Health
6:48 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

Sebelius Touts Electronic Medical Records During Visit

The health industry comprises nearly one fifth of the nation’s GDP, but up until recently, relied mostly on paper files.

On a visit to Kansas City this afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted this, in light of a recent surge in health providers adopting electronic medical record systems.

“Now think of any other industry, think of the banking industry if you still had to write a check anytime you wanted to get cash or pay a bill,” Sebelius said.  “The health system has been particularly resistant to technology changes.” 

But she said that's now changing.

Dr. Jennifer Brull, who practices family medicine in a small town in western Kansas and uses electronic records, said more and more places are now going digital as they realize how patients can benefit.

“It’s about seeing how you can improve care for your patients using technology that helps you remember things,” Dr. Brull said. “When I see a diabetic patient there are about 50 things I’m supposed to remember in the 15 minutes I have with them.  Things like, 'are you taking an aspirin, have you had your feet check, when was your last lab drawn, was it under control?'  All of these things I’m supposed to remember, and like most people, I remember some of them. My computer remembers all of them.”

Sebelius said data out today shows that since two years ago, the percentage of hospitals that are now electronic in some way has doubled, from about one in six to one in three. She also said over the last month and a half, hospitals and doctors have tapped into half a billion dollars in federal incentive funds to make the switch.  

Sebelius said a main driver of the surge has been federal requirements that electronic records be transferable between providers through a common platform.

“As a former governor I know we worked on this in Kansas for years," Sebelius said. "But there was always a barrier that until we could guarantee that people could talk to colleagues across the state line in Missouri or California, it always was a challenge to say, ‘make this investment and maybe at the end of the day people will be able to talk to one another.’”

Secretary Sebelius and Dr. Brull spoke as part of a panel of health IT workers and leaders at Metropolitan Community College’s Health Science Institute. The place is home to a virtual hospital and has been developing programs to train students in the growing field of health information technology. 

In speaking with reporters afterwards, Sebelius also defended the administration’s recent birth control rule, requiring no cost contraception coverage for women.

“I think the President made clear a week ago when I was with him that this directive is to insurance companies,” Sebelius said. “We know that contraception is not only a low cost, but in many cases actuaries will tell you it lowers the cost of group insurance. So insurance companies will be directed to provide coverage to women who choose to opt for that coverage.” 

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View a video of Metropolitan Community College's virtual hospital here.

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