Groups call for passage of health IT legislation

The U.S. Congress needs to pass health-care IT legislation before private companies develop multiple systems that don't talk to each other, two advocacy groups said Tuesday.

Members of the Health IT Now Coalition and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) urged Congress to move ahead with health IT legislation such as the Promoting Health Information Technology Act. The bill would establish a public/private group to recommend health IT standards and certification and would budget US$163 million a year for health-care providers to adopt health IT products, such as electronic health records.

Health technologies can help improve health-care quality, reduce costs and encourage changes in treatment, said former U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson, co-chairwoman of the Health IT Now Coalition.

Health IT is "going to produce radical change," Johnson said at a news conference. "It's going to radically improve the quality of health care that Americans receive."

With health-care costs continuing to climb, moving to an electronic system that reduces paper and medical errors is the best hope to extend health care to U.S. residents who are uninsured, she added. "It is the only way that we guarantee to Americans of every age that our health-care system will continue to deliver the state-of-the-art medicine for which it has been known worldwide," Johnson said.

The Promoting Health Information Technology Act has stalled in the House of Representatives and a similar piece of legislation, the Wired for Health Care Quality Act, has stalled in the Senate.

Some groups, including Patient Privacy Rights, have raised concerns that the legislation doesn't adequately address patient privacy issues. "The Senate Wired Act has no privacy protections or language ensuring patient control of health records," the group said on its Web site. "It must not pass unless patients have the right to keep their health records private."

Privacy and security must be major components of a health IT bill, Johnson said at the news conference. But she and Rhett Dawson, ITI's president and CEO, said Congress should pass a health IT bill before vendors develop multiple systems that don't interoperate. "The public interest is in interoperability," Johnson said.

A health IT bill would be a major accomplishment that lawmakers could show to voters before the November elections, Dawson said. "We believe the time to act is now," he added.

In addition to the news conference, a group of IT vendors, including Lexmark, NetApp and NCR, demonstrated health technologies at a congressional office building on Tuesday.

EMC's RSA division demonstrated secure Web sign-on technologies that patients and health-care providers can use. RSA's Secure Web Access for Patient and Provider Portals allows administrators to set access rights based on who's signing in, said Seth Geftic, RSA product marketing manger. For example, a doctor could have access to more patient records than a nurse or an insurance provider, he said.

In addition, RSA provides authentication technologies that can be used to recognize users when they first sign in. For example, the RSA Adaptive Authentication can use publicly available information, such as height, car loans and old addresses, to authenticate a user entering a health IT Web site for the first time, Geftic said.

"You don't even have to enter the last four digits of your Social Security number," added Shannon Kellogg, director of information security policy in EMC's office of government relations.

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