By Kathleen Sebelius
August 8, 2012
Today I’m in Cincinnati to talk about a great national success story: how key government investments have helped spark the widespread adoption of electronic health records, with big benefits for our country’s health and our economy.
Over the past three years, the number of doctors using basic electronic health records has doubled. Soon, more than 100 million Americans will be able to access their own health information with just a few clicks of a mouse.
This rapid progress would have been hard to predict three years ago. When President Obama came into office, just one in five doctors and one in five hospitals used even a basic electronic health-record system.
It’s not that people didn’t see the value of new health technologies. Leading hospitals used electronic health records for decades to help doctors coordinate care, reduce medical errors and cut costs. One study from Ohio found that patients with diabetes who had an electronic health record were 600 percent more likely to get the right care.
But a series of obstacles stood in the way of doctors’ moving from paper files to electronic records: everything from big upfront expenses to the challenge of learning a new technology to the lack of common standards for compatible records and the uncertainty that many felt about the concrete health improvements they would actually see if their whole community embraced electronic health records.
So when President Barack Obama took office, we took action to remove those roadblocks. We provided incentive payments to doctors and hospitals to help offset the significant upfront costs of switching over. We created regional extension centers to help small doctors offices that had no IT departments. And we invested in health information-exchange standards to address compatibility concerns.
And one of the most important steps we’ve taken is to invest in leading communities that could become models for the rest of the country by developing a system of health technology across the entire region, from hospitals and clinics to paramedics, physicians and public health officials.
Cincinnati has always led the nation in making these connections. Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services named Greater Cincinnati a “Beacon Community” with an award of
almost $14 million to further improve health in the area.
At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, these funds have helped cut emergency visits and hospitalizations for children with asthma. Using technology, the hospital signs up families that visit the pediatric clinic and matches them with a social worker who serves as their asthma coordinator.
These coordinators are in constant touch with the family through calls and home visits, ensuring that parents don’t fall behind in securing preventive care or filling the prescriptions that their children need to stay healthy. The coordinators are also connected to every other Cincinnati hospital through the region’s comprehensive health IT system. So if one of their children ends up in another ER or is admitted elsewhere in the region, Children’s knows about it immediately and can begin helping the family get the child back on the recommended medication or treatment.
Thanks to this work in the last year and a half, we’ve seen a 29 percent drop in ER visits and a 40 percent drop in hospital admissions. That’s good for these Cincinnati families, and with fewer stays in
the hospital it costs everyone a lot less. It also demonstrates how powerful health information technology can be when used it to its full potential.
The best news of all is that the rest of the country is following a similar path. Today, more than 3,300 of the nation’s hospitals are in the process of adopting electronic health records. And behind this progress is a rapidly growing American health IT industry. Since 2009, more than 50,000 health IT jobs have been created.
Today, with Beacon communities like Cincinnati leading the way, we’re finally getting a glimpse of what a fully wired health care system could mean for America’s health and our economy.