WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday that the medical industry is behind the times, using paper and pen for many records and prescriptions when computerized records could reduce cost and errors.
"Most industries in America have used information technology to make their businesses more cost effective, more efficient and more productive. And the truth of the matter is, health care hasn't," Bush said during a forum at the Cleveland Clinic (search). "We've got fantastic new pharmaceuticals that help save lives, but we've got docs still writing records by hand."
The White House announced that it will propose that the federal government spend $125 million in next year's budget to test computerization of health records. The government is spending $50 million on this in the current budget year, and Bush is also asking Congress to double that amount for 2005.
The Cleveland Clinic has been helping the government develop standards for computerization and Bush heard from doctors who joined him on stage to praise the technology. The hospital uses the Internet to give patients second opinions online for cancer, heart disease and other conditions and also provides health information aimed at eliminating the time and expense of hospital visits.
Doctors also use computers to order tests and drugs, which has been shown in studies to reduce medical errors and catch patient drug allergies. Nurses use computers to track patients as they go through the hospital.
"Very impressive," Bush said as a doctor showed him a chest x-ray and other patient information on three computer screens.
But for every hospital making advancements like the Cleveland Clinic, there are many that still use the old-fashioned paper methods.
Bush campaigned on the issue last year. He said his goal is for a majority of Americans to have computerized records in 10 years.
Bush appointed Dr. David Brailer to help coordinate the move. Brailer said if Americans' lives can improve by using eBay, there are great benefits to a sort of "medical Internet" where they can retrieve their personal health care information.
Brailer said an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people die every year from medical errors and contended that centralized data could help doctors and patients keep better track of treatment. He said while many medical records are computerized, such as lab results, drug data and even accounts of office visits in text files, they are not organized or standardized in a format that can be shared.
Brailer acknowledged great challenges to implementing a system available nationwide. All medical workers will need to have compatible technology, and converting records to such a system can be a costly hassle. Privacy and security must be ensured so that only those with patient consent have access to the records, he said.
Bush said he is sensitive to privacy concerns. "I presume I'm like most Americans. I think my medical records to be private. I don't want people looking at them, I don't want people, you know, opening them up unless I say it's fine for you to do so," he said.
Brailer said the government needs to develop incentives to get doctors online. The government has already awarded grants to encourage the transition.
"I think health care is without a doubt the last industry to go through a broad information revolution," he said. "It's a big revolutionary change to doctors."