Friday, June 12, 2009

Healthcare and Technology

The following opinion was printed in today's Honolulu Advertiser:

Hawai'i must move quickly on health technology
Federal funds create key opportunity for Hawai'i to get on board

By Jon Riki Karamatsu

Healthcare in the United States is poised to take a giant leap forward, thanks to Health Information Technology (HIT) and the national Health Information Exchange (HIE). Hawai'i has a short window of opportunity to join the revolution, but we must act now. Here's why:

As part of the national recovery plan, President Obama recognized the current economic crisis as an opportunity. He included $20 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to give states the help and the incentive to adopt the technology and information exchange initiatives.

HIT and HIE are critical components of true healthcare reform in the United States. The adoption and implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR) will vastly improve the quality of healthcare for patients because of a physician's instant access to and availability of a patient's medical history. This allows a physician to better treat a patient — especially in emergencies when a doctor is often unfamiliar with the patient, their medical history, allergies, medications, etc. It is also estimated that HIT will reduce healthcare costs by approximately $12.5 billion over the next 10 years and will continue to save us money in the future.

The private sector has taken it one step further. Last month, IBM announced that its finance unit will set aside $2 billion for "bridge" financing for high-tech infrastructure projects likely to qualify for federal grants and incentive payments under the ARRA. According to International Data Corporations (IDC) analyst Joseph Pucciarelli, the IBM program looks like a sound step that will hasten the arrival of high-tech projects.

This signals that other states are likely to move forward quickly on their HIT and HIE initiatives in order to take advantage of private sector financing, and to secure a bigger amount of the available money for the states. Hawai'i needs to move forward too.

This past legislative session, House and Senate Health Committee chairs started the process by bringing all of the stakeholders together to begin discussions on HIT and HIE in Hawai'i. House Bill 1782, relating to Health Information Exchange, creates a state coordinating office and task force charged with developing the program in Hawai'i.

While the bill did not get out of conference committee this year, the governor and the state Department of Health can and should take the lead to move the state forward on this initiative.
I hope the dialogue started during the legislative session will continue during the interim, and I'm optimistic that we will be able to bring the stakeholders together to revise the bill to send to the governor for signature next session.

Healthcare has become unaffordable for many people around the country. There's no question that government and the healthcare industry needs to partner in new ways as soon as possible. One of those ways is to take advantage of the new information technology, and to become part of a global network in healthcare.

The federal government and the private sector have stepped up to the plate in order to help the states. It is now up to our state government officials to ensure that Hawai'i receives its fair share of financial incentives, and to make local healthcare reform a reality.

The time to act is now.

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