Today, U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) gave the keynote address at the Distributed Diagnosis in Home Healthcare Conference (D2H2) held in Arlington, Virginia to discuss the importance of Health Information Technology (Health IT).  The University of Washington is one of the main organizers for this national conference on health information technology. The purpose of the conference is to bring stakeholders together to discuss ways to improve the quality of care and patient wellness and outcomes by transforming the delivery of healthcare from a central, hospital-based system to one that is more patient-centered, distributed, and home-based for both the developed and developing countries.

One of Smith’s top priorities is to provide access to quality, affordable health care. Smith believes that under the current paper-based healthcare system, patients and their doctors lack instant access to medical information. This lack of connectivity and shared knowledge leads to medical errors, increased costs, and inefficiency.

At the conference, Smith noted, “recent advancements in health information technology and the use of electronic medical records allows for innovative collaboration where patients, doctors and health educators can be brought together online to discuss patients health care needs.  The use of information technology can be used as a tool to increase the efficiency of the healthcare system, improve the quality of care for patients, and decrease costs to the federal government, which is facing record deficits.”

Smith believes that Congress can play a significant role in helping the healthcare industry adopt electronic health records and utilize other health IT technologies. As Smith has noted in the past, one of the biggest barriers for physicians to use health IT is cost.

Today, Smith said, “the federal government can help by providing funding, whether through grants for pilot projects, tax credits, or loans.  The federal government can also help facilitate the growth of local, statewide, and regional health information networks so that providers in a particular community are able to communicate and share health data so that patients have seamless, continuous care among various providers.  In addition, the federal government can help establish standards so that interoperability can be achieved.  Lastly, Congress should enact strict privacy and security measures so that the integrity of patients’ health information is not compromised.”

To this end, Smith, along with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris (R-WA) have introduced a bill H.R. 4331, the Medicaid Access Project Through Information Technology Bill (MAP IT). This legislation would authorize the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to conduct two-year pilot projects in selected states to demonstrate the beneficial impact of health IT on chronic-disease case management for the Medicaid population.

The project, as proposed in the legislation, would give chronic-disease patients and caregivers access to their own medical records and enable them to track their own health information through personal health records. The project will also give patients access to a single source of information on chronic disease and include several channels of communication with health educators.

In return, physicians and caregivers will have access to complete, current treatment and health-status information for chronic-disease patients, using a Web-based virtual-management tool. An effective health IT chronic-disease-management program, such as this one, could result in a more than 3-percent reduction in overall Medicaid program costs while improving the access and quality of care.

“It’s appropriate that the University of Washington is a leader in organizing this conference,” said Smith after making his remarks today. “Washington State is a national leader on health IT.  Madigan Army Hospital on Ft. Lewis, WA is one of only two sites in the United States where medical information is shared between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Already, the Northwest Physicians Network (NPN), based in Tacoma, and Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS), based in Spokane, are national models for the integration of health IT. The NPN is developing a network of health-care providers in the South Puget Sound area to share medical information over a Web-based system. INHS has a network of more than 35 sites in two states, and its use of electronic medical records and telemedicine allows for the delivery of long-distance diagnosis and quality health care to rural areas. Also, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, WA is a national leader in terms of their implementation of personal health records for their patients, where patients are able to view their record and lab results online, make appointments online, and communicate with their doctor online.”