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Wisconsin pushes for adoption of electronic health records

Madison, Wis. - Last week Gov. Jim Doyle announced a new eHealth Care Quality and Patient Safety Board, which will work to further the adoption of electronic medical records in Wisconsin.

"The field of medicine has yet to harness the power of information technology at the most important point in the health care system - patient treatment," Doyle said in a statement, citing statistics showing 30 percent of healthcare costs are unnecessary or redundant. "This board will develop a road map for the private and public sectors to move forward in a coordinated way, develop this capacity for Wisconsin in a way that improves care for the Wisconsin population, and reduce overall health care costs for both the public and private sectors."

The board will set out to do a comprehensive review of the current progress of electronic medical records in Wisconsin, and determine what measures state government can take to encourage their widespread adoption and promote interoperability between systems.

Secretary of Health and Family Services Helene Nelson will chair the board, accompanied by panelists from the private healthcare sector in the state. No final announcements on board membership have yet been made, though Nelson said the first meeting of the board could take place as soon as January.

Nelson spoke of the need for government to supplement the work being done in the private sector by establishing compatibility standards, making a historical comparison.
"At the time of Abe Lincoln, there were separate railroads being built on different sizes of railroad gauge," Nelson said. "The federal government didn't take over and build the railroads, but it established standards for what the gauges would be so the railroads could connect to each other."

Doyle has made the advancement of electronic records a point of his Grow Wisconsin initiatives, and earlier this year proposed a $10 million grant for setting up a board to oversee and subsidize the development of health records.

That proposal, however, went down to defeat in the Joint Finance Committee on a 13-3 vote in May. One reason cited by opponents was an aversion to taking such a large step in intervening when the market appeared to be doing an acceptable job of adopting the technology.

This newer, scaled back proposal appeared to be getting a more open reception, however.

"Certainly, the governor should be commended for recognizing the need to move forward in terms of information technology in healthcare," said state Rep. Gregg Underheim, chairman of the Health Committee.

While receptive to the proposal, Underheim nevertheless did express some caution.

"Since it is unclear as to what the governor's board is going to do, I would hope they don't get in the way of the very positive efforts going on in the private sector right now."

Eric Kleefeld is a writer for WTN in Madison. He can be reached at WTN senior contributing editor David Niles contributed to this report

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