) which he recently introduced along with Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and which has widespread bi-partisan support.
The bill sets out a very general structure through which the proliferation of IT initiatives throughout the country can get jump-started -- first at the local level and then hopefully across the country. The bill sets out a means to accomplish this via an assortment of grants and loans.
As a result of the legislation, Kennedy said he hopes there will be a number of benefits such as improvements in clinical decision-making, patient empowerment, increased efficiency and outcomes research will be expanded. A 'National Quality Forum' should also be created to develop quality improvement strategies for enterprises, Kennedy said.
Yet the audience, made up of caregivers, employers, patients and academics, tried to pin down the congressman on details regarding privacy issues, how small practices fit in, the possibility of Medicare just stepping in and creating a model which everyone would have to follow, along with a number of other issues.
In response, Kennedy repeatedly emphasized that the bill was created as a general structure to support the decisions that must be made at the community level, and when he said community he meant the people he was speaking to, and professionals just like them in other parts of the country.
Along those lines, Rhode Island, given its small size and the headway that the state has already made with the aid of organizations such as the Rhode Island Quality Institute, is exactly the kind of relatively small regional area that could be used as a model for the rest of the country, Kennedy said.
A number of high profile figures have come out in support for the bill, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, (R-Tenn.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Sen. Clinton has said that she will soon propose a similar bill to the Senate.