Editorial: Scrap the national IT plan

It should be clear by now that unless the federal government mandates a single healthcare information technology platform for all healthcare providers and heavily subsidizes its adoption, we won’t meet President Bush’s goal of a national electronic medical-record system by 2014–or anytime after that. As there isn’t the political will or the financial resources to accomplish such a national system, other solutions must be found.

The answers won’t be forthcoming from the privatized mess left by the Bush administration, which is no closer to success on its interoperable IT system than it was when it started the process three years ago. It has left “control” of the health IT process in the hands of a contentious mix of IT vendors, data-miners, insurers and a handful of healthcare interest groups. The only ones left out are the American people, who might be concerned that invading their privacy may be the signal accomplishment of this concatenation of conflicts of interest. If you don’t believe me, read the reports on the process from the Government Accountability Office or any of our past articles on the subject.

Most recently, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that the American Health Information Community—his advisory panel charged with recommending IT standards—would be privatized by 2009. As Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has pointed out, if the private sector were intent on having a system of interoperable medical records, it would have done so many years ago, as other leading industries did.

Strong presidential leadership on the issue—particularly in helping providers pay for IT—is needed, but it isn’t clear from whom that would come. It may have to be someone who isn’t in the Senate now. A bipartisan bill on health IT that is now up for consideration by the full Senate, called the Wired for Health Care Quality Act of 2007, would merely codify the same process we see unfolding in Washington today, including a lack of concern for patient privacy and an overreliance on private industry. One of its key backers is Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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