Obama Says He Will Spend Billions on Improving Health IT

Posted October 22, 2008 at 2:02pm

Every year tens of thousands of people die because a doctor or nurse misreads their medical charts. Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) wants to put an end to this.

The health care plan outlined on his Web site includes provisions to invest in health information technology, which is designed to make health records paperless.

Health IT Now! cites a 1999 report released by the Institute of Medicine that found up to 98,000 people die each year as a result of errors in reading medical records.

The group, which was formed in 2007, says that lives can be saved by putting records on CDs so that doctors will not have to rely on patients’ memories of their past treatment.

Obama says he will invest $10 billion over five years to ensure that the country’s health care system moves toward an electronic system.

“We will reduce waste and inefficiency by moving from a 20th-century health care industry based on pen and paper to a 21st- century industry based on the latest information technology,” Obama said at a 2007 speech at the University of Iowa.

“Almost every other industry in the world has saved billions on administrative costs by computerizing all of their records and information,” he said.

According to a study by the Rand Corp. cited by Obama, electronic records will save up to $77 billion by avoiding unnecessary testing and other inefficiencies.

It currently costs up to $25 to pull up a person’s medical records; Obama says this cost could be avoided if electronic records were used.

“This reform is long overdue,” Obama said. “By moving to electronic medical records, we can give doctors and nurses easy access to all the necessary information about their patients, so if they type in a certain prescription, a patient’s allergies will pop right up on the screen.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation’s largest integrated health system, has been a leader in the use of electronic records, a move Obama supports.

The presidential hopeful says it used to cost $9 to pull up a veteran’s records, but now it costs “next to nothing” on the Internet.

He says that if elected, he will help the VA stay on this path and to improve “electronic records interoperability, expand effectiveness research, promote wellness programs, and instill more accountability for performance and quality improvement initiatives.”

Obama says he would also improve the health technology for those who require prosthetics and those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.