U.S. needs harmonious IT standards, official says

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator says his agency seeks to use technology to help achieve the best health care at the lowest cost.

The United States needs to establish standards that work together in health information technology so medical personnel can effectively communicate, a top information technology official said.

The nation must "ensure that privacy and security standards are up to date" and take steps to prevent data breaches, Robert Kolodner, interim national coordinator of health information, said during an opening speech at the Health Information Technology Summit for national, regional and state healthcare decision makers.

During the two-day event of the eHealth Initiative and Bridges to Excellence, leaders are discussing emerging policy changes related to health IT, government and the private sector.

Kolodner said the United States has made incredible strides in health IT over the past few years. However, the price of health insurance for companies has dramatically increased and has taken a "toll on our nation and economy," he said.

The high cost is only expected to grow, added Kolodner, who attributed it to higher incomes and higher insurance rates. "We are not getting the value for the dollars we spend," he said. He also said electronic health records are needed.

Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, ran through various programs to support health IT, including steps to expand standards for making systems work together. He cited uncertainty regarding the financial consequences of new technologies.

McClellan said his agency seeks to use technology and knowledge to help the country achieve the best health care for patients at the lowest cost. A former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, he also said the country is spending more than it should on healthcare. Contributing to the spending is "the overuse and misuse" of some technologies, he said.

McClellan said his agency is looking to focus more on supporting quality care. "CMS is making major investments in health IT in the drive to personal healthcare," he said. The center also has made a "good deal of progress" in Internet-related health IT projects and is actively promoting health IT records, he said.

Beginning in mid-October, new Medicare tools will be available to help people learn more about their health coverage, including comparative information about prescription-drug plans and the ability to track the status of Medicare claims and learn about preventive benefits.

The tools will be available at mymedicare.gov and medicare.gov. "Millions of our beneficiaries go online," and the number is increasing, McClellan said.

According to key highlights from the eHealth Initiative's 2006 survey of health information exchanges, which was released at the event, 36 health IT bills were passed in 24 states during 2005 and 2006. Ten governors have passed executive orders related to health IT. The survey also found that two-thirds of community or locally focused respondents are concentrating on the implementation of health information networks. Only 29 percent of state-level initiatives are focusing on the implementation of health IT networks, the research stated.