Rep. Jon Porter | Let federal employees lead the charge for electronic health records

Commentary

Numerous examples abound throughout the country that ... health IT can improve and save lives.'

-Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.)

Rick Steele

Breast cancer, AIDS and highway accidents are three of the leading causes of death. It is hard to believe that medical errors outpace them on that list.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that medical errors account for approximately 45,000 to 98,000 deaths each year in the United States, and 770,000 injuries due to adverse drug events, many of which could have been prevented through the use of health information technology.

Numerous examples abound throughout the country that the implementation of health IT can improve and save lives. Technology will reduce medical errors by making health information more accessible to both patients and providers no matter where the patient is receiving care. Electronic health records also provide other important benefits, such as reducing health care costs, by lowering administrative costs and reducing redundant testing, and empowering consumers by giving them and providers access to critical information about their health status and medical needs.

It would simply be a colossal error to not take advantage of available technology.

That is why I have introduced HR 4859, the Federal Family Health Information Technology Act. The purpose of the bill is to establish a secure system of electronic health records under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

By improving the quality and delivery of health care for the more than 8 million participants in the FEHB program, we can effect change elsewhere by leveraging the purchasing power of the largest employer-sponsored health plan in the United States.

Back home in Nevada, I spend a lot of time with foster kids. Unfortunately, health records for these children are scarce, which leads to needless multiple teta- nus shots, needless multiple exams, and putting these children at risk of a medical error because their prior medical histories are unknown. With the technological advances we have made, this is unacceptable. Although my bill will not directly affect those outside of the FEHBP, it is my sincere hope that the bill will send a ripple out to the broader health care industry.

One of the important components of the bill is that it requires all carriers participating in FEHBP to convert existing electronic claims-based data into an electronic health record that can be useful for diagnosis and treatment. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita serve as stark examples of the value of a carrier-based electronic health record.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, many medical records were destroyed or were not immediately available, potentially putting some patients at great risk. Hoping to avoid the medical disasters associated with Hurricane Katrina, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas extracted data on its members who lived in areas that were evacuated before Hurricane Rita hit.

To help physicians care for Hurricane Rita evacuees, Blue Cross took its carrier-based data for 830,000 members and converted it into an electronic health record, and did it in four days. Those records contained valuable historical and current data, such as lab results, pharmacy infor- mation and basic medical history. This information is already in existence and maintained by the carriers. To ignore its availability unnecessarily risks injury or death.

Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) is the chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization.

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