July 14, 2005

Health tech bill gets big push in Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation to encourage development
of health information technology got a big boost on Thursday
when four powerful senators joined forces to meld rival bills.

Both bipartisan bills dovetail with efforts the Bush
administration has begun to promote public-private sector
initiatives to develop electronic medical records and
computerized prescribing that can make the U.S. health system
more efficient while reducing errors.

One goal is to develop "interoperability," meaning that
different health information systems would be able to
communicate more seamlessly.

Although initial investments in information technology can
be steep, these systems are expected to save a lot of money in
U.S. health care over the long haul.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican,
and New York Democrat Hillary Clinton said they were melding
their bill with one proposed by Senate health committee
chairman Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and the panel's top
Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Clinton said the four staffs hoped to draft a combined bill
in time for the health panel to approve it next week. Frist
hopes the full Senate will "move quickly" on one of his top
priorities, a spokesman said.

Also on Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Mike Leavitt announced the creation of the American Health
Information Community (AHIC), a public-private sector
collaboration that will help set standards and guide the
transfer of personal medical records to a high-tech, electronic

"Our health care system is saturated with inefficiency," he
said in a statement. "Until we adopt modern information
technology practices --like electronic health records,
e-prescribing, and systematic adverse drug event reporting --
we will not have cost-effective medical care in this country,
and we will have far too many medical errors."