WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) and Bill Frist (search), two senators in the mix of speculation about the White House race in 2008, touted a new medical records bill Thursday that they said is necessary to prevent life-threatening mistakes.
Clinton, a Democrat who led President Clinton's unsuccessful push for substantial health care overhaul in the early 1990s, said the standard of record-keeping in the United States remains "in the Dark Ages" at a time when people can easily access a wide range of information on the Internet.
The bill that Clinton is working on with Frist, the Republican Tennessean who leads his party in the Senate, would try to move the medical community away from what many believe is an over-reliance on paper records.
Clinton, who represents New York, had joined a former Republican foe, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (search), last month to promote the medical-records bill.
Her work with Frist on modernizing health care records began a year ago with a private dinner meeting to talk about health care, they said.
"It's a partnership that I guess surprises some people because we are on two different sides of the aisle," Frist said standing beside Clinton at George Washington University Hospital.
"It should speak loudly to the American people that we are united around this common goal of establishing these inter-operable standards that we know will improve health care in this country," said Frist.
The bill would spend $125 million a year to promote local and regional health information systems to allow some 6,000 hospitals and 9,000 health care providers to better communicate and share patient histories during medical emergencies.
The bill would also increase reimbursement rates paid to doctors who participate in the networks. Some providers have already switched to a paperless record keeping system, but many would like to see the federal government speed the changes and ensure the different technologies being adopted can work together.
The legislation has been criticized by privacy advocates, who say it would be far too lax in protecting patient records.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said expanding medical databases the way Clinton and Frist hope would put more people at risk of identity theft.
Clinton said lawmakers would have to ensure that such electronic records be secure and that confidential information is protected.
She also said hospitals were separately moving toward creating new records-keeping systems, and such steps will only create more confusion and waste without standards for sharing critical data.
The senators began the day pitching their plan together on network television, before visiting the Washington-area hospital and making their case on the Senate floor.
They argue thousands of deaths due to medical mistakes like misreading a prescription could be prevented by the greater use of computer technology, and the change would save billions of dollars over the long term.
"We're really in the Dark Ages," Clinton said on NBC's "Today" show.
"We have to make the case for it," she said. "But I know that both Senator Frist and I are determined to move this legislation because for every month that we wait, people are spending money on these systems which may or may not make the kind of seamless system that we are looking for in this country."
Frist, asked about his and Clinton's possible run for the presidency, replied, "We're both running. I'm running the Senate and she's running for re-election."