BALTIMORE – When it comes to patients' health records, the United States hasn't left the "buggy era," President Bush said Tuesday at a veterans hospital.
"On the research side, we're the best," Bush told about 120 guests, including veterans, health care professionals, doctors from Johns Hopkins Hospital (search) and the staff from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. "We're coming up with more innovative ways to save lives. ... On the providers' side, we're kind of still in the buggy era."
The president has set a goal of assuring that most Americans have electronic health records within the next 10 years. To address issues of privacy, Bush said enrollment would be voluntary: "Your records are private if that's the way you want them to be."
Bush also is creating a national health information technology coordinator (search), a sub-Cabinet-level position, at the Health and Human Services Department. He said the federal government will set technical standards for the switch from paper to electronic medical records by the end of the year, so that doctors and hospitals can share patient records nationwide.
The Veterans Affairs Department (search) began automating information systems in its medical facilities in 1985, and its hospital in Baltimore implemented a computerized patient record system for clinical use in 1997, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who accompanied Bush to Baltimore, said the standards are being set so that doctors and other medical personnel nationwide use common terminology.
"If you're traveling from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., or to Texas and you have an accident, you're going to go into the hospital, you may be knocked out, but what's going to be able to happen - once we get this uniform medical records (search) and this automation - you're going to be able to go into the hospital in Texas and they're going to be able to download, immediately, your record."
Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, who also was with Bush, said medical records for veterans often aren't available to health care professionals when and where they need them.
"One in every seven hospital admissions and 20 percent of lab tests occur because the medical information - the health records - are not available to the clinician," Principi said. "More than one of every seven hospitalizations is complicated by medical prescription errors."