Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Health IT’s Real Savings

Health information technology (health IT) is no panacea for our ailing healthcare system. There is no shortage of analysis weighing the costs and of the benefits an integrated health IT system.
  • The RAND study estimates potential savings of approximately $80 billion per year from health IT if it were widely adopted.
  • The Congressional Budget Office says health IT “appears to be necessary but not sufficient to generate cost savings and can be an essential component of an effort to reduce cost and improve quality; but by itself it typically does not produce a reduction in costs.”

Wherever the savings may lie, a sense of urgency and momentum is developing around the issue of creating a comprehensive, interoperable health IT system to improve patient care. Officials from Kaiser Permanente and Microsoft on Monday announced that they are developing a patient information exchange pilot program. Google Health: recently began offering personal health records on the Web. These are just two of the more recent efforts that bridge health IT from policy to reality.

Oftentimes, the health IT discussion gets mired in a discussion of its potential for curbing costs or its threat to patient privacy. However, as health IT efforts progress, we at FasterCures are waving the red flag to draw attention to health IT’s promise for speeding the discovery of new therapies by allowing researchers access to the precious data contained in them.

Health IT systems are a critical research resource. The trend toward the capture and storage of patient information in digital form provides researchers with a potentially more efficient and effective means of accessing these data. This paves the way to the discovery new treatments, conducting post-marketing research in real-time, and to making clinical trials more cost-effective and accessible.

So, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its Federal Health IT Strategic Plan last week (more than three years since President Bush issued an executive order to develop the plan), we were pleased to see that in addition to improving patient-focused healthcare, the plan includes strategies focused on population health that would “enable the appropriate, authorized, and timely access and use of electronic health information to benefit public health, biomedical research, quality improvement, and emergency preparedness.”

We urge all private and public sector leaders to put a high priority on understanding and integrating the needs of medical researchers into health IT solutions. By providing the research community access to a broader and more diverse patient population, health IT presents us with the potential for real savings: in terms of both reducing healthcare costs and, more importantly, in curing disease.

FasterCures is a member of the Health IT Now! Coalition

-- Cecilia O. Arradaza, Communications Director, FasterCures

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