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Wednesday, January 31, 2007





Economists tell lawmakers
there's no windfall in health IT
Two influential economists yesterday told federal lawmakers that the widespread implementation of e-prescribing tools and electronic health records may only have a marginal effect on savings -- and could conversely result in increased costs.

Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute, and Eugene Steuerle, a senior fellow also from the institute, both challenged industry estimates that adoption of health information technology could trim billions of dollars from ever-rocketing healthcare costs.

Reischauer and Steuerle's views run counter to the widely held belief that adoption of EHRs and other high-tech gear would produce almost immediate savings across hospitals and physician offices alike. A 2005 study by the RAND Corp., for instance, said that over time roughly $371 billion could be saved by a reduction in inefficiencies and by the delivery of higher-quality care.

While few argue against health IT adoption, more and more health experts have begun to question previous savings estimates.

"I don't think we know, on net, if it will save money," Steuerle told members of the Senate Budget Committee on Jan. 30.

Still, both economists agreed that health IT would quickly deliver on its promise to make the healthcare system safer and more efficient. "The question on cost savings is tentative," Steuerle said. "But (the question on) efficiency is not."

Reischauer, who is vice-chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, said he agrees. He said that while health IT will lead to significant improvement on quality -- and would lay the groundwork for a pay-for-performance program -- the jury is still out on how much money will be saved.

Reischauer predicted that even though health IT would be used to combat areas of redundancy in hospitals and doctors' offices, the resulting savings likely would be small.

The discussion was part of a broader dialogue on ways the federal government could help rein in a skyrocketing budget. "Since so much of our long-term budget shortfall can be attributed to rising healthcare costs, healthcare reform has to be at the heart of any solution," committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said. -- by Matthew DoBias / HITS staff writer
FDA outlines safety plans
In response to a September Institute of Medicine report and ahead of the anticipated introduction of legislation calling for its overhaul, the Food and Drug Administration released a report detailing how it will put IOM recommendations into place to ensure the safety of drugs and medical devices it regulates.

FDA officials promised a new commitment to safety and a pledge to work with the Veterans Health Administration to share information on drug and device safety. Their report also noted the importance of improving communication and information flow, and announced the formation of an advisory committee on communications.

FDA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer Janet Woodcock noted how the new approach will make better use of new science and technology and how a new understanding of "the molecular mechanisms of adverse events" will allow for the screening of harmful compounds so they never get put into drugs in the first place or will help identify those who are most at risk from a negative reaction to those compounds. This approach, she said, will allow the FDA to go from just counting side effects of new drugs to actually preventing and controlling them.

Steven Galson, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said the agency's MedWatch system for postmark drug-safety surveillance -- which has been criticized as a passive and cumbersome program -- will be updated and its data will be more accessible to researchers and the public. He added that the FDA will launch a pilot program to evaluate various ways of assessing the safety of new products on the market and that it also plans to begin publishing a newsletter on postmarket drug reviews this year.

Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) are expected to introduce a bill to overhaul the FDA's drug safety operations, and Kennedy released a statement indicating that the FDA's actions won't alter his course.

"Today's report is thoughtful and provides important recommendations for administrative action, but only legislation can give FDA the tools it needs to ensure that the agency is the gold standard for safety," the statement said. -- by Andis Robeznieks / HITS staff writer
AMGA wants investment compensation
The American Medical Group Association, which represents most of the nation's biggest and best-known medical groups, will try to convince Congress that its members should be paid extra for their sizable investments in information technology and care-management methods.

"Large medical groups have electronic medical records, electronic registries and care managers," says Chet Speed, the AMGA's vice president for public policy and political affairs. "We're asking Congress to create a reimbursement system that would reimburse folks that can do real care coordination."

Speed says lawmakers can choose several ways to... FULL STORY -- by Michael Romano / HITS staff writer

Forget the chart, check the cell phone
As better networks and handhelds allow more data to be sent by mobile devices, the key question will be: What data do you really want on the go? Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania is betting you'll want your health data, especially if you're getting emergency treatment while traveling.

Starting at the end of March, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania plans to provide 100,000 of its members -- and later all 600,000 -- electronic access to their and their dependents' personal health records. Members will be able to access their information from cell phones, as well as PDAs and PCs. They also will be able to use the system to confirm eligibility and coverage for healthcare services at the time they're treated.

Read more (registration may be required). -- by Information Week
Providers trade in black bags for e-records
Doctors carrying black bags and making house calls are a thing of the past, but cumbersome bags from the old days of healthcare are sometimes still being used to move patient files from one office to another.

But that method is changing as more practices adopt electronic medical- records technology that enables immediate access to patient information from any location.

Read more (registration may be required). -- by Business First of Columbus (Ohio)
Share your opinion
Comment on today's news and share your opinions with other readers. Submit your letter to Your Views at hitsdaily@crain.com. Submissions must include name, title, affiliation, city and state. Health IT Strategist reserves the right to edit all submissions for news value, style, grammar, length and appropriateness. For more information, contact Webmaster/Copy Editor Patrick Shrader at pshrader@crain.com.
Lucas named CIO at Baptist
Baptist Healthcare System, Louisville, Ky., has named Jackie Lucas as vice president and chief information officer. Lucas, who joined the system's information-services department in 1993, has served in an interim capacity in those two executive roles since June 2006. She earned a master's in business administration with a concentration on accounting information systems from the University of Memphis. -- By Michael Romano / HITS staff writer

Making news or know someone who is? Send the information along with a color photo of the IT person in the news to hitsdaily@crain.com. Health IT Strategist reserves the right to edit all submissions for news value, style, grammar, length and appropriateness. For more information, contact Webmaster/Copy Editor Patrick Shrader at pshrader@crain.com.


January 29, 2007
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