Bush calls for computerized medical records

The president says he'll ask Congress for new laws to digitize and share medical information about patients.

President Bush on Wednesday evening renewed his call for the use of better technology in hospitals and in doctor's offices for storing and sharing medical records.

Using the high visibility of his State of the Union address, Bush said he will ask Congress to enact sweeping health care reforms, including "improved information technology to prevent medical error and needless costs."

Also in his speech, Bush asked Congress to approve politically controversial legislation such as tax code simplification and Social Security reform, and he vowed his budget for the 2006 fiscal year will include funding for "leading-edge technology," including clean coal, ethanol and hydrogen-fueled cars.

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Wednesday night was not the first time that Bush has talked about electronic medical records. The president devoted a speech to it last week in Cleveland, in which he said: "Most industries in America have used information technology to make their businesses more cost-effective, more efficient and more productive, and the truth of the matter is, health care hadn't."

A White House memorandum released at the same time as the Cleveland speech said that Bush will ask Congress for $125 million for demonstration projects and promote "uniform health information standards" to allow a patient's medical information to be shared among health care workers. Computerization is necessary, the memo argued, because information about a patient is often scattered in many different places and unavailable in an emergency.

Creating a web of interlocking databases raises privacy and security concerns. Paper records stored in file cabinets can be kept under lock and key with little danger of a thief making off with hundreds of thousands of records at once, which happened in a pair of recent incidents at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley . Paper records are also less vulnerable to mass alteration than electronic ones would be if the computer storing them wasn't properly secured.

During Bush's Cleveland appearance, he was joined by Martin Harris, a general internist and the chief information officer for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Harris tried to allay privacy worries.

"We want to know that the record is secure and that it remains confidential," Harris said. "But information technology actually works perfectly to document that. If you left a medical record on paper in a room, how will you know who saw it? You can't know. When it's in electronic form, when anyone logs on to the system, we know. We know who they are, we know where they are, we know what they were looking at."

 

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