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Press Releases :: March 26, 2009

Chairman Gordon Comments on NEJM study on Electronic Medical Records

(Washington, DC)—This week the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that identified a low rate of adoption of electronic medical records. The study cited the cost of programs, the lack of interoperability, and a lack of training as reasons for the low adoption rate.

The Recovery Package included funding to incentivize the adoption of health IT by healthcare providers. More importantly, it provided for the establishment of standards that ensure interoperability and security in electronic healthcare records. This includes the work of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which helped establish similar standards for the financial and banking industry during the transition to online banking. The legislation also included provisions for training doctors to use the systems. NIST will later determine the procedure to certify product compliance, once the standards are in place.

Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) offered the following statement:

“This study, which shows a low rate of adoption of health IT, identifies a challenge we have taken practical steps to address. Establishing the standards to ensure security and interoperability of health IT systems, as the Recovery Package funded, will be more effective if it’s done on the front end, before every doctor’s office has a different system. Just as we wouldn’t start an intercontinental railroad without deciding where the sides will meet and how wide the rails should be, having standards is the first step.

The long-term benefit in the transition to electronic healthcare records will be for the patients. Our current system often relies on the patient to be the record keeper. Every appointment begins with questions about medications and medical history. The quality of care the patient receives may depend on his (or his family’s) ability to answer that question, including recalling detailed information about drugs names and dosages. Physicians often get responses like, ‘I take a red pill in the morning, a capsule at noon, and a football-shaped pill at night.’ Not an ideal system.

As our population ages and we see more specialists to treat a variety of illnesses, the importance of maintaining a comprehensive record of all medications a patient is taking—prescription and over the counter—will only increase. From antibiotics, to statins, to heartburn medications, common drugs that are very safe taken separately can have severe consequences when combined—from cardiac arrhythmia, to birth control failure, to internal bleeding.

Replacing paper medical records with secure and interconnected electronic records will improve care: multiple doctors treating the same patient will have accurate and timely information; doctors can share test results with colleagues across the country for consultation; and we’ll reduce the need to (and cost of) repeat tests because results are not readily available.

But that is only the first step. We’ll be laying the foundation to take advantage of advances in technology, especially in managing chronic disease. Companies are working toward glucose and blood pressure monitors that report back to physicians. Doctors will then be able monitor and develop a comprehensive picture of their patient’s diabetes or hypertension, instead of the snapshot when the patient is in the office.

Maintaining the status quo is not an option. The American public and our dedicated healthcare professionals deserve better.”

For more information, including on the Committee’s work on Health IT, please see the Committee’s website.

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