Part 4: Solutions for meaningful health care reform | Rep. Reichert

NOTE: This is the final in a series of four solutions-oriented health care op-eds from Congressman Dave Reichert.

As the debate in the United States Congress continues over needed health care reform, much of the conversation turns on aspects legislators oppose, rather than proposals for the innovative ideas and creative solutions that will carry us down the path to meaningful, effective reform.

I voted against the $1.3 trillion government-run health overhaul bill because the proposal threatened to raise Americans’ health care costs, reduce choice, and allowed government interference in personal medical decisions. This op-ed is the fourth and final in a series dedicated to describe those ideas and solutions I do support and believe will deliver the access to quality, affordable care that every American deserves.

I remain committed to protecting and strengthening health care: Protecting Americans from increased health care costs, losing the health plans they currently have and wish to keep, and government interference in medical decisions; and strengthening health care by ensuring that better quality, more affordable care is available for everyone.

The rising cost of health care is the primary concern to every American, but so is the quality of care they receive from their nurses, doctors, and caregivers. Quality means something different to every single American, but it touches on everything from preventing death caused by medical errors to the early diagnosis and treatment of disease, as well as reducing error, waste, and inefficiencies.

To address the dual challenges of quality and cost, we must encourage innovation, invest in medical research, and leverage scientific advances to transform our health care system. One key step toward achieving these goals is to fully explore and tap the potential of health information technology, including the use of personal health records – that will direct us down the path to a national medical records system.

Personal health records (PHRs) are an often-overlooked yet important component of health reform that would provide health care providers a more comprehensive view of patients’ health histories, resulting in more accurate, cost-effective patient care and treatment.

A critical example is legislation I authored with Rep. Patrick Kennedy in 2007 and reintroduced in Congress on Dec. 7. We created the Personal Health Record Act (HR 4216) to empower consumers to be better informed of their personal health while also improving communication with their health care providers.

This proposal – one that has garnered broad, bipartisan support – takes an important step to create a public-private partnership to promote the use of secure, transportable and consumer-controlled PHRs and patient communication services for Americans. It would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create an incentive program and trust fund to enhance the use of PHRs by Medicare beneficiaries, other patients, and their health care provider, because while these records can enhance the doctor-patient relationship, it will only happen if doctors actually use them.

Our bill is widely recognized as a needed first step toward a nationwide electronic medical records system; national polls indicate patients do indeed want the convenience of technology to be part of their health care relationships, including the ability to email doctors, receive test results and schedule appointments online.

PHR benefits include:

• Timely access to a patient’s medical history – including existing conditions, allergies and prescriptions. Problems including repeat diagnoses and drug interactions can be avoided.

• Enhanced doctor-patient communications, including electronic clinical reminders, test results, prevention screening notifications or prescription renewals.

• Reduced unnecessary testing as results can be shared among providers, and increased collaboration among providers ensuring continuous management of chronic conditions.

Rand Corporation last year estimated that a move to an all-electronic record system could potentially save $77 billion in health care spending annually on efficiency alone, and as patients come to depend on PHRs as part of their health care experience, that expectation will in turn drive health care into the digital age. This can then further fuel innovation in the private sector, driving individuals to take advantage of cutting-edge programs like those seen right in our own backyard, among them Microsoft’s Health Vault – currently a free program that facilitates uploading, storage and sharing of PHRs. The program works to ensure patient safety, reduce the repetitive filling out of forms, and contribute to better coordinate of care among providers, all of which would further enhance doctor-patient relationships.

Finally – and most importantly – moving health care into the digital age promises to enhance the quality of care, reducing the staggering statistic cited in a 1999 Institute of Medicine report that reveals 98,000 people die annually due to medical errors. With an increasingly transient population, and at a time when people consult different doctors all the time – an interoperable system of electronic medical records will reduce these preventable deaths. We must empower doctors to make the most informed decisions possible to provide the care to meet each individual’s unique health care needs, and an interoperable system of electronic medical records will carry us toward this goal.

The transformative potential of health information technology to both improve quality of care and lower costs is one Congress can no longer afford to overlook. With so many divisive issues entering this debate, I will continue advocating for inclusion of this widely supported measure as part of any reform proposal.

Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. Reichert serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Source: King County Health Reform Initiative Fact Sheet, 2005-2009

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