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Obama Says HIT Will Be Primary Step In US Health Care Reform Efforts

President Barack Obama at annual conference of the American Medical Association cited healthcare information technology (HIT) investments as preliminary step to reform health care in America. He said there's already widespread agreement on the steps necessary to make US health care system work better.

He said, “First, we need to upgrade our medical records by switching from a paper to an electronic system of record keeping. And we have already begun to do this with an investment we made as part of our Recovery Act.

It simply doesn’t make sense that patients in the 21st century are still filling out forms with pens on papers that have to be stored away somewhere. As Newt Gingrich has rightly pointed out, we do a better job tracking a FedEx package in this country than we do tracking a patient’s health records. You shouldn’t have to tell every new doctor you see about your medical history, or what prescriptions you’re taking. You should not have to repeat costly tests. All of that information should be stored securely in a private medical record so that your information can be tracked from one doctor to another – even if you change jobs, even if you move, and even if you have to see a number of different specialists.

That will not only mean less paper pushing and lower administrative costs, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. It will also make it easier for physicians to do their jobs. It will tell you, the doctors, what drugs a patient is taking so you can avoid prescribing a medication that could cause a harmful interaction. It will help prevent the wrong dosages from going to a patient. And it will reduce medical errors that lead to 100,000 lives lost unnecessarily in our hospitals every year.

The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.

It also means cutting down on all the junk food that is fueling an epidemic of obesity, putting far too many Americans, young and old, at greater risk of costly, chronic conditions. That’s a lesson Michelle and I have tried to instill in our daughters with the White House vegetable garden that Michelle planted. And that’s a lesson that we should work with local school districts to incorporate into their school lunch programs.

Building a health care system that promotes prevention rather than just managing diseases will require all of us to do our part. It will take doctors telling us what risk factors we should avoid and what preventive measures we should pursue. And it will take employers following the example of places like Safeway that is rewarding workers for taking better care of their health while reducing health care costs in the process. If you’re one of the three quarters of Safeway workers enrolled in their “Healthy Measures” program, you can get screened for problems like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. And if you score well, you can pay lower premiums. It’s a program that has helped Safeway cut health care spending by 13% and workers save over 20 percent on their premiums. And we are open to doing more to help employers adopt and expand programs like this one.

Our federal government also has to step up its efforts to advance the cause of healthy living. Five of the costliest illnesses and conditions – cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, and strokes – can be prevented. And yet only a fraction of every health care dollar goes to prevention or public health. That is starting to change with an investment we are making in prevention and wellness programs that can help us avoid diseases that harm our health and the health of our economy.

But as important as they are, investments in electronic records and preventive care are just preliminary steps. They will only make a dent in the epidemic of rising costs in this country.

Despite what some have suggested, the reason we have these costs is not simply because we have an aging population. Demographics do account for part of rising costs because older, sicker societies pay more on health care than younger, healthier ones. But what accounts for the bulk of our costs is the nature of our health care system itself – a system where we spend vast amounts of money on things that aren’t making our people any healthier; a system that automatically equates more expensive care with better care”.