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Realizing the Full Potential of Health Information Technology: Report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

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December 8, 2010
Washington, D.C.

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning and thank you for joining us today to talk about a new report, Realizing the Full Potential of Health Information Technology, by PCAST, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

First I want to recognize leaders who deserve a lot of credit for pushing health IT to the top of the national agenda where it needs to be.

Dr. Eric Lander, PCAST’s co-chair, and Dr. Christine Cassel, who led its Working Group on Health Information Technology; Dr. David Blumenthal, our brilliant and tireless National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and Dr. Larry Summers, who has helped guide our economy during some of the most difficult times in our history.

I also want to thank AT&T Mobile Health and Kaiser Permanente for joining us. These organizations have been real health IT pioneers.

The report that PCAST is releasing today shows the huge potential of health information technology to support doctors, empower patients, reduce paperwork, protect privacy, and improve the quality of care.

In industry after industry, we’ve seen the power of information technology to bring down costs and improve customers’ experience.

Imagine going back to the days when you had to wait at the grocery store while a cashier punched in all the hand-written price tags. Or wait for the bank to open every time you wanted to get cash.

We’d never accept that. Health care shouldn’t be any different.

And in fact, we’ve seen that when electronic health records are well-designed and implemented correctly, they can be a powerful force for reducing errors, lowering costs, and increasing doctor and patient satisfaction.

I’ve visited with doctors and nurses across the country, and I still haven’t met a single one who uses a high-quality electronic health record and says: “I really want to go back to those paper files. That was really the best way to practice.”

And yet when this Administration came into office last year, just two in ten doctors and one in ten hospitals used even a basic electronic record system.

That’s because even with all the benefits of electronic health records, there were also obstacles.

It takes time to learn new technology, especially if you’re a doctor in a small practice that doesn’t have an IT staff.

There’s also the challenge of being able to share information securely with other providers if they have a different system.

And then there’s the fact that these systems can be expensive, even if they pay off in the long run.

That’s why last year, as part of the Recovery Act, we began making an historic investment to eliminate some of those barriers.

We’re creating Regional Extension Centers modeled on the agricultural extension service so providers can get hands-on technical support setting up and running their health IT systems.

We’re providing grants to help states create a framework for doctors and hospitals to exchange information with full protections on patient privacy.

We’re investing in our health IT workforce so doctors and hospitals will have staff to hire when they make the switch from paper to digital records.

And the centerpiece of that plan is a program that will begin in January in which doctors and hospitals will be able to get incentive payments for adopting electronic health records – as long as they use those records to improve the quality of patient care.

At every step of the way, ensuring the privacy of personal health information is our top priority.

Since we’ve begun taking these steps, we’ve seen new momentum behind electronic health records.

In the past, some providers had expressed skepticism about the standards they’d have to meet to earn these incentive payments. But in the last few months, leading doctor and hospital groups have come out in favor of them.

We need to keep that momentum going.

When electronic health records are widely adopted, doctors will have better information and more time to focus on patients. Patients will have more control over their health. Employers will have a healthier, more productive workforce and a stronger bottom line.

And as the report we are releasing today also shows, there will be more jobs for Americans in one of the key industries of the future: the technology of health information.

We’re making progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go.