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Consumer eHealth Launch Event

September 12, 2011
Washington, DC

Thank you, Farzad. We’ve been fortunate to have terrific leadership of our Health IT initiative, first with Dr. David Blumenthal and now with Farzad. They have both brought to this job – not just an understanding as policy-makers of the technology – but an understanding as doctors of the challenges that providers and patients face every day. And they’ve made sure that understanding guides every decision we make. So thank you, Farzad.

I’m pleased to welcome you all this morning to this conversation about how we can help Americans have better access to their health information using electronic health records. Over the course of the day, you’ll hear several exciting announcements from some of the leaders in the field about how they’re reaching out to consumers.

But I want to begin by providing a broader overview of the incredible momentum behind health IT right now – and what it means for doctors, patients, and our economy.

The idea of an electronic health record isn’t new. The first models were developed in the 1960s. But as time went on and industry after industry threw away their hanging files and cabinets, health care lagged behind.

Even after innovative hospitals around the country showed that using electronic health records could reduce errors and improve communication between doctors resulting in better patient care, paper records stuck around. When President Obama came into office, only two in ten doctors and one in ten hospitals had even a basic electronic health record system.

So one of the first questions the President asked is: what can we do to help more patients and doctors get the benefits of this technology?

What we heard was that many providers wanted to upgrade to electronic health records, but they faced difficult obstacles. There were upfront expenses. It was hard to learn how to use a new technology, especially for small practices that didn’t have big health IT staffs. And without common standards, doctors were afraid they would invest in an electronic health record only to see it become obsolete a few years later.

So over the past two years, we’ve tried to eliminate those obstacles. Through investments in the Recovery Act, we created 62 Health IT Regional Extension Centers around the country, modeled on the Agricultural Extension Centers, to provide guidance and technical assistance to small health practices. We’ve invested in standards and frameworks that allow information to be shared securely between providers. And to help offset those upfront costs, we’re providing incentive payments to hospitals and eligible providers that adopt electronic health records and use them to improve patient care.

These changes are already shifting the health care landscape. In a matter of months, more than 80,000 doctors have signed up to take advantage of the incentive payments. Around the country, seven out of ten primary care providers in small rural communities have signed agreements with the Regional Extension Centers. In some states like Nebraska, almost every single rural provider has signed on. That’s incredible progress in a very short period of time!

And the potential benefits for patients of this change are enormous. We’ve all experienced the frustration of filling out the same forms at the doctor’s office for the tenth time. Many of us know what it’s like to have to take a test twice or to learn there is a conflict between two medications. At best, it’s a waste of time and money. At worst, it can be dangerous to people’s lives.

This is particularly true for older Americans. The average senior with a handful of chronic conditions sees 14 different doctors a year. Their health depends on whether those doctors can communicate.

Health IT can help solve these problems. A recent study looked at more than 27,000 adults with diabetes. The patients with paper health records got the best standard of care seven percent of the time. The patients with electronic health records got the best standard of care 51 percent of the time. That’s a more than 600 percent improvement.

Most of our country’s top health systems are already using electronic health records. And the growing momentum behind health IT means that even more Americans will be able to benefit from the best quality care.

And this isn’t just about better health. It’s also about the jobs of the future. Last week, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act, a plan to jumpstart job creation in this country starting right now. Ultimately, America’s workers and businesses will drive our recovery. But government can help. And the President’s plan contains common sense, bipartisan ideas for how Congress can act to start putting Americans to work right away.

Our investment in health IT is a perfect example of how government can unleash entrepreneurship and innovation. One of the most exciting parts of our health IT efforts is that over 60 percent of the vendors who’ve had a health IT product certified have fewer than 50 employees. Any one of them could be the next Google or Microsoft. And given that health care is one of the fastest growing fields in the US and around the world, we believe health IT could be a major job creator for years to come.

Today, you’re going to get a chance to hear firsthand about some of the exciting new developments in health IT from companies, big and small. And I want to thank all the participants for being here. There’s been a lot of discussion over the last two years about how we can make electronic health records work better for doctors and nurses. But today we’re going to hear some of the best ideas for how to make them work for patients.

This is critically important. Patients want to be involved in their care. They want to understand what’s happening, and they want to know what steps they can take to get healthy and stay healthy. Electronic health records have the potential to help them do that.

Before I go, I want to kick this conversation off by announcing one important step that we at HHS are taking to give health consumers more control over their health. Today, we’re releasing a proposed rule that would give every American the right to get their own laboratory test results directly from the lab that does the test. It sounds simple, but in the past, you often had to wait days or weeks to get these results from your doctor. And as many as 20 percent of test results never even made it out of the lab. Under this rule, you would be able to get your results directly and act quickly if there was cause for concern.

Of course, as we expand access to health information, it’s critical that we ensure that information is fully secure. That’s why protecting patient privacy continues to be our first and foremost priority in our health IT initiative. And you’ll hear more about this later today from our terrific new Director of the Office for Civil Rights, Leon Rodriguez.

This is truly a remarkable moment for health information technology. We are seeing our health care system improve before our eyes.

Government has provided the spark, but the fuel for the fire has been the creativity and commitment of the private sector, which is fully on display today. If we can build on this momentum through conversations like the one we’re having today, I believe health IT will make more progress in the next five years than it has in the last fifty.

That’s good news for doctors. It’s good news for patients. And it’s good news for our economy.

So thank you again for being here, and I hope you have great discussions today.