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Jeff Sutherland

Twice the Energy with Half the Stress

Political Failure Will Keep Medical Error the Third Leading Cause of Death

Health Care Technology Is a Promise Unfinanced

December 3, 2004


From the president on down, the Bush administration has been a proponent of modernizing the nation’s creaky healthcare system with information technology. But while the administration’s words of support for ahigh-technology future for health care have been plentiful, the dollars, it seems, are scarce. The huge federal spending bill recently approved by Congress eliminated a seemingly modest $50 million request for the office of Dr. David J. Brailer, who was appointed the national health information technology coordinator in May.

Dr. Brailer acknowledged his disappointment in an interview yesterday. “The money is important,” he said. “This was a bad bounce, and it shows how big our education challenge is.” One critic of the action was less guarded in his comments. “Congress, in its infinite wisdom, zeroed-out DavidBrailer’s office,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican Health Transformation, a health policy group. “They couldn’t find $50 million to signal that David Brailer has a real job and what he’s doing is important. Frankly, I think it ‘s a disgrace.”

The Bush administration, Mr. Gingrich said, bore most of the responsibility. “No one in the White House or in the senior staff of the Department of Health and Human Services fought for this,” he said.

…The $50 million requested for Dr. Brailer’s office was to have been used to provide seed money for health information demonstration projects that would encourage the industry to agree on technology standards, hasten investment by private companies and accelerate the adoption of modern information technology by doctors and hospitals.

Bringing patient records and prescriptions out of an era of ink and paper into the computer age, health experts agree, would make health care more efficient and reduce medical errors, saving lives and dollars. President Bush repeatedly sounded that theme this year, starting with his State of the Union address. “By computerizing health records,” he said, “we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care.”

In a debate with Senator John Kerry in October, Mr. Bush said that much of the high and rising cost of health care resulted from hospitals, clinics and doctors’ not using “any information technology.” Health care, he asserted, was trapped in the past, the “equivalent of buggy-and-horse days, compared with other industries here in America.”

“We’ve got to introduce high technology into health care,” the president added. “We’re beginning to do it.”